Sunday, August 2nd14.3°C

Wing arrives in France

A wing flap suspected to be from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Saturday arrived at a French military testing facility where it will be analyzed by experts.

A truck brought the roughly 8-foot (2.44-meter) component known as a flaperon to the DGA TA aeronautical testing site near Toulouse, accompanied by police motorcycles and a police car.

French aviation experts will try to establish whether the wreckage that was found on the Indian Ocean island Reunion comes from the Boeing 777 which disappeared on March 8, 2014, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The experts, including a legal expert, will start their inquiry on Wednesday, according to the Paris prosecutor's office. On Monday, an investigating judge will meet with Malaysian authorities and representatives of the French aviation investigative agency, known as the BEA, according to a statement late Friday.

Air safety investigators, including one from Boeing, have identified the component as a flaperon from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. The official wasn't authorized to be publicly identified.

Flight 370 is the only missing 777 and many are convinced the flap comes from the ill-fated jet.

"In the aeronautic community there is no (doubt) on the issue of what the debris belongs to. We are all convinced that it belongs to this flight (370)," said aviation security expert Christophe Naudin on France's BFM-TV.

He said only three 777s have crashed since 2013 and the other two were in completely different locations.

"One is in the United States, one in Ukraine, and this one in the Indian Ocean," he said.

Under a microscope and expert eyes, the wing fragment that washed up on the beach of the volcanic island could yield clues not just to its path through the Indian Ocean, but also to what happened to the airplane.

Analysts at the French aviation laboratory hope to glean details from metal stress to see what caused the flap to break off, spot explosive or other chemical traces, and study the sea life that made its home on the wing to pinpoint where it came from.

Even if the piece is confirmed to be wreckage from Flight 370, there's no guarantee that investigators can find the plane's vital black box recorders or other debris. A multinational search effort has so far come up empty.


The Canadian Press

U.S. wildfires turn deadly

Wildfires blackening the golden hills of California grew deadly Friday, killing a firefighter on the far northern end of the state while triggering the evacuations of hundreds of people elsewhere.

The flames, which consumed a handful of homes and threatened hundreds of other structures, prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for all of California on Friday.

In the Modoc National Forest, a firefighter from South Dakota was killed battling a blaze that broke out about a hundred miles south of the Oregon border on Thursday afternoon. It had quickly grown to 800 acres by Friday night.

The U.S. Forest Service said David Ruhl, an engine captain from South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest who had been working in California since June, died sometime Thursday. His body wasn't recovered until Friday, and officials didn't immediately say how he died.

In the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco, firefighters had to wade through thick smoke and flying embers to turn loose horses, goats and other livestock in rural neighbourhoods as their owners fled to safety. The fast-moving fire had burned three homes by Friday and was threatening 450 other structures. Only five per cent contained, it had spread across 28 square miles and was growing quickly.

It is just one of 18 large fires, most burning in the scorched northern half of the state, and California's incessant drought is making matters worse.

"They only need a little wind to allow them to burn at an explosive rate," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

Crews hope for cooler weather this weekend but fear dry thunderstorms will bring more lightning, which has already sparked dozens of small fires, many along the Mendocino Coast.

Brown said the declaration would help speed up help for thousands of firefighters working to corral the blazes. As part of the order, he activated the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.


The fast-spreading wildfire near Lower Lake north of San Francisco has torched a third home and is threatening more than 450 structures.

At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. It has charred 28 square miles near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

It was only five per cent contained Friday as it moved southwest toward Lower Lake and Clear Lake.

Resident Julie Flannery said she saw the fire behind her house, so she gathered some valuables and sought a safer place, leaving behind two horses and a mule.

Returning on Friday, the animals were gone and the stable doors open, and Flannery said she believes fire crews removed them.

"The rest of this is just material stuff," she said. "The animals and the family is the most important."


Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley held their ground Friday, more than a week after it started.

The blaze has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa's wine county, and vineyards are not threatened.

At least 136 structures are threatened, but evacuation orders have been lifted. It mostly contained, and crews are expecting to have it fully corralled by Monday.


A woman was arrested in connection with a small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travellers headed to Yosemite National Park.

The 200-acre fire, about 20 miles from the park's entrance, was 45 per cent contained Friday. About two dozen homes are threatened and voluntary evacuations are in place.

Lisa Ann Vilmur was arrested Thursday night for recklessly causing a fire and jailed on $100,000 bail. It was not known Friday if she has an attorney.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is almost fully contained.


Residents of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday.

A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread to more than six square miles and is partially contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but is not in custody because he and his family are co-operating.


Engine Captain David Ruhl of South Dakota was killed battling a fire that broke out Thursday in the Modoc National Forest about 100 miles south of Oregon

The firefighter had vanished Thursday and his body wasn't found until Friday. U.S. Forest Service officials didn't immediately reveal the cause of death.

Ruhl, who was assigned to a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.

The fire broke out Thursday afternoon southeast of Lava Camp and rapidly grew to consume 800 acres. No containment figure was given Friday night.

The Canadian Press

Search for boys suspended

After hundreds of rescue workers fanned out across a massive swath of the Atlantic for a full week, the Coast Guard's search for two teenage fishermen ended Friday, a heart-rending decision for families so convinced the boys could be alive they're pressing on with their own hunt.

The agency said it ended the search at sunset, as it had announced earlier in the day. The Coast Guard searched waters from South Florida up through South Carolina without success.

Even as officials announced at noon that the formal search-and-rescue effort would end at sundown, private planes and boats were preparing to keep scouring the water hoping for clues on what happened to the 14-year-old neighbours, Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos.

Capt. Mark Fedor called the decision to suspend the search "excruciating and gut-wrenching." He suggested what long had been feared by observers — that the boys had surpassed any reasonable period of survivability — with his offering of "heartfelt condolences."

"I know no statistics will ease the pain," he said in recounting the seven-day, nearly 50,000-square-nautical-mile search. "We were desperate to find Austin and Perry."

With volunteers ready to keep searching all along the coastline and about $340,000 in search-fund donations by Friday evening, the families promised to keep looking for their sons.

Nick Korniloff, the stepfather of Perry, addressed a horde of media outside his home on a quiet street in Tequesta, Florida, saying air searches led by private pilots would go on alongside new efforts led by former members of the military and others with special training.

"We know there's a window here and we think there's an opportunity," he said, "and we will do everything we can to bring these boys home."

Those who have met with the families believe the private search could go on at least for weeks.

"How could you go back to normal?" said Tequesta Police Chief Christopher Elg, who has stayed in regular contact with the families. "They may very well devote a large portion of the next few weeks, months, maybe even years just toward hope and doing what they can to bring themselves a sense of peace."

The Coast Guard had dispatched crews night and day to scan the Atlantic for signs of the boys. They chased repeated reports of objects sighted in the water, and at times had the help of the Navy and other local agencies. But after the boys' boat was found overturned Sunday, no useful clues turned up.

The families had held out hope that items believed to have been on the boat, including a large cooler, might be spotted, or that the teens might even have clung to something buoyant in their struggle to stay alive. Even as hope dimmed, experts on survival said finding the teens alive was still possible. The Coast Guard said it would keep on searching until officials no longer thought the boys could be rescued.

The saga began July 24, when the boys took Austin's 19-foot boat on what their families said was expected to be a fishing trip within the nearby Loxahatchee River and Intracoastal Waterway, where they were allowed to cruise without supervision. The boys fueled up at a local marina around 1:30 p.m. and set off, and later calls to Austin's cellphone went unanswered. When a line of summer storms moved through and the boys still couldn't be reached, police were called and the Coast Guard search began.

The boys grew up on the water, constantly boated and fished, worked at a tackle shop together and immersed themselves in life on the ocean. Their families said they could swim before they could walk. They clung to faith in their boys' knowledge of the sea, even speculating they might have fashioned a raft and spear to keep them afloat and fed while adrift.

"It is a mother's prayer that you will be safe and sound in our arms today," Austin's mother, Pamela Cohen, tweeted Friday. "Missing you both more than you could ever imagine."

Many unknowns about the boys' status persisted throughout the ordeal, including whether they were wearing life jackets and whether they had food or water. The Coast Guard said it tried to err toward optimism in deciding how long to press on.

Along the way, some suggested the teens shouldn't have been allowed to boat on their own. Many others, though, voiced support, saying voyages with set boundaries are normal among boating families, and that the parents had no control over what ultimately happened.

The Canadian Press


7 ways Trump's no neocon

Donald Trump has jumped to a lead in early polls for the Republican party's 2016 presidential nomination, thanks partly to grassroots conservatives who love his tough talk about illegal immigrants and career politicians.

Trump isn't always so conservative, however.

A glance at his policies shows that, far from being a consistent conservative, he's more of a political chameleon — with an ideological colour that changes, depending on the topic and the year.

A few examples of times he's shown more liberal colours:

Wanted Canadian-style medicare: Trump proposed a single-payer health system like Canada's, a reform more radical than President Barack Obama's. In his 2000 book, "The America We Deserve," he lists a series of advantages Canadians enjoy — longer, healthier lives; less medical lawsuits; lower costs for employers.

Trump noted that Canada's system had financial challenges, and could be improved upon, but he was adamant: "I'm a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses."

He now says the U.S. can't afford it anymore. He says he still wants protection for people who need urgent care, but with minimal government interference. He was a bit light on specifics when pressed this week by CNN: "(Obamacare) — it's gotta go," he replied. "Repeal and replace with something terrific."

Donated to Democrats: A prolific cheque-writer to both parties, the billionaire gave more to Democrats than Republicans until a few years ago. This includes donations to campaigns by his potential 2016 rival Hillary Clinton, and at least $100,000 to the Clinton family foundation. The Clintons even attended his most recent wedding.

He now shrugs off the donations as a business expense — a way of building political connections.

But the longtime Ronald Reagan admirer told CNN, in 2004: "In many cases, I probably identify more as Democrat. It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans."

Abortion: He was pro-choice for years. He made that clear, while admitting that he struggled with the issue: "I support a woman's right to choose," he wrote in his 2000 book, "but I am uncomfortable with the procedures."

He's even less comfortable today. Trump told CNN this week that he witnessed a friend come close to having an abortion before ultimately deciding to keep the baby.

"Their child is, like, this magnificent person. And it had an impact," he said. He said he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's health is at risk.

Threatens a job-outsourcing tax: In his campaign launch speech last month, he mentioned Ford's new Mexican plant and explained how a President Trump would threaten the head of the Ford Motor Co.: "Let me give you the bad news: every car, every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we're going to charge you a 35 per cent tax — okay? — and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction."

A historic tax for the wealthiest one per cent: When Trump flirted with a presidential run in 2000, he had an idea for paying off the national debt: A one-time, 14.25 per cent tax on people's net worth above $10 million that would immediately wipe out the then-U.S. debt of US$5.7 trillion.

"By my calculations, one per cent of Americans, who control 90 per cent of the wealth in this country, would be affected by my plan," he said at the time. "Personally this plan would cost me hundreds of millions of dollars, but in all honesty, it's worth it."

Some critics said he'd botched the numbers, and hadn't accounted for a variety of side-effects including tax avoidance. They needn't complain this time: Trump hasn't raised the idea in this campaign.

Wants to rip up free-trade deals: In theory, he says, free trade is good. But he says the existing deals disadvantage the U.S. because its negotiators are dumb — he compared them to high-school kids playing football against Super Bowl champ Tom Brady.

Still willing to defy conservatives: On issues like immigration, gun control and climate change, Trump is in lock-step with the Republican right. But what if it bristles at his as-yet-undefined plan to ensure everyone has access to critical health care?

"You know what? If I lose votes over that, or I don't get a nomination over that, that's just fine with me," he said in this week's CNN interview.

"You have to help people."

The Canadian Press

Unlocking MH370 mystery

Under a microscope and expert eyes, the wing fragment that washed up on the beach of Reunion Island could yield clues not just to its path through the Indian Ocean, but also to what happened to the airplane it belonged to.

Analysts at the French aviation laboratory where the scrap was headed Friday can glean details from metal stress to see what caused the flap to break off, spot explosive or other chemical traces, and study the sea life that made its home on the wing to pinpoint where it came from.

French authorities have imposed extraordinary secrecy over the two-metre piece of wing, putting it under police protection in the hours before it left the island. If the fragment is indeed part of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it means the wreckage may have drifted thousands of kilometres across the Indian Ocean to this French island off the east coast of Africa.

Wrapped and loaded as cargo, it was headed to a military aviation laboratory near Toulouse, Europe's aviation hub.

"With a microscope, that can learn details from the torn metal," said Xavier Tytelman, a French aviation safety expert. "You can tell whether a crash was more horizontal or vertical ... You can extrapolate a lot."

John Cox, president and CEO of Safety Operating Systems and a former accident investigator, said minute characteristics of the metal could indicate attitude and vertical speed of the aircraft when it impacted.

"It won't tell you how the plane crashed, but it will be a step in that direction," Cox said.

Barnacles encrusting the wing's edges would be studied for clues to plot the wing's journey through the Indian Ocean, but Tytelman said there could be other microscopic life clinging to the metal or bottled up inside that could further indicate where the wing travelled.

"It's been 16 months from the crash and everything fits together," said oceanographer Arnold Gordon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "So I think the probability that it's from 370 is pretty high."

The currents from the Indian Ocean flow in a counter-clockwise way that would take a crash from west of Australia to Reunion Island, Gordon said. The amount of barnacles on the debris is consistent with other debris that he's seen in the ocean for more than a year. And it's the right type of plane.

Pictures of the "flaperon" show that it is missing its drive arm, which directed up-down movement — but there appears to be relatively mild damage at the location where the drive arm tore away, said William Waldock, a former U.S. Coast Guard officer and a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, who teaches aircraft search and rescue.

"One of the things I guess is a little surprising is how intact the flaperon is," he said. "It argues that it wasn't a very violent impact, which goes along with some of theories that it just ran out of gas and glided down."

The French aviation experts, including a legal expert from the field, will start their inquiry on Wednesday, according to the Paris prosecutor's office. On Monday, an investigating judge will meet with Malaysian authorities and representatives of the French aviation investigative agency, known as the BEA, according to the statement late Friday.

The statement said a shred of suitcase found near the wing fragment would also undergo forensic testing at a Paris-area government lab, and searchers continued Friday to scour the Reunion coastline for other possible debris, including the man from the beach maintenance crew who found the wing fragment.

Officials hope to have at least some answers soon, keenly aware that families of those on board Flight 370 are desperately awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones.

"The most important part of this whole exercise at the moment is to give some kind of closure to the families," said Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss, whose country is leading the search for the plane in a desolate stretch of ocean off Australia's west coast.

Even if the piece is confirmed to be the first confirmed wreckage from Flight 370, there's no guarantee that investigators can find the plane's vital black box recorders or other debris. A multinational search effort has come up empty.

Air safety investigators, including one from Boeing, have identified the component as a flaperon from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. The official wasn't authorized to be publicly named.

Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only missing 777.

Scanning the beach's distinctive black volcanic sand and stones on Friday, searcher Philippe Sidam picked up a plastic bottle for laundry detergent. "This is from Jakarta, Indonesia," he said, pointing to the writing on the bottle. "This shows how the ocean's currents bring material all the way from Indonesia and beyond. That explains how the debris from the Malaysian plane could have reached here."

The Canadian Press

Extradition for lion killer?

Zimbabwe intends to seek the extradition of an American dentist who killed a lion that was lured out of a national park and shot with a bow and a gun, and the process has already begun, a Cabinet minister said Friday.

"Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin," Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe's environment, water and climate minister, told a news conference. "We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable."

On Tuesday, American hunter Walter James Palmer issued a statement saying he relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal. Two Zimbabweans — a professional hunter and a farm owner — have been arrested in the killing of the lion known as Cecil, a killing garnered worldwide condemnation.

"There has been an outcry," Muchinguri said. "Almost 500,000 people are calling for his extradition and we need this support. We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws."

She did not explain the 500,000 but there are online petitions demanding Palmer's extradition.

"I have already consulted with the authorities within the police force who are responsible for arresting the criminal. We have certain processes we have to follow," Muchinguri said at the offices of the national parks and wildlife authority. "Police should take the first step to approach the prosecutor general who will approach the Americans. The processes have already started."

The Cabinet minister said both Palmer and professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst violated the Parks and Wildlife Act, which controls the use of bow and arrow hunting. She said Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 to hunt the lion, also violated the act through financing an illegal hunt. The landowner violated the act because he "allowed a hunt to be conducted without a quota and necessary permit," Muchinguri said.

There is an extradition treaty between Zimbabwe and the United States. The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said Friday that it does not comment on extradition matters.

Muchinguri accused Palmer of "a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA."

Zimbabwe and the United States have often sparred over the years. The southern African country has blamed its economic woes on U.S. sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and close associates, though many commentators have attributed Zimbabwe's economic decline to mismanagement. Washington imposed the penalties on Zimbabwe because of human rights concerns. More broadly, Mugabe has long railed against what he calls Western meddling in Africa, saying it is an extension of the colonial rule of the past.

Palmer is believed to have shot the lion with a bow on July 1 outside Hwange National Park, after it was lured onto private land with a carcass of an animal laid out on a car, Zimbabwean conservationists have said. Some 40 hours later, the wounded cat was tracked down and Palmer allegedly killed it with a gun, they said.

Authorities seeking Palmer's extradition have described him as an accomplice to the illegal hunt. But they have not specified what charges might be laid against him, meaning it is unclear what penalty he could face if he is tried and convicted.

Bronkhorst was released on $1,000 bail after appearing in court in Hwange, about 435 miles (700 kilometres) west of the capital Harare, according to his defence lawyer, Givemore Muvhiringi.

If convicted, Bronkhorst faces up to 15 years in prison.

Palmer, 55, is a dentist in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. In a note to his patients, he wrote: "I understand and respect that not everyone shares the same views on hunting." He said he would resume his dental practice "as soon as possible."

The lion's head, which was severed by the hunters, has been confiscated by the wildlife authorities, according to Director of National Parks and Wildlife Edson Chidziya.

The Canadian Press

Found $150K leads to jail

Police say they've arrested one of two men who made off with a bag containing $150,000 in cash after two employees filling ATMs mistakenly left it on a northern New Jersey lawn.

Police arrested 42-year-old Alton Harvey on Wednesday afternoon in Irvington. Authorities are still seeking 35-year-old Jamar Bludson.

Mahwah police say the ATM employees had stopped at a business when one of them placed the satchel on the lawn as he moved items around in their vehicle. They drove off, forgetting the bag.

Sometime after 11:15 a.m. Monday, surveillance video showed a passenger in a white van grabbing the bag.

It's unclear if Harvey has an attorney who can comment on the charges. He's being held at the Bergen County Jail in lieu of $125,000 bail.

The Canadian Press

Protests over Arctic drilling

Authorities used boats, personal watercraft, poles and their bare hands to remove protesters in kayaks and hanging from bridges who had tried to block a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker bound for an Arctic drilling operation.

The Fennica left dry dock Thursday afternoon and made its way down the Willamette River toward the Pacific Ocean soon after authorities forced the demonstrators from the river and the St. Johns Bridge.

Several protesters in kayaks moved toward the centre of the river as the ship began its trip, but authorities in boats and personal watercraft cleared a narrow pathway for the Fennica.

Authorities also jumped into the water to physically remove some protesters who left their kayaks.

Sgt. Pete Simpson, a Portland police spokesman, said "a number of people" were detained and it was still being determined whether any would face charges.

Simpson earlier said safety was the main priority as authorities forced protesters from the area.

"This is, obviously, a very unique situation," he said.

The Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs last week. It attempted to leave earlier Thursday but turned around when activists dangling from the bridge refused to let it pass.

The icebreaker is a key part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast. It protects Shell's fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil.

Authorities moved in hours after a federal judge in Alaska ordered Greenpeace USA to pay a fine of $2,500 for every hour that protesters dangled from the bridge to block the ship.

In May, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason granted Shell's request that activists protesting its Arctic drilling plans be ordered to stay away from company vessels and beyond buffer zones.

At the court hearing Thursday in Anchorage, Gleason said the hourly fine against Greenpeace would increase over the next few days unless the blockade was lifted. It would have jumped to $5,000 an hour Friday, $7,500 an hour Saturday, and $10,000 an hour Sunday.

The Fennica was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.

Environmentalists had hoped to delay the ship long enough for winter weather to prevent Shell from drilling until 2016. By that time, they hoped the Obama administration would have a change of heart on the issue.

Protesters began their blockade Wednesday. Several environmental groups joined Greenpeace's effort. On Thursday, activists in about 50 kayaks milled beneath the bridge as other protesters dangled from ropes above.

One of the kayak protesters, Leah Rothlein, borrowed her mother's kayak and headed onto the river.

"It's pretty cool," the 26-year-old said after coming ashore. "I was in the water for four hours."

In a statement Thursday night Greenpeace said that 26 activists that had been blockading the St. John's Bridge had all come down from the structure.

"The last two days have been a very emotional experience for all of us at Greenpeace, as well as all those who supported this action around the country and the world," Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said.

The Canadian Press

California's turn to burn

Triple-digit temperatures and gusty winds thrust Northern California into full-fledged wildfire season with several new blazes flaring up, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

California's 14 large fires, mostly in the scorched northern half of the state, are pushing 7,000 firefighters to their limits as they battle flames amid drought, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

Dozens of fires started Wednesday, but Berlant said crews quickly corralled all but five of them.

"They only need a little wind to allow them to burn at an explosive rate," Berlant said.

People are to blame for most wildfires, but Berlant said California's drought provides the fuel to get the flames burning rapidly.

The California National Guard said Thursday that it is sending in a fleet of nine helicopters — Blackhawks, Chinooks and Lakotas — to back up Cal Fire crews. They'll douse flames with water, evacuate the injured, and move around firefighters and their equipment.

Guard Capt. Will Martin said the force supports Cal Fire each year, and hundreds of guardsmen will also be sent later in the fire season to back up crews on the ground.


The biggest challenge for firefighters is a fast-spreading blaze in Lake County, 130 miles north of San Francisco. The fire started Wednesday, and within hours destroyed two homes and charred 15 square miles. It was only 5 per cent contained early Friday.

At least 650 residents were chased from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. The fire is burning near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

A separate fire near the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta burned six or seven mobile homes Thursday evening before firefighters got it under control, said Steve Cantelme, chief of the Sacramento office of Emergency Services.

Cantelme said the fire was out Thursday night but crews remained on the scene raking through debris to ensure that no hot embers could reignite it.

Video from KCRA-TV in Sacramento showed mobile homes engulfed in wind-whipped flames at a property called Korth's Pirate's Lair Marina. Owner Kande Korth said everyone got out safely.


Crews battling a fire east of California's Napa Valley held their ground, keeping that blaze from jumping any more containment lines.

The fire, which has burned for more than a week, has charred nearly 12 square miles in Solano County. It spread beyond its containment line Tuesday in rugged, steep terrain baked by triple-digit temperatures.

At least 136 structures remain threatened, and more than 200 people were still under orders to evacuate their homes on Wednesday. It is 80 per cent contained. Vineyards were not threatened.


A small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travellers headed to Yosemite National Park, has forced evacuations, but state Highway 120 remains open. The 265-acre fire 20 miles from the park's entrance is 5 per cent contained.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is about half contained.


Residents of 200 homes in the Central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday. A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread overnight from 3 square miles to more than 5. It is 30 per cent contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but remains out of custody because he and his family are co-operating.


At least three smaller fires in the far north that started Wednesday each prompted evacuations. Two in Shasta County, 130 miles south of the Oregon border, were more than half contained.

The Canadian Press

Discovery bolsters theory

With the recent discovery of a plane part on an island in the Indian Ocean, a theory floated by a Canadian pilot, Chris Goodfellow now has some additional support.

The part found on Reunion Island reportedly carries an identification number that matches that found on a Boeing 777, the make of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. According to the Aviation Safety Network, a database of flight incidents, there are no other unaccounted for 777s in the world.

The flight took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, destined for Beijing. About an hour into the flight, the plane went dark; both the transponder and secondary radar tracking went off.

The Malaysian military later said it picked up the plane on its military radar, travelling southwest into the Strait of Malacca. This would mean the plane made an almost complete turn around from its original destination.

In a theory posted online last year, Goodfellow said he believes a fire erupted on board, perhaps an electrical fire, or maybe from an overheating of an underinflated tire that ignited upon takeoff.

Goodfellow theorizes the pilot would then look to land at the nearest airport, which was Palau Langkawi. This would account for the 180-degree turn.

He says the crew may have been overcome by smoke, and the plane continued past Palau Langkawi on autopilot until it ran out of fuel or fire destroyed the controls.

In light of this week's discovery, Goodfellow’s theory looks plausible. If the plane passed Palau Langkawi, it would have most likely crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean, west of Sumatra. West-flowing South Equatorial ocean currents would have brought the wreckage toward Africa, possibly washing a piece ashore on the east side of Reunion.

There is precedence for large objects travelling vast distances across the Indian Ocean. Last year, a man lost his boat off the Western Australia coast after it overturned in rough seas. Eight months later, it turned up off the French island of Mayotte, near Madagascar, 7,400 kilometres from where it disappeared.

The discovery has changed the life of Reunion environmental worker Johnny Begue. He told The Associated Press that he stumbled across the plane part on Wednesday morning, while collecting stones to grind spices.

"I knew immediately it was part of an aircraft, but I didn't realize how important it was, that it could help to solve the mystery of what happened to the Malaysian jet," said Begue.

The piece could help investigators figure out how the plane crashed, but whether it will help search crews pinpoint the rest of the wreckage is unclear, given the complexity of the currents in the southern Indian Ocean and the time that has elapsed since the plane disappeared.

It was well understood after the aircraft disappeared that if there were any floating debris from the plane, currents would eventually bring it to the east coast of Africa, said aviation safety expert John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. But the debris is unlikely to provide much help in tracing the currents back to the location of the main wreckage, he said.

Goodfellow's theory in his own words can be found here

– with files from The Canadian Press

California kicks water habit

California's unprecedented system of mandatory conservation imposed on cities got off to a strong start with water use plunging 27 per cent in June, regulators said Thursday.

Data released by the State Water Resources Control Board showed 265 of 411 local agencies in California hit or nearly reached savings targets.

The governor ordered cities to reduce water use by 25 per cent to prepare in case California's four-year drought persists.

The savings came during the hottest June on record, which would normally lead to an uptick in water use. Prior savings have occurred during unusually wet months

"The June numbers tell a story of conscious conservation, and that's what we need and are applauding today," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the water board. "We need to save as much as possible. That is water essentially in the bank for a future dry year or more."

The report confirmed figures previously released by California's largest cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco, showing strong water conservation.

The agencies that met or came within one per cent of their mandatory water conservation target serve 27 million Californians.

Under water board regulations for mandatory water savings, communities have nine months to hit assigned conservation targets as high as 36 per cent. Water savings are compared to 2013, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency.

Some agencies opposed the targets, saying they were unfair and unrealistic and didn't give enough credit for prior conservation efforts.

Many that objected managed to reach their targets anyway, including San Diego which saved 24 per cent in June.

Robyn Bullard, a spokeswoman for the public utilities department, credited widespread messaging that included an email blast to customers and television commercials.

The water board is separately telling thousands of farmers that there is not enough water available to divert from rivers and streams under their rights.

Multiple irrigation districts have been challenging the curtailment in court.

A Sacramento County judge indicated at a Thursday hearing that she would side with the state's new approach to warning of insufficient supplies after she ruled that earlier notices violated farmers' rights.

Summer is peak water use season, and strong residential conservation could continue through July because of record rainfall in Southern California.

The water board says it will contact every agency that didn't come close to its targets and ask for more information about what it's doing to conserve.

The worst performers, which include the water districts serving wealthy areas in the desert's Coachella Valley and Temecula in Riverside County, will be told to ramp up water waste enforcement or limit days that residents can water lawns.

Regulators have the power to impose fines on agencies that consistently miss targets, but they say that's a last resort.

Water waste enforcement also shot up drastically in June. Agencies issued more than 9,500 penalties compared to about 1,900 in May.

Meteorologists say a wet California winter is increasingly likely as a strong El Nino condition builds in the Pacific Ocean, although it's unclear if it will be a drought-buster.

A study released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says precipitation in California since 2012 was 20 inches short of normal, equivalent to losing a full year of rain.

The Canadian Press

French to examine debris

The wing component found on an Indian Ocean island may be brought to mainland France on Saturday for full investigation, according to the Paris prosecutor's office.

Spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre says the flight may leave the French island of Reunion Friday night for an expected arrival Saturday in the city of Toulouse, hub to Europe's aviation industry.

French investigators will analyze the wing part because it was found on French territory, and will co-operate with international investigators, she said.

French investigators have been carrying out their own probe into the disappearance last year of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 because there were French citizens among the missing.

A Reunion police official said the wing was found Wednesday in the Bois Rouge neighbourhood of the small town of Saint Andre, and was transferred Thursday to the civil aviation authority's offices at the airport in the island's capital, Saint-Denis. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Canadian Press

Cop pleads not guilty

A University of Cincinnati police officer who shot a motorist after stopping him over a missing front licence plate pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Twenty-five-year-old Ray Tensing appeared at his arraignment wearing a striped jail suit, with his hands cuffed behind him. He was indicted Wednesday in the July 19 shooting of 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, of Cincinnati, during a traffic stop.

People in the courtroom audience erupted into cheers and clapped when bond was set at $1 million, drawing the ire of Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan.

"Ladies and gentlemen! This is a courtroom," the judge said sharply. "You will conduct yourselves at all times!"

Prosecutors had asked for the $1 million bond. Shanahan rejected the defence's contention that Tensing wasn't a flight risk.

"The case will be tried and decided in court," attorney Stewart Mathews said afterward. He said there are two sides to the case and that the much-viewed body camera video of the stop can be interpreted differently from the prosecutor's version.

He described Tensing, who is due back in court on Aug. 19, as "very depressed" and "in shock at this point," adding that Tensing has felt "like he's been run over by a train from the state of the case and it continues."

DuBose's family has urged the community to remain calm, as it has in a series of demonstrations since the shooting. Tensing had stopped DuBose for a missing front license plate, which is required in Ohio but not in neighbouring states.

DuBose's death comes amid months of national scrutiny of police dealings with African-Americans, especially those killed by officers. DuBose was black; Tensing is white. Authorities so far have not focused on race in the death of DuBose. City officials who viewed video footage from Tensing's body camera said the traffic stop shouldn't have led to a shooting.

"This officer was wrong," Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said Wednesday, adding that officers "have to be held accountable" when they're in the wrong.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters scoffed at Tensing's claim that he was dragged by DuBose's car, saying the officer "purposely killed him." Using words such as "asinine" and "senseless," the veteran prosecutor known for tough stands on urban crime called it "a chicken crap" traffic stop.

"It was so unnecessary," Deters said. He added that Tensing "should never have been a police officer."

Tensing, who was jailed overnight Wednesday, was fired soon after the indictment was announced. He had been with the University of Cincinnati for more than a year after starting police work in 2011 in a Cincinnati suburb. He also had earned a UC degree in criminal justice.

Mathews said Wednesday that he was shocked that his client was indicted on a murder charge and that Tensing did not intend to kill DuBose.

Tensing, who could face up to life in prison if convicted, has said he thought he was going to be dragged under the car and "feared for his life," Mathews said.

Mathews said a video from the body camera of a police officer who arrived right after the shooting shows Tensing lying in the street after he had gotten free of the car, but that video hasn't been released by authorities.

"With the political climate in this country with white police officers shooting black individuals, I think they need somebody to make an example of," Mathews said.

Authorities have said Tensing stopped the car and a struggle ensued after DuBose failed to provide a driver's license and refused to get out of the car.

"I didn't even do nothing," DuBose can be heard telling Tensing. DuBose held up what appears to be a bottle of gin.

Tensing fired once, striking DuBose in the head.

Aubrey DuBose, the victim's brother, called the shooting "senseless" and "unprovoked." He said the family is upset but wants any reaction to the case to be nonviolent and done in a way that honours his brother's style.

"Sam was peaceful," he said. "He lived peaceful. And in his death, we want to remain peaceful. Like my mom said, let God fight the battle."

The Canadian Press

Trophy hunting big business

It is, for some well-heeled foreign visitors, the ultimate African experience: the thrill of hunting a lion, one of the "Big Five" animals whose habitats are under increasing pressure from human encroachment. Now an American dentist's killing of a celebrity lion in Zimbabwe has triggered global revulsion, highlighting what critics say is an industry of trophy hunting that threatens vulnerable species across sub-Saharan Africa.

Hunting is banned in Kenya and Botswana, which depend heavily on income from tourists who flock to see wildlife on tours that often combine a sense of adventure with luxury lodging in the bush. Many more countries, including South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania, allow it, arguing that it benefits communities and funnels high-priced fees from hunters back into conservation. Opponents, however, warn that regulations are often poorly enforced or overlooked by unscrupulous operators.

Such suspicions are swirling in Zimbabwe, where a professional hunter, Theo Bronkhorst, was charged Wednesday with failing to "prevent an unlawful hunt" while working for Minnesota resident Walter James Palmer, who killed Cecil, a well-known lion with a distinctive black mane, in early July. Conservationists say a dead animal was tied to a car to draw the lion out of a national park, and that Palmer first wounded Cecil with a bow before fatally shooting him with a gun after 40 hours of tracking.

Palmer, who said he relied on his professional guides to ensure a legal hunt, has been vilified globally on social media and talk shows and has closed his dental practice for now.

"Cecil is not the first lion that has been lured," said Ian Michler, a South African conservationist. "It goes on all the time. Unethical hunting is rife across the continent."

Michler, who made a documentary film called "Blood Lions" that came out this year, said nearly 1,000 lions that are bred in captivity in South Africa are fatally shot every year by trophy seekers for an average of about $20,000, and sometimes up to $50,000, in conditions that can hardly be described as sporting. There is also an increasing phenomenon of lion owners charging tourists, many from Europe but also Australia and the United States, to pet and cuddle cubs earmarked for trophy kills when they get older, he said.

South Africa maintains that its legal hunting industry adheres to international agreements and actually contributes to the welfare of species, including lion, elephant and rhino.

Hunting "is a source of much needed foreign exchange, job creation, community development and social upliftment," Environment Minister Edna Molewa said in a July 23 statement. She welcomed a decision by the cargo division of South African Airways, the national carrier, to lift an embargo on the transport of legally acquired hunting trophies of lion, elephant, rhino and tiger.

Molewa said the industry in South Africa is valued at about $490 million annually, but some conservationists believe the figure is inflated to bolster the argument that hunting is an economic boon. In a 2013 report, a group called Economists at Large cited estimated that trophy hunting generates $200 million in African communities, but said the figure should be used "with caution" and is a relatively insignificant part of total tourism revenue.

Lions are designated as vulnerable on an international "red list" of species facing threats. By one estimate, fewer than 20,000 lions exist in the wild, a drop of about 40 per cent in the past two decades. Another estimate puts the number at closer to 30,000. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has taken note of successful lion conservation in southern Africa, but said West African lions are critically endangered and that rapid population declines were also recorded in East Africa.

Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion that was killed, was wearing a satellite collar installed by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford.

"Our goal is to understand the threats that lions face, and to use cutting-edge science to develop solutions to those threats," director David Macdonald said on the unit's website. He said the unit has tracked the movements of over 100 lions by satellite.

Prince Mupazviriho, permanent secretary in Zimbabwe's ministry of environment, water and climate, said the hunting of a collared lion was an isolated incident.

"Short of going on a culling exercise where you are just shooting animals willy-nilly in order to reduce numbers, there is need to have a scientific way of doing it, which also brings resources for purposes of conservation," he said.

This year, Zambia announced the lifting of a two-year-old ban on hunting lions and other big cats, Zambian media reported in May.

On its website, a group called Central African Wildlife Adventures offers hunts in Central African Republic, though it has suspended operations for now because of political instability and violence there. The website describes an almost mystical experience in which the hunter and the hunted lion are equals.

It says: "The last and final contact is usually done at close range, with the lion appearing from nowhere in the green foliage. Without a warning or a sound, the King of Beasts is suddenly there and the time has come for two of the most powerful predators on Earth to meet."

The Canadian Press

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