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California Heat Wave Nears End

Children and their parents filled the playground and soccer fields at Radio Park, relieved they could finally venture outside after a nearly two-week heat wave blamed for as many as 141 deaths.

"It feels nice to be outside for more than a minute. For the past week it's just been from the house to the car, from the car to the house," said Eric Mayberry, who took his 3-year-old daughter to the playground.

California appeared to break out of the heat wave Friday, the same day authorities raised their toll of possible heat-related deaths by more than 40. The increase came primarily from Los Angeles County and the Central Valley counties of Merced and Stanislaus, where coroners struggled to keep up.

Stanislaus County, which includes Modesto, has reported 29 heat-related deaths. It normally sees one such death a year, county emergency services spokesman David Jones said.

The state had been sizzling in triple-digit temperatures since July 16. Several cities set records for extended heat waves, including Fresno, with six consecutive 110-plus-degree days, and Sacramento, with 11 consecutive triple-digit days, said Cynthia Palmer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

Forecasters said temperatures were expected to return to normal over the weekend.

"You have to go back quite a ways before you see this kind of heat over this widespread an area lasting this long," said David Reynolds, the weather service's chief meteorologist in Monterey. "This kind of heat wave is relatively rare and may only occur every 20 to 25 years."

The majority of deaths attributed to the heat were elderly people who died in homes without air conditioning in the Central Valley, where temperatures hit 115 degrees for several consecutive days.

Many elderly residents, whose bodies don't cope as well in the heat, probably underestimated the potential for harm, county coroners said.

"They've dealt with heat forever," said Sgt. Sue Norris, supervisor of the Merced County coroner's office. "They don't think that it could be a real danger."

Central Valley farmers were assessing damage to their crops. Growers of peaches, plums, nectarines and walnuts were especially hurt, said Rosanna Westmoreland, a spokeswoman for the California Farm Bureau.

"This is definitely going to be one of those years we're going to remember," said Paul Wenger, a Stanislaus County farmer who said thousands of his walnut and almond trees suffered sun damage and even died in the heat.

July has seen extreme heat across the country, including in St. Louis, which sweltered even more after storms caused the worst blackout in city history last week. AmerenUE Corp. brought in utility workers from around the country to help, but power was not completely restored until Friday, nine days later.

More than a million customers lost power in California's heat wave, largely because of equipment failures, but power regulators avoided the mandatory blackouts that marked the state's power crisis of 2000 and 2001. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it would offer payments between $25 and $100 to customers who went without power for more than two days.

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