Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Ojai Finally Cools From 110-degree Heat

Staying cool this Labor Day weekend, with daily temperatures reaching nearly 110 degrees, was made a little easier by the Casitas Water Adventure where vacationers and locals made use of the facility.

By Lenny Roberts and Nao Braverman
The scorching temperatures that for more than a week have turned Ojai into Blythe’s unofficial sister city have somewhat subsided, but only slightly.
As Hollywood descended upon Ojai’s new chapel of the stars for the Kate Walsh-Alex Young wedding, and softball players from all over Southern California flirted with heat exhaustion by playing in the annual Labor Day Classic softball tournament at Sarzotti Park, locals wishing for even a sprinkle of the cooling rain that earlier skirted Ventura County, instead, baked in oppressive temperatures.
The highest point was reached Saturday afternoon at 109.6 degrees, according to one of Ojai’s two official weather underground reporting stations. Sunday, the same station reported a balmy 107.4.
Though the overwhelming heat prompted a number of Ojai residents to run to local hardware stores to purchase fans and air conditioners, a series of utility failures kept them from using the new appliances for relief. Barry Bluhm, an employee at True Value said that about 95 percent of the store’s air conditioner and fan merchandise was sold over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, however, a eucalyptus tree branch came crashing down on a power line at the corner of Cuyama Road and Del Norte Road causing the power line to ignite. The outage lasted for about five hours for some Ojai residents.
Temperatures rose high enough over the weekend to melt two power lines in Meiners Oaks on Sunday. The first scorched line dropped around 7 p.m. on South Poli Avenue near El Roblar and the other subsequently broke an hour later on Mesa Drive between South Poli and Alvarado Avenue, said Bob Myers, fire captain for Station 22. Both were cleared and taken care of promptly, Myers said. Despite the ominous heat, for about an hour Sunday evening, some upper Foothill Road residents couldn’t even take a cold shower to cool off. The short water outage was due to a break in the main pipe which caused a pipe failure, said Frank Heldman, Ojai office general manager for the Golden State Water Company. The water was shut down so that a clamp could be put on it, he said.
Mira Monte residents and visitors sought relief in ice cream cones. Sales at the Mira Monte to Liz White, a Baskin Robbins employee. Ojai Ice Cream sold about 30 percent less than usual, on the other hand. Ojai Ice Cream owners Doug and Donna Rydbeck said that that fewer people were strolling through the Arcade than usual over Labor Day slowing down sales for most of the Arcade’s business owners.
Fewer spectators than ever left their homes to watch the annual softball tournament in Sarazotti Park.
Though 22 dedicated softball teams played the Labor Day Classic under the sweltering afternoon sun, about a third of the teams that came to last year’s tournament didn’t show, most left immediately after their games were over instead of staying to watch, said Rudy Torres, a tournament coordinator. Only half the number of fans as usual withstood the heat to watch their favorite players finish off, he added .
Many were smart to stay in and keep cool as several individuals were admitted to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital for heat related health problems, said Mike Ellingson, vice president of marketing for the Community Memorial Health system. Exact numbers were not available because of a computer glitch resulting from a power failure over the weekend, he said.
Though not expected anytime soon, thunderstorms can light up the evening skies this time of year, but measurable rain usually arrives in October. The Ventura County Watershed Protection District’s yearly rainfall totals begin Oct. 1 and end Sept. 30.
With just 6.58 inches of rain recorded at Fire Station 21 since Oct. 1, Ojai is nearing the end of the driest year since record-taking began in 1873. But when considering only .47 of an inch of rain fell between April 15 and Sept. 30, 2006 — that being on May 22 — the lack of rain becomes more staggering.
In the nearly 17-month span, the 8.05 inches that fell are far less than the 21.32 expected during the entire rainy season. And the drought-like numbers are even more alarming when compared with the second-rainiest year on record just two years ago, when Ojai reported 34.84 inches.
With area ranchers being hit with a 53 percent rate hike just last week, and Golden State Water Company’s recently approved across-the-board double-digit rate hike, more interest than usual is being placed on the upcoming rainy season.
Based on climatological forecasts prepared Aug. 16, the National Weather Service is predicting between normal and below-normal precipitation for southern and central California between October and April, leaning toward below average for the typically wettest months of January, February and March.
With the Zaca Fire safely turned away from the Ojai Valley, and plant moisture levels at critical lows, fire officials are now focused on preparation as the Santa Ana-aided brushfire season approaches.
The live fuel moisture content is lower than 50 percent in some areas of the Los Padres National Forest, much lower than the 95 percent norm, according to Mary Blair, a wildfirefire prevention officer for the Los Padres National Forest. Fuel conditions in Southern California are at record dryness levels and leave Ojai residents at high risk for fires. The fuel conditions are not likely to improve until the area receives significant rainfall, she said.

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