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California’s Extreme Warmth Challenges Inland Householders

When Farwa Ali and her family wanted to buy a bigger home, Mountain House, Calif., seemed to check all of their boxes.

The fast-growing community, just 40 miles inland from where they were living in the San Francisco Bay Area, offered good schools, a diverse population and dozens of large houses for sale within their budget. It seemed to be a perfect match — at least until their first summer, when the scorching temperatures of California’s Central Valley set in.

“We never had an idea that it would be this hot,” Ms. Ali said on Tuesday as she darted through a grocery store parking lot where the temperature was well over 100 degrees.

Mountain House, about 60 miles east of San Francisco, became the newest city in California on Monday, after voters agreed in the spring to have their bedroom community run by a full-fledged government with a mayor and City Council. What began as a small exurban development was propelled in recent years by a surge in home buyers who were priced out of the Bay Area.

Inland cities have attracted residents from coastal California for years, but the migration went into overdrive after the pandemic took hold, when many employees were able to work remotely from anywhere and families wanted more living space.

One of the trade-offs to moving inland has been the oppressive heat waves that are rarely felt near the California coast. Because of climate change, the hot stretches are intensifying, and subjecting more new arrivals to extreme temperatures.

The most recent test has come this week, as the first prolonged heat wave of the summer gripped interior parts of the state. Extreme heat is expected to last for days; in Mountain House, temperatures were expected to reach 110 degrees on Wednesday, and could remain above 100 degrees well into next week.

As the sun began to bake Mountain House this week, the newly incorporated city canceled youth practices for tennis, golf and flag football. Construction workers, landscapers and garbage collectors shifted their schedules to work earlier in the day. Most residents hunkered down indoors.

The name Mountain House might suggest an elevated perch in cooler air, but the city gets the same searing heat that the rest of the Central Valley does in the summer. It is situated at the base of the Altamont Pass, which commuters have traversed for decades to reach workplaces in the Bay Area, driving past giant wind turbines that are part of California’s effort to harness clean energy.

Mountain House was formed in 1996 on former alfalfa fields. In 2008, plunging home values during the financial crisis made Mountain House “the most underwater community in America,” The New York Times wrote at the time.

Housing prices in California have soared since then, though, and a new wave of people moving to Mountain House has brought the community young families and greater ethnic diversity. About half of the city’s 25,000 residents identified as Asian American, according to a 2022 census survey.

Andy Su, the new mayor of Mountain House and an emergency room physician, said the heat has not been an overwhelming concern at the nearby hospital where he works, Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. While he has been seeing an unusually high number of patients with kidney stones from dehydration, he said, he doesn’t see many other heat-related illnesses.

“When people move here, they make the decision, they know what they’re getting into,” Dr. Su said. “It’s hot, but we adjust our life to it — just like when you live in Alaska, in the winter, you adjust your life.”

Kevin Costa, a solar technician, outfitted his home in Mountain House with large overhangs and dark window shades. During weeks like this, he turns on fans, boosts the air-conditioning and avoids the garage, which is “like an oven,” he said.

On the hottest days, he said, he puts a wet towel on the back of his neck or dunks his shirt in cold water before he leaves the house. Even then, he said, “it feels like a blow dryer, blasting hot air at you just constantly.”

Some Mountain House residents said this week that they were accustomed to the similarly hot weather in their hometowns in India, Pakistan or the Philippines.

When the heat sets in, Ms. Ali, who is originally from Bangalore, India, said she changes her family’s diet and makes traditional dishes that help them stay cool. Her hot-weather recipes include yogurt, okra and gourds, and exclude red meat and chicken. “I’m still not sure if it really works with this extreme heat,” she said.

For some residents, there is little recourse.

Daniela Soto and her two sons moved to Tracy, the next town to the east, in search of cheaper rent, after living in the bay-adjacent city of San Leandro, Calif., and in New York. She still cannot afford to run her air-conditioning, she said, so she brought her boys to a splash park in Mountain House on Tuesday.

She said she would love to move to a cooler city in California, but that possibility seems increasingly out of reach.

“They’re going to be expensive, regardless of where you go,” she said. “It’s almost like you’re trapped in this hot bubble.”

Judson Jones contributed reporting.

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