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Baltimore issues first Code Red heat alert of the year

Sixty-five people were treated for heat-related illness at Baltimore's African American Festival over the weekend, as city health officials declared Sunday the first Code Red heat alert day of 2013.

The heat index topped 104 degrees Sunday, with temperatures in the high 90s combined with humidity. National Weather Service meteorologist Calvin Meadows said the next few days are forecast to have high temperatures in the low 90s and high 80s, and said Sunday's heat was due to a "Bermuda high," in which hot, moist air from the South is blown into the Mid-Atlantic.

City Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot said conditions pose a potential danger to health, and the city opened three emergency cooling centers at several locations, offering free water.

"Heat-related hospitalizations and deaths are highly preventable," Barbot said in a statement. "During hot summer days, it's important to stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay in touch with your neighbors, especially seniors and the medically frail who live alone or without air conditioning."

The Mayor's Office of Emergency Management said special precautions were in place for the African American Festival, which was held at M&T; Bank Stadium from noon until late evening Saturday and Sunday. Sprinklers were operating at the Johnny Unitas statue between M&T; Bank Stadium and the main stage, and a "cool down zone," misting tents and an air-conditioned Maryland Transit Administration bus were available for patrons. Three air-conditioned tents were also set up at the festival.

Officials said Saturday's attendance at the festival, which featured musical artists Patti LaBelle and Fantasia, peaked at about 80,000. The Fire Department handled 59 heat-related emergency calls at the event Saturday, and nine people were taken to hospitals for heat-related conditions. On Sunday, six people sought medical attention for heat-related illness at the event and one of those people was taken to the hospital, said Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for the Baltimore Health Department.

Citywide, at least 15 people were seen in emergency rooms for heat-related illness Saturday, Schwartzberg said.

In 2012, the city had 13 reported heat-related deaths and 17 Code Red days. So far in 2013, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has reported one heat-related death, a Howard County man.

The city health department recommends that on Code Red days, residents stay inside and in air conditioning; check in on older, sick or frail people who may need help; and avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke can include confusion, nausea, light-headedness, high body temperature with cool and clammy skin, hot or flushed skin, and rapid or slowed heart beat. Anyone experiencing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke should call 911, officials said.

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