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Western Heat Wave Kills At Least Six

Sweltering heat may have caused at least six deaths this week in Arizona and California, including a resident at a nursing home who died after the air conditioning system failed.

In Arizona, record-breaking temperatures may have caused the deaths of two transient men in Phoenix over the weekend. One, believed to be in his 50s, died Sunday, and another, a 28-year-old man, died Saturday.

Triple-digit temperatures covered much of the Southwest, and cranked-up air conditioners throughout California briefly threatened to send the state into a power emergency for a second-straight day.

Heavy electricity usage caused blackouts throughout the state, with more than 50,000 Southern California homes and businesses without power Sunday afternoon. Power company officials said it could be another day before power is restored.

In Northern California and the Central Valley, more than 130,000 homes and businesses had no electricity as of Sunday evening, including nearly 49,000 in San Jose and 27,000 in Diablo, according to Pacific Gas & Electric.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is urging residents to set thermostats as high as possible and to avoid using major appliances.

"We need all Angelenos' help as we tackle this extreme heat wave and the demand it has placed on our electrical system," said Villaraigosa, at a Sunday news conference.

Emergency workers scrambled to help heat exposure victims in downtown Los Angeles, where 99-degree temperatures broke the 96-degree record set in 1960. Temperatures in the city's Woodland Hills section hit a record 119 degrees, topping the 116-degree high set in 1985.

"Today I realized I can't function with just a fan," Woodland Hills resident Susan Mitnik told the Los Angeles Times. "It feels like everything is radiating heat. My head begins to pound."

Records were also set throughout the San Francisco Bay area, including Livermore at 115 degrees, San Rafael at 108 degrees and San Jose at 102 degrees, according to the weather service. San Francisco's 87 degrees topped an 81-degree record set in 1917.

Excessive heat warnings are in effect in parts of Southern California, where temperatures reached 97 degrees in downtown Los Angeles and 108 degrees in nearby Woodland Hills.

In Stockton, where temperatures reached a record-high 115 degrees, crews evacuated more than 100 patients early Sunday from the Beverly Healthcare Center after the nursing home's air conditioning gave out and two patients were hospitalized with heat-related stress, said police spokesman Pete Smith.

One patient died, and the other is in critical condition. The evacuated were taken to hospitals and care centers from Sacramento to Modesto.

Investigators were looking into possible criminal charges, although it is too early to tell whether the facility's operators were at fault, Smith said.

"It was very hot inside the facility, and you have to remember we're talking about elderly and infirm people who can't withstand the heat like a younger person would," he said.

The nursing home's phone was busy and a call to Beverly Healthcare's corporate headquarters in Fort Smith, Ark., was not immediately returned.

Another Central Valley nursing home, Woodland Skilled Nursing Facility, voluntarily evacuated its residents when managers realized its air conditioning system wasn't operating at peak capacity, according to the state Department of Health Services. No injuries were reported there.

In Modesto, a patient at Doctors Medical Center died Saturday of heart failure apparently caused by the heat after being admitted with a 106-degree temperature, hospital officials said.

Two others were hospitalized with 108-degree temperatures, including one who remained in critical condition Sunday.

In Kern County, authorities are investigating four possible heat-related deaths, including two this week.

Bakersfield gardener Joaquin Ramirez, 38, may have died of heat stroke after collapsing on the job late Wednesday. And on Thursday, a woman, whose name was not released, was found dead along a bike path in Ridgecrest, said John Rensselaer, Kern County's supervising deputy coroner.

The coroner's office also was looking into two deaths from last week - one of a man whose body was found near an abandoned vehicle off Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, and one of a man found dead with two empty water bottles on the Pacific Coast Trail near the Tehachapi Pass. Neither have been publicly identified and the causes of death would not be known for several weeks, Rensselaer said.

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