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Heat Wave Fries The Nation

As a heat wave wilted Americans across the country Friday, some businesses in the Midwest turned off lights and computers, and even told workers to stay home.

Utility companies from Wisconsin to New England asked residents to take similar steps, such as turning down air conditioners and cutting back on appliance use until temperatures drop from the 90s. That's not expected until next week, as the searing heat also continues to grip the Southeast.

"When we go to the public and ask them to reduce their power, it's a major step," said Deb Strohmaier, spokeswoman for Columbus-based American Electric Power, which serves 7.5 million people in seven states.

Temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit were forecast for Washington; New York City; Little Rock, Ark.; and Memphis, Tenn., on Friday. Heat above the 90 degree mark, often combined with saturating humidity, was common elsewhere east of the Rockies.

The dry conditions already have wreaked havoc in Florida and Texas. Bone-dry brush has kindled more than 1,000 fires in Florida since May 25. The same problem has occurred in drought-stricken Texas, where more than 50 wild fires have raged through the San Antonio area.

The heat has also spawned thousands of grasshoppers that thrive in the severe weather and bring further damage to Texas crops.

While the heat was forecast to ease early next week in areas to the north, conditions were likely to deteriorate for the south. A high of 104 was expected in Dallas Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and nearly that high in Houston.

This week's heat has cooked up severe thunderstorms. A tornado damaged some structures near Janesville, Wis., Thursday evening, and storms, packing high winds and hail, continued Friday across the Great Lakes into New England.

In Chicago, an ozone action alert was in its third day Friday, with residents being asked not to use power mowers and to restrict private automobile use to reduce air pollution.

City officials, mindful of a 1995 heat wave in Chicago that was blamed for more than 700 deaths, urged family members to make frequent checks on the elderly.

In Washington officials issued a "code red" smog warning, urging the elderly, asthmatics, children, and others vulnerable to air pollution to stay indoors.

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