If you think the Washington, D.C., area has been hot, cast a glance 3,000 miles westward to Oregon where the mercury topped 100 degrees yesterday for the fourth day in a row. Seven persons drowned as people swarmed to find relief in rivers and waterholes across the state.
In Portland, where people normally enjoy mild August temperatures in the 70s, residents sizzled like their Texas brethren in Saturday's high of 107 degrees. That tied Portland's record, and forecasters said that probably will be surpassed.
"Coming to work this morning, I saw a lot of people just sitting under their sprinklers," said Greg Mattos of Medford in southern Oregon, where Saturday's high was 114 degrees. He has an ideal job as lifeguard at a swimming pool, and he said more people took a dip in the last few days than all last season.
State law requires swimming pools to have one lifeguard for every 40 swimmers. So, when the heat wave hit Thursday, people found themselves turned away from pools or forced to wait in line. There they wilted as they watched swimmers laughing and playing a few yards away.
When they couldn't find relief in swimming pools, residents turned to the Pacific Ocean. Endless lines of cars descended upon tiny coastal towns where temperatures were in the 70s. Motels and lodges along the coast soon filled up with refugees from the heat and people had to sleep in cars.
"It's unreal; it almost looks like California," said Lauren Jamieson, a desk clerk in Neskowin Lodge on the coast. That is the ultimate insult to Oregonians, where bumper stickers warn: "Don't Californicate Oregon."
The unusual steam bath results from a zone of high pressure over the state, keeping out cooling currents and storms, said Frank Nishimoto of the U.S. Weather Service in Portland. He said the trend would continue for at least the next two days.
The rush to cool off led to some tragedies. Most of the drowings occurred at rivers where children fell off logs or inner tubes and were lost in currents. Two men, 19 and 28, drowned at Hagg Lake west of Portland when they slipped into deep water.
Portlanders also fled to the Cascade Mountains, and many drove to Mount Hood to ski on snow that has not melted even in the 80-degree temperatures on the slopes. Dawson Hubert, general manager of Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, said business was heavy over over the weekend.
In Wagontire, population 3, Tom Atwell reported that nearly everyone passing by on the road was stopping by his cafe for a beer or cold drink. Wagontire, in southern Oregon about 300 miles from Portland, is miles from nothing.
About the only beneficiaries of the heat were owners of air-conditioned stores, who reported heavy business. Bill Ebner, assistant manager of Meier & Frank department store in Salem, said people not only were coming in the store, they also were buying.