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Wildfire is big and growing

Firefighters struggled Thursday to get the upper hand on a massive wildfire burning along California's picturesque Big Sur coastline, where anxious residents driven from their homes awaited word on their properties and popular parks and trails closed at the height of tourist season.

The blaze spanning 42 square miles (109 square kilometres) has destroyed at least 34 homes and put at least 2,000 buildings at risk. A 35-year-old father of two girls was killed this week when the bulldozer he was operating rolled over on the fire lines.

The fire has burned for a week and is only 10 per cent contained. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimated it will take until the end of August to extinguish it.

"Every day the fire is gaining ground on us," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Robert Fish said. "The weather and steep and rugged terrain is taking its toll. So we'll make progress, but then the fire is making progress faster than we can keep pace with."

Firefighters worked in rugged terrain near State Highway 1 in an area that draws tourists from around the world for the dramatic vistas of ocean and mountains. The famous roadway remained open, but smoke and the threat of flames forced the closure of state parks near Big Sur, a big economic driver for the region.

Tom and Donna Huntington, both 65, have lived for 29 years in the community of Palo Colorado, which was hard-hit by the fire. They fled their home last Friday and have been staying with friends and a Red Cross shelter at a school.

"It's a heartbreaker. I could cry right now," Tom Huntington said. "I'm so lucky I didn't lose my house. And I know some people that have. All they had was what they wore that day. ... All their stuff — just poof."

Eric Beninger, a former firefighter who also lives in Palo Colorado, isn't sure his home is still standing.

"When I did leave yesterday I ended up seeing flames coming up my road," he said. "Just hope for the best, that's about all I can do."

The bulldozer operator who died on the fire lines this week was identified Thursday as Robert Reagan. The Fresno County man's sister, Hannah Cunnings, told The Associated Press that her brother was the kind of person who would offer to put snow chains on a neighbour's car or fix an engine that needed repair.

"Even since he was a boy, he just really wanted to help people," she said, crying.

Besides two daughters, Cunnings said her brother and his wife cared for a young niece.

Another man was killed last week in a wildfire still burning on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Crews have stopped the spread of that nearly 60-square-mile (155-sqaure kilometre) blaze, which destroyed 18 homes in mountains and canyons around Santa Clarita.

Authorities have not determined a cause for either fire.

Four people who escaped the Big Sur fire early in the week acknowledged growing marijuana in the area for the last three months, Monterey County sheriff's Sgt. Kathy Palazzolo said.

It's illegal to cultivate marijuana in California except for medicinal purposes, but pot grows are common throughout coastal Monterey County, south of San Francisco.

"We have them all over, all throughout the county, in the national forest, on private property, in riverbeds, we find them all over," Palazzolo said.

Separately, seven people were rescued Tuesday after calling 911, Palazzolo said. They said they were backcountry hikers, but police are skeptical.

There was no evidence to suggest the fire was sparked by marijuana cultivation, Cal Fire spokesman Robert Fish said.



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Clinton's pledge

"We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against," she said in excerpts released ahead of her speech Thursday accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. "But we are not afraid. We will rise to the challenge, just as we always have."

Clinton's national convention address follows three nights of Democratic stars, including a past and present president, asserting she is ready for the White House. On the gathering's final night, she was making that case for herself on the convention's final night.

Acknowledging Americans' anxieties, Clinton is vowing to create economic opportunities in inner cities and struggling small towns. She also says terror attacks around the world require "steady leadership" to defeat a determined enemy.

The first woman to lead a major U.S. political party toward the White House, Clinton will be greeted Thursday by a crowd of cheering delegates eager to see history made in the November election. But her real audience will be millions of voters who may welcome her experience but question her character.

A parade of military leaders, law enforcement officials and even Republicans took the stage ahead of Clinton to endorse her in the general election contest with Republican Donald Trump. American flags waved in the stands of the packed convention hall and the crowd broke into chants of "U-S-A!" drowning out scattered calls of "No more war."

"This is the moment, this is the opportunity for our future," said retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, a former commander in Afghanistan. "We must seize this moment to elect Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America."

Clinton is locked in a tight general election contest with Trump, an unconventional candidate and political novice. Even as Clinton and her validators argue Trump is unqualified for the Oval Office, they recognize the businessman has a visceral connection with some voters in a way the Democratic nominee does not.

Campaigning in Iowa Thursday, Trump said there were "a lot of lies being told" at Clinton's convention. In an earlier statement, he accused Democrats of living in a "fantasy world," ignoring economic and security troubles as well as Clinton's controversial email use at the State Department.

The FBI's investigation into Clinton's use of a private internet server didn't result in criminal charges, but it did appear to deepen voters' concerns with her honesty and trustworthiness. A separate pre-convention controversy over hacked Democratic Party emails showing favouritism for Clinton in the primary threatens to deepen the perception that Clinton prefers to play by her own rules.

Former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris said it was important for his party's nominee to showcase the "original Hillary Clinton, before she became so guarded" when she takes the convention stage.

The Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, will attempt to do just that as she introduces her mother.

The week's most powerful validation came Wednesday night from President Barack Obama, her victorious primary rival in 2008. Obama declared Clinton not only can defeat Trump's "deeply pessimistic vision" but also realize the "promise of this great nation."

Seeking to offset possible weariness with a politician who has been in the spotlight for decades, he said of Clinton: "She's been there for us, even if we haven't always noticed."

A studious wonk who prefers policy discussions to soaring oratory, Clinton has acknowledged she struggles with the flourishes that seem to come naturally to Obama and her husband. She'll lean heavily on her "stronger together" campaign theme, invoking her 1996 book "It Takes a Village," her campaign said.

Indeed, the Democratic convention has been a visual ode those mantras: The first African-American president symbolically seeking to hand the weightiest baton in the free world to a woman. A parade of speakers — gay and straight, young and old, white, black and Hispanic — cast Trump as out-of-touch with a diverse and fast-changing nation.

Khizr Khan, an American Muslim whose son was killed in military service, emotionally implored voters to stop Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration.

"Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with their future," Khan said. "Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy."

The program paid tribute to law enforcement officers killed on duty, including five who died in Dallas earlier this month in retaliation for officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana.

"Violence is not the answer," Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez said. "Yelling, screaming and calling each other names is not going to do it."

On the convention's closing night, Clinton sought to reach beyond the Democratic base, particularly to moderate Republicans unnerved by Trump.

Former Reagan administration official Doug Elmets announced he was casting his first vote for a Democrat in November, and urged other Republicans who "believe loyalty to our country is more important than loyalty to party" to do the same.

Following reports Russia hacked Democratic Party emails, Trump said he'd like to see Moscow find the thousands of emails Clinton deleted from the account she used as secretary of state. Hours later, Trump told Fox News he was being "sarcastic" although shortly after his remarks on Wednesday, he tweeted that Russia should share the emails with the FBI.

 



Heat won't help fire fight

California crews contended with hotter temperatures and lower humidity Thursday near scenic Big Sur where a wildfire has destroyed 34 homes and killed a bulldozer driver working to contain the massive blaze.

More than 3,000 firefighters working around the clock got a break from cooler conditions a day earlier, but forecasters said the rest of the week would bring weather in the upper 80s.

Another 10 outbuildings were gutted by the blaze that has charred 42 square miles of dry brush. The fire in Monterey County was just 10 per cent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Eight men who had been working on a marijuana field were rescued near the fire lines Tuesday after spending days wandering smoky trails with little water or food. No serious injuries were reported, sheriff's spokesman John Thornburg told the Monterey Herald. Authorities initially said the men had been hiking in the area.

The operator of a bulldozer was killed when it rolled over during the firefight. Another operator escaped injury when a second bulldozer rolled over and sustained minor damage, according to Cal Fire.

Battalion Chief Robert Fish said the operator was working in steep and difficult-to-access terrain when the accident occurred Tuesday. Fish did not have further details about the incident or the operator but said 60 bulldozers were being used.

The death occurred as firefighters worked in rugged terrain near coastal Highway 1 in an area that draws tourists from around the world for the dramatic vistas of ocean and mountains. The famous roadway remained open, but smoke and the threat of flames forced the closure of state parks near Big Sur.

At least 2,000 structures were threatened. The blaze could crest a ridge and make a run toward campgrounds, lodges and redwoods closer to the shore, officials said.

To the south, crews stopped the spread of a huge wildfire that destroyed 18 homes in mountains and canyons outside Los Angeles. The blaze that charred nearly 60 square miles of dry brush near Santa Clarita was 65 per cent contained Thursday, according to the fire command.

A stretch of the Metrolink commuter rail closed because of the fire was running again and some 20,000 people evacuated over the weekend returned home.

Firefighters were aided by light winds but contended with triple-digit temperatures.

California's power grid operator extended a call for voluntary electricity conservation through Thursday due to hot weather throughout the state.

Authorities found the burned body of Robert Bresnick in a car on Saturday and said the 67-year-old had refused to be evacuated.

Acting Gov. Tom Torlakson, substituting for Gov. Jerry Brown who is at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, declared a state of emergency for both fires. The move frees up funding and relaxes regulations to help with the firefight and recovery.



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Chelsea to give mom push

After days of endorsements from celebrities, elected leaders and passionate supporters, Hillary Clinton will be introduced Thursday night by the woman who knows her simply as mom.

Chelsea Clinton will open for her mother at the Democratic National Convention as Clinton accepts a place in history as the first female presidential nominee for a major party. Chelsea Clinton's appearance comes after her father, ex-President Bill Clinton, gave a deeply personal address about his wife Tuesday night.

It's part of a campaign effort to show the softer side of the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.

And it's hardly a new role for 36-year-old Chelsea, who works for the Clinton Foundation and recently gave birth to her second child. She has been active in the campaign, as with her mother's past campaigns. She was at the convention Tuesday, as her father called her birth "the greatest moment of my life." Hillary Clinton talks about her too, often telling a story about toddler Chelsea asking her to stop singing lullabies.

Of course, Chelsea Clinton is not the only prominent daughter during this presidential campaign. Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is a leading surrogate for her father and gave an emotional speech for him last week, pledging that the two will work on issues like pay equity and affordable childcare.

The two women, New Yorkers of similar ages with high-profile parents, have been friendly in the past. Chelsea Clinton praised Ivanka Trump in a Vogue magazine story last year, saying "There's nothing skin-deep about Ivanka." While the contest between their parents has become acrimonious, Ivanka Trump said in an interview with People Magazine this week that the two were "friendly." Still, she added, "There's certainly tremendous intensity around both of our lives right now."

Chelsea Clinton commented on Ivanka Trump's convention speech during an interview on Facebook Live hosted by Glamour this week. Asked what she would say to Ivanka Trump, Chelsea Clinton said: "How would your father do that? It's not something he has spoken about. There are no policies on any of those fronts that you mentioned."

Politics is the family business, so Chelsea Clinton has spent most of her life in the public eye, moving to the White House at the age of 12 after her father was elected in 1992 and heading to Stanford University with a security detail in tow. Perhaps her most high-profile moment came in 1998, when, at age 18 and during the height of her parents' marital troubles, the three were photographed walking together, with Chelsea Clinton holding both parents' hands.

Because she's lived so long in public, many voters feel they already know her, like Cynthia Doty, 65, a Clinton supporter from New York City, who said, "I think she's grown up into a really remarkable woman."

After spending time as a management consultant and as a correspondent for NBC, Chelsea Clinton now works for the Clinton Foundation and recently wrote a book for middle-school aged kids.

With husband Mark Mezvinsky, a hedge-fund manager whose parents both served in Congress, she has two children under the age of 2: Charlotte and Aidan.

Katie White, 18, of San Antonio, Texas, said she was looking forward to the speech: "I think Ivanka did a lot to help Donald Trump. It will be interesting to see what Chelsea can do."

But some Democrats are less interested.

"There's nothing relatable about her," said Quinn Symonds, 34, of Mason City, Iowa. "She's not one of us, the 99 per cent."

Emma Schmit, 22, of Rockwell City, Iowa, agreed: "She's part of the one per cent."



Heat sparks manure fire

How hot is it in upstate New York? So hot that horse manure is bursting into flames.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says it received multiple complaints July 5 about the smell and smoke emanating from a burning pile of horse manure at a property in the town of Throop, in the Finger Lakes region 20 miles west of Syracuse.

The responding officer learned that the owners of a horse stable had been storing the manure in large piles that frequently spontaneously combusted in the excessive heat and dry conditions.

DEC officials say a shift in the prevailing winds carried the odour of burning manure into the neighbours' windows.

It took three local fire departments two hours to douse the burning manure.



Lotto fever hits $478M

No one has matched the jackpot-winning numbers in Wednesday night's Powerball drawing, and the prize has increased to an estimated $478 million.

The next drawing will be Saturday. Nearly three months have passed without a winner of the big prize.

The chance of winning Powerball is incredibly small, at 292.2 million-to-1. But players have much better odds, of about 1 in 25, of winning smaller prizes ranging from $4 to $1 million.



Skydiver to jump into net

He's made 18,000 parachute jumps, helped train some of the world's most elite skydivers, done some of the stunts for "Ironman 3." But the plunge Luke Aikins knows he'll be remembered for is the one he's making without a parachute. Or a wingsuit.

Or anything, really, other than the clothes he'll be wearing when he jumps out of an airplane at 25,000 feet this weekend, attempting to become the first person to land safely on the ground in a net.

The Fox network will broadcast the two-minute jump live at 5 p.m. Saturday as part of an hour-long TV special called "Heaven Sent."

And, no, you don't have to tell Aikins it sounds crazy. He knows that.

He said as much to his wife after a couple Hollywood guys looking to create the all-time-greatest reality TV stunt floated the idea by him a couple years ago.

"I said, 'You won't believe these guys,'" the affable skydiver recalls with a robust laugh. "'They want me to jump out without a parachute.' She said, 'Oh, with a wingsuit.' I said, 'No, they want me to do it with nothing.' We both had a good laugh about that."

But in the weeks that followed he couldn't shake one persistent thought: Could anybody actually do this and live to tell the tale?

Because if anyone could, Aikins wanted to be that guy.

After all, the 42-year-old daredevil has practically lived his life in the sky. He made his first tandem jump when he was 12, following with his first solo leap four years later. He's been racking them up at about 800 a year ever since.

He took his wife, Monica, on her first jump when they were dating and she's up to 2,000 now. The couple lives with a 4-year-old son, Logan, in Washington, where Aikins' family owns Skydive Kapowsin near Tacoma.

Over the years Aikins has taught skydiving, taught others to teach skydiving, even participated in world-record stacking events, those exercises where skydivers line up atop one another as they fly their open chutes across the sky.

He tells of having his chute tangle with others on a couple of those efforts and having to come down under his reserve parachute. In all, he's used his reserve 30 times, not a bad number for 18,000 jumps.

This time, though, he won't have any parachute.

"If I wasn't nervous I would be stupid," the compact, muscular athlete says with a grin as he sits under a canopy near Saturday's drop zone.

"We're talking about jumping without a parachute, and I take that very seriously. It's not a joke," he adds.

Nearby, a pair of huge cranes defines the boundaries where the net in which Aikins expects to land is being erected. It will be about one-third the size of a football field and 20 stories high, providing enough space to cushion his fall, he says, without allowing him to bounce out of it. The landing target, which has been described as similar to a fishing trawler net, has been tested repeatedly using dummies.

One of those 200-pound dummies didn't bounce out. It crashed right through.

"That was not a good thing to see," recalled Jimmy Smith, the veteran Hollywood public relations man who, with his partner Bobby Ware, came up with the idea of having someone skydive without a parachute.

Chris Talley, who had worked with Aikins on other projects and helped train him for this one, recommended the skydiver to the two Amusement Park Entertainment executives. He told them Aikins was arguably the only guy not only good enough but also smart enough and careful enough to survive this.

Smith recalled how the three men gazed at each other with a look of foreboding after that dummy crashed through the net. Then they looked over at Aikins.

"Luke just said, 'No biggie, that's why we test.'"

Fox has had little to say about the stunt other than it will be broadcast on a tape delay, as is the case with all its live broadcasts, says network spokesman Les Eisner. It contains a warning not to try this at home.

That would seemingly be difficult, as Smith and Ware had to scour a good part of the world, from Arizona Indian land to Dubai real estate, before they found what everyone agreed was the best place for Aikins to land.

He'll come down in a dry, dusty, desolate-looking section of an old movie ranch north of Los Angeles where not that long ago Shia LaBeouf was battling "Transformers."

The drop zone, surrounded by rolling hills, presents some challenges, Aikins said, noting he'll be constantly fighting shifting winds as he falls 120 mph.

Other skydivers have jumped from planes without parachutes and had someone hand them one in midair. But Aikins won't even have that.

Why?

"To me, I'm proving that we can do stuff that we don't think we can do if we approach it the right way," he answers.

"I've got 18,000 jumps with a parachute, so why not wear one this time?" he muses almost to himself. "But I'm trying to show that it can be done."



Meteor lights up the sky

Social media is lighting up with reports from Nevada, Utah and California of a small fireball streaking across the sky.

Officials from Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada tell KTNV-TV that the light seen Wednesday night was a meteor breaking up.

Dr. Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, tells KABC-TV it may have been a meteor from the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower, which is peaking on Wednesday night.

People were tweeting photos and videos of the small fiery dot in the sky from northern and southern California as well as Nevada and Utah.



Canadian detained in Turkey

Global Affairs Canada says a second Canadian citizen has been detained in Turkey.

Spokesman Francois Lasalle says Canadian consular officials are in contact with Turkish authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family.

Global Affairs would not release the name of the Canadian, citing privacy concerns.

However, the Anatolian Heritage Federation in Ottawa says in a release that the person arrested and detained at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul is Ilhan Erdem on what it calls "trumped up" allegations.

It cites Turkish media as reporting Erdem is accused of leading the Hizmet movement in Canada.

The Hizmet movement, also known as the Gulen movement, is described as a global network based on the teachings of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic and former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The federation says, however, that Erdem's beliefs are "simply aligned with those of Hizmet" and was arrested only because Erdogan "continues to target all detractors ... including peaceful Hizmet participants."

Nurcan Topcuolgu, a family friend and a member of the federation, says no one has been able to contact Erdem or his wife since they tried to board a flight to Canada on Monday. She says Erdem, his wife and two children were planning a family vacation in Ottawa.

Topcuolgu says Erdem was working as an imam when he lived in Ottawa, but has been working as an education consultant in Turkey for the last three years.

There was still no concrete word, meanwhile, on why a Calgary man being detained in Turkey has been arrested, amid media reports that he's accused of being a coup plotter.

Davud Hanci, an imam who provides spiritual counselling to prisoners, is apparently being held on accusations he was involved in the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey.

Pictures that had circulated in Turkish media show a man purported to be Hanci with Gulen.

Hanci was allowed to see his wife on Monday, but the visit was too brief to glean much information.



Keep Trump out of the loop

A Rhode Island congressman says he's asking President Barack Obama to withhold classified materials and briefings from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the interest of national security.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Obama on Wednesday.

At a news conference hours earlier, Trump said he hoped that Russia would find emails deleted by Hillary Clinton from her time as secretary of state. He said: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

Cicilline says Trump's "call for hostile foreign action" goes beyond partisan politics and "represents a threat to the republic itself."

Since 1952, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have traditionally received intelligence briefings after securing their party's nomination.



Crash kills one, injures eight

A car has plowed into the front of a Los Angeles house where a group of 11 mostly elderly people were holding a bible study and prayer meeting, leaving one person dead and eight injured, authorities said.

The red sedan left a gaping hole in the house in the Harbor Gateway neighbourhood on Wednesday night and was almost entirely inside when it stopped.

The female driver ran from the scene and police are looking for her, but the car had no license plates and there was no identification inside, authorities said.

The car was speeding down the street and the woman apparently lost control, jumping the curb, slamming into the house and killing one person, police Capt. Leland Sands said.

Many of the victims were trapped by the car, and neighbours tried to lift it off them before firefighters arrived.

The injured victims were seven women and one man, and five of them were seriously hurt, city fire spokesman Brian Humphrey said. He had no further details on the injuries.



Slender Man stabbing

A Wisconsin state appeals court ruled Wednesday that two girls accused of trying to kill their classmate in an attempt to please the fictional horror character Slender Man should be tried as adults.

Investigators say the girls, who were 12 at the time of the attack in 2014, plotted for months before luring their classmate into some woods in Madison, Wis., after a birthday sleepover and repeatedly stabbing her. The victim, who was also 12, was found along a road, bleeding from 19 stab wounds that nearly killed her.

The girls have been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide and if convicted could go to prison for up to 65 years. As juveniles, they could be incarcerated for up to three years then supervised until age 18.

Anyone 10 or older charged with first-degree attempted homicide is automatically considered an adult under Wisconsin law. But defence attorneys have argued that the case belongs in juvenile court, saying the adolescents suffer from mental illness and won't get the treatment they need in the adult prison system.

Experts testified that one of the girls has schizophrenia and an oppositional defiant disorder that requires long-term mental health treatment. The other girl has been diagnosed with a delusional disorder and a condition known as schizotypy, which a psychologist testified made her vulnerable to believing in Slender Man.

In a pair of rulings Wednesday, the 2nd District Appeals court affirmed a lower court's determination that it was reasonable to try both girls as adults. Citing the ruling last year, the appeals court said if the girls were found guilty in the juvenile system they would be released at age 18 with no supervision or mental health treatment.

It also noted that the evidence showed the crime was not accidental or impulsive, but planned out and violent. Given the serious nature of the offence, it would not be appropriate for the trial to take place in juvenile court, the appeals court ruled.

The girls could appeal the rulings to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Maura McMahon, the defence attorney for one of the girls, said she was "disappointed and sad" with the ruling and was reviewing it to decide whether to seek further appeal.

Kevin Osborne, the assistant Waukesha County District Attorney, said he was pleased with the decisions, but declined further comment because he has not yet read them.

A status conference in the case was set for Aug. 19.

The AP hasn't identified the defendants because their cases could still move to juvenile court, where proceedings are closed. They are both now 14 years old.

According to a criminal complaint, the girls plotted for months before they lured Payton Leutner into a park in Waukesha, about 20 miles west of Milwaukee, and attacked her with a knife.

Leutner suffered 19 stab wounds, including one that doctors say narrowly missed a major artery near her heart. After the attack in a wooded park, she crawled to a road and was found lying on a sidewalk by a passing bicyclist. Despite the attack, she staged what her family called a "miraculous" recovery and was back in school in September three months later.

The girls told investigators they hoped that killing her would please Slender Man, a demon-like character they had read about in online horror stories. The tales describe Slender Man as an unnaturally thin, faceless creature who preys on children.

Police captured the girls on the outskirts of the city that same day. They told investigators they planned to walk 300 miles to the Nicolet National Forest, where they hoped to live as Slender Man's servants in his mansion.

An HBO documentary on the case was released in March.



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