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Rainstorms start fires, cut power Three schools without power closed for today.


Repair crews were picking up the pieces today after thunderstorms packed with damaging lightning rolled across the Baltimore area last night, ending two days of record-breaking heat.

The lightning touched off fires at two homes, a medical office and a funeral establishment, and knocked out power to 40,000 electric customers. Heavy rains flooded some areas.

Art Slusark, a spokesman for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said that fewer than 1,000 customers remained without power at midday. He said power was expected to be fully restored by afternoon.

More than 2,300 Baltimore County schoolchildren got the day off today after storm-related damage at Loch Raven High, Lutherville-Timonium Elementary and Parkville Middle schools. Power was being restored and air conditioning repaired, and classes were expected to resume tomorrow.

The Baltimore County Fire Department responded to more than 50 storm-related calls, including four building fires, said Capt. Stephen R. Kearney. No injuries were reported.

One of the houses hit by lightning was the Pikesville home of Steven Hiken, owner of S Hiken Formal Wear, a local chain of six stores, police said.

The Hiken house in the 7900 block of Ivy Lane was hit about 7:35 p.m. and was extensively damaged by the fire, authorities said.

In Essex, a house in the 2800 block of Phillips Road at Rockaway Beach was damaged when lightning struck it at 9:50 p.m.

In Towson, more than 100 mourners and employees of the Ruck funeral establishment at York Road and the Beltway were forced to leave the building when lightning struck the cupola at 7:15 p.m.

A small fire that broke out on the roof was quickly extinguished and no injuries were reported. Rain leaked into at least one viewing room, forcing two caskets to be moved.

The Towson Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center at 7605 Osler Drive also suffered a small fire started by lightning, Kearney said.

High winds in Owings Mills, Pikesville, Lutherville and Randallstown downed several trees, police said.

Of the reported 40,000 power outages, 7,041 occurred in Carroll County, 20,267 in northern Baltimore County, 1,441 in Harford County, 1,000 in the city, 5,084 in Howard County, 4,709 in northern Anne Arundel County and 733 in southern Anne Arundel County.

Most of the outages were the result of transformers being hit by lightning, Slusark said.

He said at least 200 BG&E; workers in 90 crews responded to the areas hit by the storm and worked through the night to restore service.

A half-inch of rain was measured by the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, but more than an inch fell in Pikesville, Bel Air and North East. The State Police barracks at Waterloo got 1.7 inches, and there was a report of more than 3 inches in Abingdon, the weather service said.

U.S. 40 at Joppa Farm Road was under 3 feet of water at one point, police said.

A spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office said several roads were closed due to flooding.

During the storm, the temperature at the Baltimore Custom House dropped to 77 degrees, some 22 degrees less than yesterday's record downtown high.

The mercury climbed to 99 degrees at 4:20 p.m. yesterday in downtown Baltimore. That was one degree warmer than Monday, and it demolished the 93-degree record for the date set in 1972.

Yesterday's airport high was 97 degrees at 2:30 p.m., breaking the 92-degree record set there in 1972.

The heat also sent electrical demand to record September levels for the second day, and won early dismissals for hundreds of thousands of sweaty students suffering in classrooms in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties, and in Baltimore.

But for most students, their luck ran out today, and tomorrow should bring mostly cloudy skies, with showers and thunderstorms and highs near 70. Friday will be still cooler, with partly sunny skies and highs in the mid-60s to 70 degrees.

Forecasters are predicting sweater and football weather for this weekend, with highs in the 60s, and lows in the 40s, and in the 30s in western Maryland. Autumn arrives at 8:48 a.m. Monday.

The cooler weather will take the heat off the managers of the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland Interconnection, the electrical power grid serving 21 million people from New York to Washington.

In yesterday's record heat, they had to import extra electricity from utilities in cooler Midwest states to make up for generating capacity lost due to routine maintenance. The maintenance work had been scheduled for September on the assumption that the weather would be cooler and demand slack.

The imported power helped local utilities get through the day.

On Monday, a more hard-pressed BG&E; shed 275 megawatts of demand by cutting off electricity to several key industrial customers and switching off the compressors on 120,000 residential air conditioners whose owners volunteered for the utility's Energy Manager program.

The demand for power yesterday from BG&E;'s 1 million customers peaked at 5,315 megawatts in the hour ending at 3 p.m. That broke the previous September record of 5,144 megawatts set Monday.

Record high overnight minimum temperatures were noted in Scranton, Pa., and Wilmington, Del.

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