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Scorcher may stay a week

July 05, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

If you thought it was hot wherever you chose to celebrate Independence Day on Sunday, think again.

You could have been one of the hundreds who sweltered on the blacktop of the Mason-Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown.

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The 98-degree air wasn't deterring the diehard fans and drivers, whose dragsters gave new meaning to the term "hot rod."

"We're not used to it. We put up with it," said Tom Pistole Jr. of Rockville, Md.

His son, Tom Pistole III, compounded the misery by putting on a black fire-retardant suit and helmet before climbing into his purple and green dragster for a shot at a $5,000 prize.

Racers speculated the temperature climbs to 120 degrees in the closed-door hot rods, which have no air conditioning so that all the engine power is reserved for speed.

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At least Pistole looked forward to catching a 150 mph breeze in his open car. But the ride only lasts about 8 seconds on the quarter-mile long track.

Most of the spectators wore as little clothing as possible and drank plenty of beverages to try to keep cool.

Jenny Stine, 44, of Hagerstown, wore shorts and a black bikini top. She draped an icewater-soaked hand towel around her neck.

Stine loves the excitement and the speed of the races. And the guys aren't bad to look at either, she said.

"If I didn't get anything else, at least I get a tan," she said.

Those who didn't seek the comfort of air-conditioning found all kinds of ways to stay cool, from eating ice cream to heading for the mountains.

At Greenbrier State Park, where the lake is closed to swimming because of the low water level, rangers set up a sprinkler system on the beach to provide some relief.

The children in Antonio Cariello's family were disappointed, but the adults said it was cooler in the shade of the park than at their house in Baltimore.

"We've had a good time. It's refreshing under the trees," said Cariello, 52.

The campground was only half full and 600 paying visitors were registered Sunday, said Ranger Cesar Diaz, who sent some people to Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Md.

"All we can do is pray for rain," he said.

And it could be a while before the area sees a significant amount of rain, said National Weather Service forecaster Dewey Walston.

A ridge of high pressure is expected to keep daytime temperatures in the 90s all week, he said.

"This one is particularly strong and it's just sitting overhead," he said. "By next weekend there are hints it'll cool off to more sane levels."

Today could even reach 100 in the valleys and on the east side of the mountains, where warm air tends to settle, he said.

Sunday's high was 98 in Hagerstown, according to weather observer Greg Keefer. Combined with the humidity, it felt more like 107 degrees.

A handful of people were treated at Tri-State area hospitals for heat exhaustion. None of the cases was serious, nursing supervisors said.

Washington County Sheriff's deputies rescued a six-week-old puppy locked inside a car in the parking lot of Valley Mall off Halfway Boulevard on Saturday afternoon.

The dog was found by Deputy Richard Peacock at 2 p.m. as he made a regular patrol through the lot, he said.

The pet appeared to be near death, he said.

By the time entry was made through a rear window, the puppy was slipping in and out of consciousness, he said.

The freed puppy was placed inside the air-conditioned police cruiser and given water.

It was taken to a veterinarian for treatment and is expected to survive, Peacock said.

Additional deputies waited at the car until the owner arrived more than an hour later, police said.

Bonnie Sue Bingaman of Orchard Ridge Road in Hancock was charged with cruelty to animals - leaving a dog unattended inside a vehicle.

Sheriff's deputies urge pet owners not to leave their animals unattended inside cars.

Current laws give police officers the right to enter a locked vehicle to rescue an unattended animal, police said. Penalties include traffic charges as well as cruelty to animal criminal charges which are punishable with up to 18 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.

People also need to remember to take care of themselves and each other in the heat, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening said.

Glendening called on everyone to drink plenty of water, stay in cool areas as much as possible, use sunscreen outdoors and avoid overexertion.

"Check on friends who have young children or elderly neighbors who may not have air-conditioning. Share basic safety tips and offer them a cool place to stay during the heat of the day," Glendening said in a Sunday news release.

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