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Flats Fire: Crews battling scorching temperatures as heat wave grips California

Firefighters are making progress on the Flats Fire, burning in the mountains just south of Palm Desert, in Pinyon Pines.

Crews battled both smoldering hot spots and soaring temperatures, as officials said they were being pushed to their limits by the heat wave gripping California this week.

The worst of the flames and smoke seemingly have passed, after the fire erupted Sunday and tore through 400 acres. It was 30 percent contained Monday night.

As firefighters push for containment, officials said the historic heat is only making the job harder.

"With this heat wave, with the higher temperatures and winds... it makes it very very difficult for the firefighters in the field to do the job, maintain hydration and still be able to continue mop up at a high-paced rate,"said Jim Smith, incident commander with the U.S. Forest Service.

Snow said the triple-digit temperatures have the more than 400 personnel there on high alert, with crews rotating out to prevent heat exhaustion.

"Long sleeves, pants, carrying your gear – you do get tired," Snow said. "We try to get folks some time to rest, get them some shade, get them some AC in the vehicles once in a while."

200 gallons of water bottles on pallets were delivered by helicopter, Snow said, to keep firefighters hydrated without having to carry the weight in the dangerous heat.

Some homes were protected by engine crews and strong lines of fire retardant dropped aerially. Other homes were destroyed, and several damaged, but some who live nearby said the biggest hit is to nature.

"It was a beautiful, lush forest," nearby resident Steve Webster said. "Now it'll take about 10 to 15 years to get somewhat back to normal."

Israel Paz, who also lives nearby, said he's thankful to the firefighters as his home remains in tact. "You guys are heroes," he said.

Fire officials said blazes like this one will erupt more frequently as dry, hot conditions continue, and people should be prepared for hotter, bigger fires going forward.

"We’re seeing it more and more every year that the ever-faithful year-round fire season is here," Snow said.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.


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