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In Boston, some women are using parasols for shade. In New York City, children frolic in the spray of opened sidewalk fire hydrants. And in Lexington, Ky., people celebrating the Fourth of July clutched battery-operated hand-held fans.

Americans expend as much effort improvising ways to escape the heat of summer as they do reveling in its rituals at pools, picnics and beaches, and in outdoor activities.

And they should. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 600 people in the United States die every year from heat-related illnesses that are preventable. (In Quebec, 33 people have died from a heat wave hitting eastern and central Canada, the authorities said.)

On Thursday, the heat wave that has smothered the northeastern United States and the central Mississippi Valley for the past week was easing, according to the Weather Prediction Center. But it is shifting south and west, where wildfires have roared, pushing toward California, Nevada and New Mexico with temperatures in the mid- to high 90s, forecasters said.

In Boston, some women are using parasols for shade. In New York City, children frolic in the spray of opened sidewalk fire hydrants. And in Lexington, Ky., people celebrating the Fourth of July clutched

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