4th 100-degree day in Colorado

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— As temperatures soared to 100 degrees in Colorado again Monday, 45 counties were declared agriculture disaster areas because of drought and searing heat, and power companies struggled to keep up with voracious air conditioners.

The temperature hit 100 in the southeastern Colorado town of Lamar, the fourth straight day of triple-digit readings in the state.

Temperatures hit 101 in Grand Junction in western Colorado. Along the populous Front Range, Monday's temperatures were in the 90s but were scheduled to break 100 again later in the week.

Gov. Bill Owens said farmers and ranchers in the 45 counties, plus 14 adjacent counties, will be eligible for low-interest federal loans and delayed tax payments.

"These designations won't bring the rain that's so desperately needed, but hopefully, they will provide help until Mother Nature decides to cooperate," Owens said.

Nearly 15,000 electric customers lost electric power over the weekend, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in the midst of the hugely popular "Body Worlds" show of human cadavers dissected to reveal organs, muscles and other parts. Most of the museum's exhibits remained closed Monday in a move to conserve power, although the Body Worlds display was not damaged, officials said.

About 3,000 customers remained without power in the Denver area Monday, down from Sunday's peak of 12,000, Xcel Energy spokeswoman Ethnie Groves said.

Some 2,745 Xcel customers around Carbondale area, 110 miles west of Denver, lost power for two hours Sunday. Groves said the cause of the failure wasn't known but it was believed to be heat-related.

Peak demand among Xcel's 1.2 million Colorado customers has been below the record 6,785 megawatts set last July. One megawatt is enough power to serve 1,000 households.

Groves said Xcel has spent about $1 billion to upgrade its Colorado transmission system since 2002 and expects to spend about $39 million this year.

The utility came under scrutiny in February when 300,000 customers across the state were subjected to rolling electrical outages during subzero weather. The company blamed a shortage of fuel for natural gas-powered generating plants and other problems.

Jim Greenwood, director of the state Office of Consumer Counsel, declined to comment on Xcel's performance during the heat wave.

Coloradans tried different tricks to beat the heat.

"At my sister's house, I've been getting up with the kids and I've been taking them outside early, early in the morning because it's just too hot to have the babies out there at 1, 2 and 3," said 28-year-old Hyla Ferguson of Denver, who was out for a stroll Monday morning with her 17-month-old son, Darius.

Denver parking meter reader Aaron Sandoval, 38, said he drinks plenty of water and occasionally ducks indoors for a break during his 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. shift walking downtown streets.

"I wouldn't mind seeing 80-degrees come back," he said.

The heat can be especially hard on people who live on the street, who are already at more risk of dehydration than most, said Doug Wayland of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

"This compounds it dramatically. It adds to serious health problems," Wayland said.

"You can't go into a mall with a shopping cart with everything you own," he said. "You risk losing it if you leave it outside."

Even Colorado's normally cool mountain communities felt the heat. In Leadville, a historic mining town at 10,152 feet above sea level about 75 miles west of Denver, summertime readings are usually in the low to mid-70s, but they hit 79 on Sunday.

Compared with temperatures topping 100 in Denver over the weekend, Leadville felt pretty good, gift shop owner Keith Hundley said.

"Up here, we're never really taking our quilts off. We just fold them down," Hundley said. At night, the temperature often dips into the 40s.

In Aspen, about 7,800 feet elevation and 100 miles west of Denver, temperatures peaked at 89 Sunday. The average July temperature is 77.

"I think a lot of people are taking to the rivers," said Erin Lentz, spokeswoman for the Aspen Chamber of Commerce.

Darcy Gaechter of Aspen Whitewater Rafting said people are flocking to the business.

"The last few days, it's literally been crazy," she said. Customers come in saying they didn't expect Aspen to be so hot.

"Typically, we get about 40 people. We're getting 60, 70, 80 people," Gaechter said. "We have 67 people in the morning tomorrow."

Associated Press Writers Judith Kohler, Jon Sarche and Robert Weller contributed to this story.

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