About the time everyone else had called it a day and headed inside to the sanctuary of their air-conditioned homes as the thermometer hit 102 degrees on the afternoon of July 4, Riverside resident Mary Cray got that sinking feeling.

The air conditioning went out, along with the refrigerator and other large appliances. Some lights remained on, but they too began going kaput.

“Everything just slowed down, getting weaker, weaker, weaker,” Cray said, describing the power outage.

She checked with her neighbors to see the extent of the problem, only to find her home on North Cowley Road was the only one affected.

“I thought, ‘What did we do; did we say something wrong?'” Cray recalled.

Regardless, Cray and her husband, Phil Janicak, were about to spend the three hottest days of the already blistering summer of 2012 without power.

By the afternoon of July 6, ComEd had finally brought over a portable generator in order to allow Cray and her husband to turn the AC back on. But they still hadn’t started work in the backyard digging up a 29-year-old electric cable that had picked the worst time of year to fail.

“The cables just eventually wear out,” Cray said she was told by a ComEd worker

She and Janicak abandoned the 100-degree-plus heat in the third-floor bedroom of their 127-year-old home, and tried to catch some sleep on the couches in the living room. The next night, July 5, they gave up and took advantage of the generosity of a neighbor, who let them sleep overnight in air-conditioned comfort.

“The only good part is we both lost 4 pounds,” Cray said.

July 4-6 was just the third time since weather records have been kept that there have been three consecutive days of 100-degree-plus temperatures in Chicago, and the first time it’s happened since 1947. While the hot spell didn’t reach the 105-degree record set in 1995 for the warmest day on record in the city, it was enough to keep people inside as much as possible – that is, if they weren’t heading somewhere that afforded its own relief from the heat.

Over at the Riverside Swim Club, July 4 is typically a slow day. But last week, The Fourth was the busiest day of the season, with at one point more than 400 people in the facility, said Nora Sweeney, one of the managers at the club.

By Friday, July 6, however, even though the mercury hit 103 degrees for the second straight day, fewer people were coming. The reason?

“It may be that some people are on vacation, but we also think the sun heated the water so much that it wasn’t refreshing,” said Sweeney, who noted that the water temps topped 80 degrees by Friday.

In Brookfield, Sandra Jegic spent July 5 and a good number of days before that at the new splash pad at Jaycee/Ehlert Park. In town from Phoenix to visit her mother in Brookfield, Jegic said the heat, combined with the humidity, was worse than what she’s used to in Arizona.

“It gets to 115 there, but it’s not as bad,” she said.

Jegic sought shade under the pavilion near the splash pad while her two children, age 2 and 4, cooled off nearby.

“I’m here pretty much every day almost,” said Jegic. “Thank God for this [splash pad] here. This heat is just something else.”

In Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside, officials set up cooling centers for people without any other way to escape the heat. While few people took advantage of the offer, Brookfield and Riverside paramedics did respond to a handful of heat-related calls.

On July 6, Brookfield paramedics aided one person suffering from heat exhaustion and another call which Fire Chief Patrick Lenzi referred to as “heat-related.” On July 7 at 1 p.m., paramedics responded to the Wye Valley Apartments at Cantata Adult Life Services to treat an elderly resident suffering from dehydration.

Riverside paramedics, meanwhile, treated a 17-year-old boy on July 6 who was “severely dehydrated,” according to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. On July 7, they treated a man having a seizure that may or may not have been related to the heat, said Weitzel.

It was so hot last week, said Steve Muth, the owner of Ice Cream Planet on Southview Avenue in Brookfield, he had trouble selling ice cream, believe it or not. The company’s main business is selling ice cream wholesale to some 200 stores in the area, but they offer a walk-up retail component as well.

When the heat topped 100 degrees, there were actually fewer customers and he had extra electricity costs with his ice cream freezers running on overdrive trying to keep the temperatures at minus-10 degrees.

“It doesn’t help,” said Muth. “People just stay in their houses. You get the die-hards who think ice cream will solve their problems. Even my swimming pool accounts are not ordering much because what they want are liquids.”

Prior to the latest heat wave, it had been a good summer for Ice Cream Planet. But once temperatures went north of 90 degrees for an extended period, people stayed home.

“The optimal temperature is up to 90 degrees,” Muth said. “After that, ice cream is not what’s desired.”

Animals at Brookfield Zoo, however, appeared to really enjoy their icy treats during the latest stretch where temperatures have been near or above 90 degrees for the better part of the past two weeks.

Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures in Forest Park donated one ton of ice to Brookfield Zoo prior to July 4, which keepers used to cool off animals. While the zoo has many species of animals that fare OK in such heat, there are others, like polar bears, that find it tough.

“When the heat indexes get to the 90s the animal have access to their indoor quarters,” said Tim Sullivan, curator of behavioral husbandry at Brookfield Zoo.

But the heat has kept crowds away from the zoo, he said. “If we had a day in the 70s, we’d have a full staff and 15,000 to 20,000 people a day.” The numbers bear him out.

On July 4, 2008, when the high temperature in Chicago was 76 degrees, more than 13,500 people visited the zoo. Last week on July 4, just 3,500 visitors came through the gates. That’s even fewer than in 2009, when a high of 69 and all-day rain kept the crowd to about 5,200 people, proving that people would rather be cold and wet than spend too much time in an outdoor sauna.