- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Area residents and tourists crowded street vendors and flooded air-conditioning repair shops and amusement parks to seek refuge from the stifling heat wave that hovered over the D.C. area for the third straight day yesterday.

Adults and children bought ice cream and bottles of water from street vendors stationed throughout the Mall.

Some flocked to water parks or swimming pools to keep cool. Others flooded the telephone lines of air-conditioning repair shops to get their broken units fixed immediately.

“We’re overwhelmed with calls,” said Bernie Atkins, vice president of operations at First Call, a local air-conditioning and plumbing service company. “People aren’t waiting. If you don’t get out there right away, they cancel on you. This is what happens with this kind of weather — they’ll call anybody they can get who’ll listen to them and tell them they’ll be right there.”

Temperatures reached 97 degrees yesterday, and the heat index value was 103 degrees, the National Weather Service reported.

Severe thunderstorms moved through the region last night, forcing President Bush to cancel a trip to the Boy Scouts’ national jamboree, a gathering of tens of thousands of youngsters saddened by the deaths of four of their leaders in an accident.

Mr. Bush was to have flown by helicopter yesterday to the National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill about an hour south of the District. He will make the trip today instead.

Boy Scout officials said about 300 Scouts were treated yesterday for heat-related illnesses.

Soldiers carried Boy Scouts on stretchers to the base hospital, about three miles from the event arena, and some were airlifted to hospitals.

The thunderstorms brought relief from the heat — dropping the temperature about 20 degrees in an hour — but also brought lightning and heavy rain to some areas.

Four persons were struck by lightning in Lucketts at about 5:30 p.m., Loudoun County officials said. Police spokesman Kraig Troxell said the four had planned to go fishing but decided against it when they saw the weather. They were hit while at their vehicle in the 14600 block of New Valley Church Road.

All four were taken to hospitals in unknown conditions. A dog with the group also was struck by lightning, and died.

In Montgomery County, a condominium in the 12900 block of Churchill Ridge Circle in Germantown was struck by lightning, sparking a two-alarm fire. Fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said there were no injuries, but five families were displaced. Damage was estimated at $200,000.

About a half-hour later, Mr. Piringer said, lightning struck the roof of a 21/2 story farmhouse in Dickerson. No one was hurt, but damage was estimated at $150,000.

The storm knocked out power to more than 100,000 customers across the region. Especially hard hit was the Route 29 corridor from Silver Spring to Burtonsville.

But before the storms came, workers at local ice cream shops and restaurants said their establishments got heavy foot traffic from customers trying to cool off.

“We’ve been very busy; a lot of people have come out with the heat,” said Laura Wheeler, owner of Sundae Times in Alexandria. “They’re just coming in trying to find a place to cool off. They’ve been buying ice cream for their dogs, too.”

In the District, the scorching temperatures drove hundreds of locals and tourists to the Gelato Bar, an ice cream stand in the food court of the National Museum of Natural History.

The stand draws about 600 customers a day during the summer’s hottest days, said George Conomos, a food and beverage director at the Smithsonian Institution.

“The gelato stand has been quite the haven in the summer,” Mr. Conomos said. “When the weather gets to the point of discomfort, [people] come inside. … We’re always busy this time of year, but the heat has really just pushed it over the top.”

Others spent the day at area theme parks such as Six Flags America in Largo and Paramount’s Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va.

“The water park is a huge draw when it’s this hot outside,” said Lahne Curry, a public relations manager for Six Flags.

Susie Storey, a spokeswoman for Kings Dominion, agreed: “We had a really great day yesterday and anticipate a great rest of the week. The heat’s not deterring us in any way.”

Local fire departments have been receiving more calls for heat illnesses, fires and other heat-related incidents.

“We’re getting many more calls since the heat advisory was put in effect,” said Alan Etter, a D.C. fire department spokesman. “There’s been a general increase for heat and general exposure issues. I heard about a couple of serious cases, but nothing fatal so far.”

Local hospitals haven’t seen many patients with heat-related illnesses.

“We think people may have been heeding the message [to stay safe],” said Beth Visioli, a spokeswoman for Inova Fairfax Hospital. “It’s nothing that we’re overwhelmed with.”

In Norfolk, the Navy closed the USS Wisconsin to the public when the thermometer on the teak deck read 120 degrees, a spokeswoman for the Hampton Roads Naval Museum said.

In the District, the car inspection station in Southwest closed at 1 p.m. because of the heat.

The Weather Service predicted that temperatures today will drop to the low 80s and that the region will have low humidity.

The heat caused problems for some power companies.

The heavy electricity demand forced Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) and Potomac Electric Power Co. to institute voltage reductions. Pepco serves customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the District.

Both companies called on customers to delay using household appliances — such as stoves, dishwashers and clothes dryers — until the cooler evening hours. Power officials even asked customers to turn up their air-conditioning temperatures to conserve energy.

“That just helps us relieve our distribution system so we don’t have to pump so much power through,” BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said.

In Virginia, increased use of air conditioners and fans was likely to cause Dominion Virginia Power to set a record for customer demand for the third day in a row, a spokesman said yesterday.

After transmitting the world’s largest electric load on Tuesday, regional power grid operator PJM Interconnection asked customers in the Mid-Atlantic region to conserve energy yesterday.

PJM coordinates the movement of electricity among 13 states from Illinois to North Carolina, including the District, Virginia and Maryland, and serves about 51 million people.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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