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Dozens of NJ firefighters overcome as killer heat wave nears an end

A Jersey City firefighter sits at the bottom of the stairs of a building adjacent to a building where firefighters battled a four-alarm fire, on Friday, in Jersey City, N.J. Julio Cortez / AP

Fifty firefighters were overcome by high temperatures Friday while battling a huge blaze in New Jersey, officials said, amid a heat wave suspected in the deaths of at least 13 people across the country in the last week.

Firefighter after firefighter wilted under heavy gear in temperatures that soared near 100 degrees as they battled the blaze, which was tearing through several buildings — including three homes — early Friday afternoon, NBC New York reported.

Twenty-three firefighters were transported to hospitals with heat-related conditions, emergency management officials told NBC New York. Twenty-seven more firefighters were treated on the scene for heat exhaustion.

Two other firefighters were taken to the hospital with back and ankle injuries. All 52 firefighters were reported as stable.

The fire erupted as temperatures soared into the upper 90s across the Northeast and to near-record highs across much of the rest of the country. New York City (100); Newark, N.J. (100); Boston (99); and Islip, N.Y. (93), all set or tied records Friday.

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"The cities have excessive heat warnings in effect. ... Some people don't have air conditioning, so that's going to be an issue, especially for the elderly and younger children, as well," said Michael Palmer, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, who called conditions "dangerous."

The extreme heat has been blamed for at least 13 deaths, including that of a 2-year-old boy found in the trunk of a car in Wisconsin, an autopsy showed. 

The boy, identified as Isaiah Theis, was found late Wednesday locked inside the trunk of a car parked outside his father's auto shop in Centuria, in western Wisconsin about 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Isaiah was last seen playing with his brother on the family's farmstead Tuesday evening, NBC station KBJR of Duluth, Minn., reported. Temperatures during the period he was missing were in the 90s.

Investigators said they were still trying to figure out how Isaiah ended up in the locked trunk.

Also in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office was investigating three other suspected heat-related deaths, NBC station WTMJ of Milwaukee reported: that of a 71-year-old man found in his home, which was sealed with no fans or air conditioning running; that of a 79-year-old man found in his home, which was likewise sealed and uncooled; and that of a 44-year-old man who died at a hospital after having been found unresponsive in an alley with a body temperature of 108 degrees.

At least five people have died because of the heat this week in Maryland, authorities told NBC station WBAL of Baltimore: a middle-age man in Howard County, a toddler in Baltimore County, two women older than 65 in Wicomico County and a man older than 65 in Baltimore County.

Elsewhere:

  • Near Mayslick, Ky., Roy Allen Bishop, 78, an Alzheimer's patient, wandered off from his home and was found dead about 9 p.m. ET Tuesday from heat exhaustion, Mason County coroner's officials told NBC station WLEX of Lexington.
  • A 57-year-old man in Philadelphia who had an air conditioner that wasn't operating died from chronic obstructive lung disease and heat exposure, city officials told NBC Philadelphia.
  • An autopsy concluded that heat stress contributed to the heart disease-related death of Annie Spears, 71, on Thursday afternoon in her home in Washington Heights on the South Side of Chicago, NBC Chicago reported Friday.
  • Christopher J. Todd, 30, of Rochester, N.Y., died Wednesday after having hiked about 4 miles to the summit of Mount Whiteface in the White Mountains, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said. The department said the cause of death hadn't yet been determined, but it cautioned hikers to stay well hydrated while outdoors.

Relief is in sight, however, with cool breezes from the north expected to blast a dome of high pressure that has parked itself over the Ohio Valley, causing the near-record highs.

But the break will come at a price, as severe thunderstorms and hail sweep in late Friday. The National Weather Service said the storms could break over areas of the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, New York State and parts of New England on Friday afternoon and into the evening, bringing strong winds.

"We'll see a line of storms that will produce some winds that could gust at least 60 miles per hour, we could see some golf ball-size hail in spots," Palmer said.

The worst of the storms — including damaging straight-line winds, hail and perhaps a tornado — will come in Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, northeast Illinois, far northern Indiana and Upstate New York.

Electricity use soared to an all-time high in New York City as the work week closed out, provider Con Edison announced, with a service peak of 13,214 megawatts about 2 p.m. ET. The previous record was 13,189 megawatts on July 22, 2011, according to the company.

The heat wave has flummoxed meteorologists, because it has moved backward across America, something that rarely happens.

Normally, U.S. weather systems move west to east. The western Atlantic high-pressure system behind the hot dry weather started moving east to west last week and by Tuesday was centered over lower Michigan, said Jon Gottschalck, operations chief at the National Weather Service's prediction branch.

"It's definitely unusual and going the wrong way," Gottschalck said Thursday. "This is pretty rare."

Henry Austin and Matthew DeLuca of NBC News contributed to this report.

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