HEATING UP: Blistering temperatures set a record, take a toll in fires, accidents, violence

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

After more than a week straight of 90-degree plus days, the temperature surged to a record 102 downtown today, breaking the record of 101 degrees set in 1978.

The heat wave is causing tempers to rise, injuries to occur and accidents to happen. A few examples:

* An overworked air conditioner in a southwest Baltimore home overheated late last night, setting the house on fire, burning one resident and causing $240,000 damage.

* Three firefighters battling a fire at a South Baltimore warehouse in oppressive temperatures suffered heat exhaustion and had to be treated at hospitals.

* Two men argued over the opening of a fire hydrant to cool off. One pulled a gun and shot the other.

* City water officials said too many Baltimoreans are opening fire hydrants. Several hundred were opened Saturday; Sunday, 70 were tapped illegally.

* The air conditioning at the Mitchell Courthouse picked the worst possible time to break down.

All that came with a high yesterday of "only" 96 degrees. By 1 p.m. today, the mercury had climbed to 102 degrees in downtown Baltimore. It was 99 at BWI. Relief is promised for tomorrow, as a "cool" front arrives to offer temperatures in the 80s through Saturday.

The three-alarm fire started by the overheated air conditioner broke out in a home in the 2800 block of Hollins Ferry Road, in Hollinswood, shortly before midnight.

Mark Thompson, 32, who lived with his brother, Gary, and his family at 2814 Hollins Ferry Road, was taken to the burn unit of Francis Scott Key Medical Center with second-degree burns of the hands and chest.

Fire Department spokesman Patrick Flynn said the fire caused $140,000 damage in destroying the Thompson house; $70,000 in damage at 2812, the home of Sal and Lydia Lanza; and $30,000 in damage to 2816, the home of Osha Lanza, Sal Lanza's daughter-in-law.

Battalion Chief William L. Hunt said several firefighters were overcome by heat and two sustained minor leg injuries.

In South Baltimore, three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion while fighting a one-alarm fire yesterday afternoon at a warehouse that stored 1,200 gallon jugs of organic peroxide, a flammable liquid.

Two firefighters were treated at Harbor Hospital Center for heat exhaustion and the other at Mercy Medical Center, Flynn said.

The fire was reported at 2:50 p.m. at L.C.I. Inc. in the 700 block of Chesapeake Ave. L.C.I. makes material for fiberglass, Flynn said.

A preliminary investigation suggests the organic peroxide could have ignited the fire, Flynn said, and the heat could have made it worse.

A man who turned on a fire hydrant to cool off yesterday was shot after another man objected.

Police said Donald Arnold, 21, of the 1000 block of Wilmington Ave., turned on the hydrant in the 1200 block of James St. and became involved in a heated argument with a man who lives in the block.

The man pulled a handgun and shot Arnold in the right arm.

Arnold was taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Police said Terry Looney, 29, of the 1200 block of James St., was charged with assault with intent to murder and using a handgun in the commission of a felony.

There was no violence elsewhere over hydrants, but city officials said open hydrants affect overall water pressure and can threaten the availability of water to fight fires.

If city crews have to close a hydrant a second time, they shut it off under the street. Before firefighters can tap that hydrant to fight a fire, water crews have to be called back to reopen the valve, officials said.

Employees in the Mitchell Courthouse suffered much of yesterday without air conditioning, as maintenance workers struggled to repair a system that has broken down several times this summer.

Some hallways and offices were equipped with fans; other workers had nothing to combat the heart.

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The 4-day-old ban on outdoor water use remained in force today.

The ban applies to anyone on the city water system, including bill-payers in Baltimore, Baltimore County, and parts of Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

There's plenty of water in the city's three reservoirs, officials said. But when the demand climbed to 388 million gallons Friday, threatened to outstrip the system's ability to deliver it. The city delivers 300 million gallans on a normal July day.

Compliance with the ban has been "excellent," said public works chief George C. Balog. "We were seeing results almost immediately."

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Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman John Metzger said about 7,400 customers lost power between 5 a.m. and noon today in scattered, outages, most of them heat-related. Many interruptions were blamed on overheated transformers.

The demand for power set a record of 5,490 megawatts Friday, breaking the old mark of 5,477 set Aug. 15, 1988.

Thanks to yesterday's cloud cover, peak demand fell short of another record. But consumption today had reached 5,423 megawatts by noon. "It looks like we are going to hit new records this afternoon unless the weather changes," Metzger said.

He said BG&E; was having "no problem" meeting the demand with both Calvert Cliffs nuclear units at 100 percent and the Brandon Shore coal-fired gnerator on line.

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The showers yesterday apparently were enough to keep smog levels down a little. The Maryland Department of the Environment reported that ozone levels in the Baltimore area were "moderate" range yesterday afternoon, and "good" earlier today.

State environment department spokesman Michael Sullivan said ground-level ozone pollution in Baltimore has reached "unhealthful" levels on 11 days so far, equal to the number recorded all of last year.

Ozone, also known as smog, is an unstable form of oxygen that can irritate the lungs and eyes and cause wheezing and coughing. It is produced when volatile organic chemical compounds and nitrous oxides from motor vehicle exhaust, power plants and other industries and emissions from a myriad of other sources combine under intense summertime heat and sunlight.

SG Thrice-daily air quality updates are available by calling 631-3247.

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Area hospitals have reported relatively few heat-related illnesses.

Vivienne Stearns-Elliott, spokeswoman for Greater Baltimore Medical Center, yesterday attributed the lack of heat victims in the emergency room to people's growing awareness of the importance of seeking shade and drinking large amounts of water during the hot weather.

In Anne Arundel County, health officials said there have been no reports of heat-related illnessess in the county hospital emergency rooms, including over the hot weekend.

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In other heat-wave news:

* Today Tuesdaymarks the ninth consecutive day of 90-degree-plus weather in downtown Baltimore. It is the eighth such day at BWI.

* Today marks the fourth day this year with highs of 100 or more downtown. It reached 100 degrees on June 16 and 30, and 104 on July 21.

* The coolest it has been in Baltimore all month was 71 degrees downtown July 5.

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