First heat wave breaks records in western United States

Scorching temperatures broke records at the start of summer in the western United States, before the region’s first major heat wave of the year eased slightly on Friday.

Millions of people in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were under excessive heat warnings this week.

While the region is accustomed to sweltering heat, climate change worsened by human activity has led to more extreme weather conditions and the current heat wave was historically early.

Las Vegas recorded a temperature of 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius) on Thursday, marking the earliest date this year the temperature has ever been reached.

“The last few days have been HOT,” observes the city’s National Weather Service, which publishes a long list of places where daily records have fallen.

Among them, the notoriously hot Death Valley desert reached 122F.

An excessive heat warning is in effect through Saturday in Las Vegas, where libraries have been transformed into cooling stations allowing residents to escape the oven, and some events have been forced to move indoors.

At a Trump rally in Arizona, nearly a dozen people were taken to the hospital with heat exhaustion, firefighters told a local ABC affiliate.

Hiking on the popular Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak trails in the state capital, Phoenix, was banned due to the heat.

“With temperatures near 110 degrees, this is not hiking day,” the Phoenix Fire Department posted on Facebook.

Coastal regions were largely spared.

But in a potentially worrying sign of the summer months to come, a number of small wildfires have broken out across California.

The largest, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, burned 3,600 acres (more than 1,450 hectares) of the agricultural Central Valley before being largely contained by firefighters.

After about 20 years of drought and a climate that is slowly becoming more and more arid, California has seen an alarming number of destructive wildfires in recent years.

Wildfires are an integral – and necessary – part of the region’s life cycle.

But climate change, caused by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is making them bigger, hotter and more unpredictable.

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