Arizona and Nevada are bracing for the possibility of record-breaking temperatures. Firefighters confronting small blazes in California may be forced to do so in triple-digit heat. The operator of the Texas power grid has urged residents to minimize their electricity usage or risk outages.

A heat wave this week across the western United States, which is already facing the worst drought in two decades, will test electrical grids stressed by air-conditioning and endanger those unable to find relief.

It reached 115 degrees in Phoenix on Monday, and temperatures are expected to continue climbing this week. Vincent Raynor has spent the past three days at a cooling center in the suburb of Chandler and his nights in a motel.

Before receiving that temporary housing a few months ago, Raynor lived on the streets for a couple of years, sometimes in dangerous heat.

“It gets so hot, it fries your brain,” he said, adding, “Sometimes at night you can’t sleep because it’s so hot.”

The high temperatures can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to National Weather Service warnings issued for areas across the West and Southwest. This week’s risk is especially severe because temperatures are expected to remain high even when the sun goes down.


“There’s no relief overnight, so if people don’t have proper air-conditioning and can’t cool off, there’s not that respite,” said Julie Malingowski, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Parched regions that rely on air-conditioning may face power failures, which can be deadly in extreme heat or cold. More than 100 people died in Texas during a February storm that crippled the power grid as demand for heat increased at the same time as electrical plants went offline.

The current heat wave is expected to be at its most intense and most widespread through Saturday, threatening to surpass the highest temperatures ever recorded in Arizona (128 degrees Fahrenheit) and Nevada (125). The world record of 134 degrees — which is now questioned — was set in Death Valley in California in 1913.

High temperatures are also aggravating wildfires in drought-stricken areas, with blazes reported in eight states Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

More than 27,000 fires have burned through 951,851 acres nationwide this year, according to the center. Over the same period in 2020, 21,220 fires had burned about 716,000 acres.

Arizona is battling seven wildfires, the most of any state. In Richard Williams’ 20 years living on a ridge with a view of the Pinal Mountains in Gila County, he has never seen fires sweep so close to his home and the antique shop he runs with his partner, Elizabeth Moore.


When flames began shooting up over the hill next to their home, the couple evacuated to a Red Cross shelter, where they spent several days. Their house and shop have been spared the flames. But the area is still clouded in smoke.

“Usually the sun comes blazing down and it gets hotter than blazes,” Williams said. “But it was cool up there this morning — you couldn’t even see the sun.”

“It’s been scary,” he added. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.