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West Sizzles, Little Relief In Sight

If a record-breaking heat wave doesn't lift soon, cattle rancher Sharon McDonald may see her hay crop turn to dust.

Oppressive temperatures eased a bit in some parts of the West, but McDonald's central Montana ranch baked under triple-digit heat. Forecasters reported little relief in the days ahead, saying the weather system that brought the high temperatures could last well into next week.

In Montana, where cattle outnumber residents by more than 2 to 1, livestock and people sought shade and drought-weary farmers watched for damage to grain.

"We are trying to get our hay up before it disintegrates," said McDonald, a rancher near Melville. "It just gets crispy and just falls apart."

With a stubborn jet stream lodged further north than usual blocking cool air from Canada, the massive U.S. heat wave has spread to northern border states where they're used to temperatures that are brisk – not broiling, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes.

Warnings of excessive heat were posted Friday for much of Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Oregon and Washington state.

Air conditioners — and even swamp coolers — were predictably hot sellers at the hardware store.

"I'm telling you, it has been nuts," said Dennis VanDyke, a manager at Power Townsend in Helena, Mont. "The only thing I am getting calls for is air conditioners."

VanDyke said some people prefer swamp coolers, which use a fan and the condensation of water to cool the air, over the more power-hungry air conditioning units.

"They are being bought faster than we can put them on the shelves," he said.

In Montana, temperatures above 100 are usually not seen until August. The normal July high in Helena is 83 degrees — not the 105 some areas saw Friday. By midday, records were already set or tied in the Montana cities of Cut Bank, Great Falls, Havre, and Bozeman.

The Montana Department of Transportation said it was putting maintenance crews to work early in the morning so they could finish by midday.

In Boise, where temperatures surpassed 100 degrees Friday, some found it was too hot to play at a public water fountain.

"We'll probably leave soon. Two or three o'clock is about my limit before I want to get in some air conditioning," mother Monica Player said as children ran through jets of water.

Temperatures were expected to ease slightly in Southern California. But CBS news correspondent Bill Whitaker reports that 95 percent of California's pastureland is too dry to feed livestock.

Phoenix saw a modest drop in temperature, a relatively cooler 111 degrees compared to 115 Thursday. With the approach of Arizona's summer rainy season, humidity levels have started climbing along with power demand.

"Reno shattered its old record high by 8 degrees yesterday when it hit 108, while Las Vegas tied their record with 116," said CBS News meteorologist George Cullen. "Death Valley got up to an amazing 127 and it's only gotten higher than that twice before since 1918, and both times it was 128, so you can see just how hot it is even for there."

"When it does get to 126, 127, it kind of takes your breath away, it saps your energy, and as you're walking along outside, just breathing, you feeling like you're kind of singeing the inside of your lungs and your throat," Death Valley resident Phil Dickenson, director of sales and marketing at the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort there, told CBS News.

Heat remained an issue along the border. The bodies of six suspected illegal immigrants have been found since Monday in southern Arizona deserts, all likely victims of heat illness while trying to walk into the U.S. from Mexico. The toll, while high, is not unusual during hot spells in the region.

In central Oregon, population growth and a burgeoning demand for air conditioning meant a rise in electricity demand. The Bonneville Power Administration said it was worried fires could damage transmission lines and cause outages.

Officials said the fire season could turn fearsome following the dry heat.

"It's an early start and a hot start," said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Velver in Great Falls.

The National Forest Service reported at least 16 fires over 500 acres in size burning throughout the West, including three new ones that sparked Thursday.

The agency said fire danger was most extreme in Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah — although a "red flag" warning was posted for much of the West.

Velver said temperatures in Montana could start to fall a bit by Saturday. In eastern Oregon, which set 15 record highs on Thursday, temperatures were expected to fall off to between 94 and 100 degrees.

But the heat will hover over most of the far West through at least the end of next week, said Kelly Redmond, a regional climatologist for the National Weather Service. He said it could migrate further inland and cover more of the West, including Colorado, as the week goes on.

"It looks like it is going to stay place for a good long while," he said.