OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Triple-digit heat that has withered plants and lawns and forced water restrictions also has been blamed for the deaths of two people in Oklahoma, authorities said Monday.
Temperatures reached or topped 100 degrees in western and central sections of the state, prompting a red flag fire alert for 51 of Oklahoma's 77 counties. The extreme heat, coming later this year than in the past few years apparently caught some off-guard.
Over the weekend, a retired Oklahoma State University professor died in his outdoor storage shed.
The wife of Bennett Basore, 78, found him lying unconscious in the shed about 1:30 p.m. Friday, when the temperature in Stillwater hovered around 100 degrees, said Ron Benningfield, a Stillwater police spokesman. A family member said the temperature inside the storage shed was about 140 degrees.
Basore, a former OSU engineering professor, had been working on the shed since mid-morning and suffered a heat stroke, the medical examiner's office confirmed Monday. He died the next day at a Stillwater hospital.
``I hope you can get the word out to people to drink lots of water and stay out of the heat,'' Benningfield said Monday.
In Oklahoma City, the death of an 84-year-old woman was blamed in part on the excessive heat.
The air conditioner was not running when Harriet V. Seeley was found inside her home. Seeley had failing health, but the heat was a contributing factor, said Kevin Rowland, a spokesman for the state Medical Examiner's Office.
Another elderly Oklahoma City woman who had no air conditioning had a body temperature of 105 degrees when relatives found her Friday night, said Lara O'Leary, a spokeswoman for EMSA.
The 75 year-old woman, whose name was not released, suffered a heat stroke but recovered in an Oklahoma City hospital.
``What we're really concerned about is the elderly folks who are not aware they're getting hot. And then when they are hot, they're not thinking clearly and suffer from dehydration,'' O'Leary said.
The heat-related deaths are far fewer this year than in the past few years. Seventeen people died as a result of the heat in 1999, as well as 2000, Rowland said. There were 30 heat-related deaths in 1998, he said.
A lack of moisture has hurt outdoor plant growth but not as badly as last year, when no significant rain fell for 54 days, the National Weather Service said.
The heat has also forced some communities to restrict outdoor water usage.
In Prue, residents are now under mandatory water rationing after residents discovered Saturday there was no water.
Mayor Kenneth Goodman said water service was restored, but the water system continues to have low pressure.
David Allen, Prue fire chief and vice chairman of the towns board of trustees, said the low water pressure is a result of someone shooting a high powered rifle at the city's water tower about four months ago.
The bullet shattered the fiber glass inside the tower and contaminated the water. The water tower has been shut off since the incident, he said.
To accommodate residents' water needs, the Osage County town has been using two water wells in the central and south central part of town.
``We've got the wells up and working,'' Allen said. ``We are just drawing more water than they can produce.''
Moore residents began voluntary odd-even water rationing on Sunday, while residents in El Reno have been under a mandatory water rationing order since June 18.
Weather forecasters say cooler temperatures and rain could move into Oklahoma late Friday or Saturday.
In the meantime, experts suggested people mulch their flower beds and gardens with leaves, wood bark or grass clippings to save water.
Ray Ridlen, an OSU Extension Service educator, said much of central Oklahoma has been without significant rain since Memorial Day.
``We're getting close to a drought on the western edges of Oklahoma County,'' Ridlen said.