A Scorcher and a Reprieve;

After Triple-Digit, Pavement-Buckling Heat, the Low 90s Seemed Cool

You never thought you'd be calling the arrival of 93-degree temperatures a "cold front," did you?

Sure, it always gets hot in Washington in the summer. But the sultry swelter that blew in over the holiday weekend was seriously hot, sincerely hot. Searing hot.

A 73-year-old woman and a 76-year-old man died. Utility companies strained to meet a record-breaking demand for electricity. A section of Columbia Pike buckled in Howard County; in Virginia, southbound Interstate 395 buckled near Seminary Road.

On the Mall, a veteran of the South Florida heat-and-humidity wars said she had never been as hot in her life. "Believe us. We were surprised," said Melissa Jacobs, of Miami, who was checking out the monuments.

Maryland officials warned that the drought threatens public water systems across the state. In western Montgomery County, the 4,500 residents of Poolesville were ordered to limit their water use. Those who water their lawns or fill their swimming pools could be fined up to $200 a day.

"We monitor the water level in the town wells, and it's been declining very rapidly," said Town Manager James E. Alsobrook Jr.

After three consecutive days of temperatures over 98 across the Washington area, the heat surrendered a few degrees. Today, it's expected to be positively springlike: cool and breezy, with a high of 83.

A Piece of the Prairie;

The National Zoo, Where the Buffalo Roam

Once upon a time, 30 million buffalo roamed the American prairie, so plentiful that explorers wrote that they "darkened the whole plains."

But after being hunted to near extinction a century ago, only about 200,000 of the bulky beasts remain, and their stomping grounds are a mere 1 percent of their former grandeur.

A new exhibit at the National Zoo honors the prairie and its proud inhabitants, chief among them prairie dogs--they're really rodents, although they do bark--and the mighty buffalo, or bison.

Newly at home on the zoo's 46,000-square-foot range are a 14-month-old buffalo named Ten Bears, who tips the scale at 600 pounds, and his prairie home companion, Kicking Bird, a young female who must be really, really warm in her new spread: She's still shedding her thick fur coat.

"It is important that we understand the interaction of people, plants and animals, how human interaction has affected our environment," said Mike Morgan, a zoo spokesman. "That's the idea behind the exhibit."

Loudoun Raises Builders' Fees;

County Nearly Doubles the Rate

Add Loudoun County to the list of Washington area localities that are trying to get developers to cover more of the cost for the new schools and other public buildings that growth demands.

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors said the county will ask developers to pay a $10,712 fee for many of the single-family houses they build; the county's rate now starts at less than half that.

Builders say the higher fees will inevitably trickle down to buyers, driving up prices and encouraging sprawl by forcing buyers to look farther afield for affordable homes. "This sort of increase cannot be absorbed in the regular cost of building," said Natalee Griff, of the Home Builders Association of Virginia.

But Loudoun Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer) said new residents should pay more. "The whole idea is to shift more of the burden of the new facilities onto the newcomers who are creating the need for the new facilities and shift the burden away from the longtime residents who have already paid over and over and over," he said.

In an effort to slow the pace of home-building in Prince William County, supervisors agreed last year to an increase in the new-home fees, known as "proffers." And a bit farther out in the ring of development, supervisors in Spotsylvania County called last month for developers to pay an $8,800 fee for each single-family house.

Va. State Song Contest Narrows;

Jimmy Dean's Tune Among Finalists

And then there were eight.

A panel of lawmakers and citizens pared from 20 the list of contenders to replace "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" as the Old Dominion's official song. Just a few months ago, the field was 360-strong, totaling 17 hours of Virginia-centric lyrics singing the state's praises from the mountains to the sea.

The winner will be picked in December, after the panel solicits opinions from across the state. But the process hasn't been without its tensions.

Sausage king Jimmy Dean, whose countrified "Virginia" is a finalist, swore that "the sausage money didn't go into" his lobbying effort. He got questionable looks from fellow contestants after he and his wife arrived in a white stretch limo bearing the license plate "2 DEANS."

"It was Donna and Jimmy's boot leather and gasoline that's gone into the song," Dean said.

Across the Region;

Suit Dropped; Deputies Reinstated

* Chest pains brought a sudden end to a Montgomery County teacher's lawsuit against a parent who had complained about his teaching and coaching. Paul Hassler, a math teacher at Magruder High School in Rockville, dropped his $1 million lawsuit against Suzanne Sutton after feeling the symptoms of a heart attack just as he was to take the witness stand. "It wasn't worth ending my life or becoming permanently disabled over," he said.

* A planning commission delayed a decision on allowing two cellular telephone towers in Rock Creek Park. Environmentalists say the towers could harm birds and despoil the urban oasis's vistas. But Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) begs to differ. He added an amendment to the District's budget bill ordering the National Park Service to allow the cell-phone towers, and senators passed it on a voice vote. But the tower tussle isn't over yet. U.S. lawmakers will have another chance to weigh in before giving final approval to the budget.

* Samuel Sheinbein's attorney had said the former Montgomery County teenager would admit to murdering a fellow teenager if he were tried in Israel. But Sheinbein instead conceded only that he burned and dismembered the body of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. after he died. The shift reflects Sheinbein's "continual ability to manipulate the Israeli legal system," said Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas Gansler (D). Sheinbein's murder trial is set to begin Oct. 10 in Israel.

* The District has been unable to find a new leader for the D.C. Health Department, in part because of the agency's reputation for a sclerotic bureaucracy. Just last month, a San Diego County health official backed out after tentatively accepting the job. "I would say 80 percent of the answers I got from public health colleagues was that I [would be] nuts" to take the job, said Robert K. Ross. Now, the city's search is starting again from scratch.

* The Fairfax County Civil Service Commission has ordered Sheriff Carl R. Peed (R) to reinstate two former deputies. Jabar Shabazz and Robert Cutts were fired last fall for allegedly giving a newspaper reporter a document that accused Peed's department of racial discrimination.

-- Erica Johnston

CAPTION: Tera Foster with her son, Jaron, at the Lancaster Neighborhood Association Pool.

CAPTION: Brianna Kulik, 4, of Waldorf, dips her head in the Lancaster pool.

CAPTION: Prairie dogs poke up from a hollow at the National Zoo's new prairie exhibit.