Three-fourths of Kentucky in drought

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Debbie and Dave Antle draw cold water from the tap on Thursday, June 28, 2012, in Louisville, Ky., as they seek relief from the extreme heat. Louisville Water Co. offered free water from the tap for people in downtown Louisville. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Temperatures topped 100 degrees across Kentucky on Thursday as the state sizzled from a record-busting heat wave that compounded the misery of a worsening drought that's wilting crops and boosting the risk of wildfires.

Records melted at the start of what forecasters said will be a brutal stretch of hot weather.

Louisville sweltered in 103-degree heat, making it the hottest June day recorded in Kentucky's largest city, the National Weather Service said. Bowling Green reached 106 degrees and Paducah was at 105, tying records for this date, the weather service said. In eastern Kentucky, it was the hottest June day on record in Jackson, where it was 100. London set its own heat record for the month at 99 degrees.

Gov. Steve Beshear joined the chorus of officials warning Kentuckians to take precautions.

"Take care of yourself and check on family members, neighbors or friends who may need assistance to stay safe and healthy during this heat wave," he said.

Triple-digit temperatures were common statewide. Madisonville reached 107 and Henderson hit 106 in western Kentucky. Elsewhere, it was 102 in Middlesboro, tying a June record for the city in the state's southeastern corner. It was 100 at Covington in the state's northernmost tip.

As the state sweltered, officials said drought conditions exist across three-fourths of Kentucky's 120 counties. The dry spell has become severe in parts of western Kentucky, where the region's many farmers are facing grim prospects for the fall harvest.

Those farmers are "looking at record-low yields and in some cases a total failure," said Bob Finch, emergency preparedness coordinator for the U.S. Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency in Kentucky.

The heat wave is expected to continue through the weekend, with little or no rain in the forecast.

In Bowling Green, few golfers braved the extreme afternoon heat at CrossWinds Golf Course.

"It's almost miserable," said Eliott Potts, a golf shop attendant.

People without air conditioning were urged to seek relief at cooling centers offered in communities statewide.

"What we are doing is keeping people safe," said Wayne T. Rutherford, the judge-executive in Pike County, where senior citizens centers and community centers were offered as sanctuaries to cool off.

Lexington officials cut pool admission prices for the next five days as a way for people to beat the heat.

In downtown Louisville, the local water company offered free cold water drawn from a tap. Business was brisk, with more than 200 bottles and about 500 cups filled within a couple of hours, said Kelley Dearing Smith, a spokeswoman for Louisville Water Co.

In one area, copper theft left some people without air conditioning.

Power was knocked out for some 1,225 Kentucky Utilities customers in Nelson County after copper wires were stolen from a power substation, said KU spokeswoman Chris Whelan. Power was expected to be restored by late Thursday night.

Burn bans have become routine across the state to lessen the chance of wildfires being sparked by the tinderbox conditions.

In Bourbon County, a fire burned about 10 acres in a rural area about 10 miles east of Paris, according to the county judge-executive's office. The blaze burned a couple of barns.

The heat wave arrived as the drought tightens its grip on Kentucky.

The state climatologist's office put 24 counties in Kentucky's westernmost region in the severe drought category. In those areas, people face increased risk of wildfires, depletion of water supplies in shallow wells, springs and ponds and higher demands on water treatment plants.

Another 66 counties are in moderate to severe drought. That area stretches from portions of western Kentucky to the state's Appalachian region in the east. In those counties, the dry spell is hurting soil moisture and vegetation.

Churchill Downs canceled its nine-race card Thursday due to the heat. Track spokesman Darren Rogers said it appeared to be the first cancellation due to extreme heat at the famed track, home of the Kentucky Derby. Churchill made more concessions to the blistering conditions. The final three days of racing — Friday through Sunday — during its spring meet will be in the evening.

Meanwhile, no short-term relief from the dry, hot weather is in sight. Forecasters are calling for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation in Kentucky for the next two weeks.