Apartment No. 211 at the Park View senior housing complex in Bladensburg was sweltering at 10:30 Friday morning when Thomas Spriggs found his 71-year-old mother, Barbara Thompson, dead in her nightgown -- so hot that the wax candles already had melted.
"When I opened the door, the heat hit me. It was over 100 degrees in that apartment," Spriggs said. "I went over to wake her. I shook her, and she didn't move at all.''
Thompson, a Washington area native who friends and relatives said rarely used her air conditioning, died Friday due to hyperthermia complicated by heart disease. She was the second Maryland resident to die this year from blistering heat, and state authorities are using her death and that of a 26-year-old Harford County man to highlight the dangers of the season's first heat wave.
Temperatures soared above 90 degrees yesterday, with humidity making it feel like 100. The National Weather Service declared an afternoon heat advisory for the region. In the District and Baltimore, officials closed schools early to protect students from the effects of the heat.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warned area residents to use precaution during the heat wave, reminding people that such weather can cause heatstroke, heat exhaustion and other serious health problems.
"This time of year, it's the usual concern -- particularly for the elderly, children outside playing and even for some of the athletes and pets," said Frederick J. Corder, chief health officer for Prince George's County.
Ray Lucas, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, urged residents to "let their body be their guide."
"If they're feeling thirsty or tired, they need to stop what they're doing and get inside and out of the heat," Lucas said.
In Montgomery County, officials also warned residents about being especially careful with their pets during the heat wave. Capt. David Falcinelli, the director of the police's Animal Services Division, said he saw an increase yesterday in the number of calls reporting that animals had been locked in vehicles. Montgomery police cautioned that people should not leave children or pets in cars, even with windows cracked open.
Helen Blakey, Thompson's older sister, said she hopes her sister's death will help officials get the message across to elderly residents about the risks.
"I think we need more education on that line to know that this can happen," Blakey said. "I don't think it's taken seriously enough."
Blakey said she thinks her sister -- who was known to drink four or five cups of hot tea each day and liked to keep her apartment warm -- was not aware she was overheating.
"She didn't like air conditioning," Thompson's neighbor Frankie Crowe said. "Every time she came in here, she said, 'Why don't you cut the air off?' and I'd say, 'No, I can't.' "
Born in Covington, Va., in 1933, Thompson was raised in the LeDroit Park area of Northwest Washington and worked as a nursing assistant at St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Described by family as a jovial woman, Thompson loved to dance and attend parties. She also loved watching Westerns, so much so that she dreamed of vacationing in California.
"She always wanted to go to California to see where the Westerns were filmed," Spriggs said, adding that his mother loved to travel by plane. "I told her a month ago that we would go to California next year."
Thompson was an avid James Brown fan. Yesterday afternoon, as Spriggs was cleaning out her apartment, he found a framed collection of news clippings and photographs featuring the Godfather of Soul.
"Even when we were young, we had no choice but to be a James Brown fan because that's all she played," Spriggs said.
When Thompson died Friday, temperatures at Baltimore-Washington International Airport had reached a high of 86 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.