Californian firefighters make significant progress in battle against blaze south of LA

Firefighters made significant progress trying to tamp down a wildfire that threatened homes and has been raging for days south of Los Angeles, officials said Saturday (US time).

Aircraft have been making flight after flight, dumping water and bright pink retardant to protect Lake Elsinore and other foothill communities as the fire sweeps through the dense, bone-dry brush of the Cleveland National Forest.

The Holy Fire - named for Holy Jim Canyon, where it began Monday - grew to nearly 33 square miles (85 square kilometers) by Saturday morning. But firefighters also made progress, with containment rising from 10 to 29 percent.

High temperatures and dry grass and brush have made it difficult for firefighters to get a handle on the blaze.

Some hillsides were being allowed to burn under the watchful eyes of firefighters as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for flames to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.

Although the fire burned a dozen forest cabins early on, only one home was lost Thursday as fire crews managed to fend off flames that stalked downhill and came right up to yards.

On Saturday, officials allowed some residents to return to their homes in Lake Elsinore, but others still remained under evacuation orders.

The man accused of deliberately starting the fire appeared in court on Friday, but his arraignment was postponed.

Forrest Clark, 51, made several outbursts, claiming his life was being threatened and saying the arson charge against him was a lie. A court commissioner ordered his bail to remain at $1 million.

The Holy Fire was one of nearly 20 blazes across California, which is seeing earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

A fire that broke out near the communities of Fairfield and Vacaville had destroyed a home and two other structures, according to the Vacaville Fire Department. A firefighter suffered a minor injury battling the blaze, which grew to about 2.6 square miles (6.9 sq. kilometers) and was 70 percent contained by Saturday afternoon, officials said.

The largest fire ever recorded in California - the Mendocino Complex - is burning north of Sacramento and has destroyed 119 homes but none in recent days.

The fire had reached 508 square miles (1,315 sq. kilometers) and was 67 percent contained by Saturday.

The two-week-old Carr Fire that killed six people and burned more than 1,000 homes was 55 percent contained.

Firefighters Ryan Foley, center, and Andrew Arthen with San Bernardino Cal Fire make a stand in front of an advancing wildfire as they protect a home Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Firefighters on Friday are protecting foothill neighborhoods in the city of Lake Elsinore near where the blaze flared up amid unpredictable winds a day earlier. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Firefighters fighting the blaze that has been raging for days in California. Source: Associated Press



Man charged after killing four, including two police officers, in Canadian shooting

Canadian police charged a man today for the deaths of two police officers and two civilians in a shooting that struck a nerve in a country that has been roiled in recent months by several instances of mass violence.

Police in the eastern city of Fredericton, New Brunswick said that Matthew Vincent Raymond, 48, was arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

Horizon Health, which delivers care for New Brunswick's Department of Health, said that Raymond was the only person being treated for injuries related to the shooting. He is due to appear in court August 27.

The victims have been identified as police Const. Robb Costello, 45, police Const. Sara Burns, 43, Donnie Robichaud, 42, and Bobbie-Lee Wright, 32.

Robichaud and Wright were in a relationship, according to Facebook and Robichaud's cousin, Sean Callahan, who said they had just gotten together at the beginning of August.

No motive has been disclosed, and police said they were working to determine a link between the gunman and the couple.

Police said Costello and Burns were responding to calls of shots fired at an apartment complex and saw two deceased civilians before being shot and killed themselves.

Fredericton police Chief Leanne Fitch said Raymond used a long gun and was in an elevated position when he fired. Fitch said he was shot by police and was in serious but stable condition.

Judith Aguilar, an office manager for Sunfield Apartment Rentals, said Raymond lived in the complex for about four months and was an avid cyclist who often came to pay his rent in cash while wearing a bike helmet.

"He seemed like a very normal and pleasant person, really," she said. "He's tall and was in fairly good shape because he biked everywhere."

At one point, she said maintenance workers needed to do some work in his apartment and he didn't want the workers there while he wasn't present.

"He seemed concerned, he said he had an expensive computer and an expensive bike," she said. "They didn't even have to go all the way into the apartment, they were just fixing his doorframe at the time."

Residents were stunned by the episode, which took place in a city of 60,000 that last saw a homicide in 2014.

But the shooting comes as Canada wrestles with a string of violence, including an instance in Toronto last month where a man with a handgun opened fire in a crowded part of the city, killing two people and wounding 13 before he died in the confrontation.

In April, a man who linked himself to a misogynistic online community used a van to run down pedestrians in a busy part of Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 14.

Authorities are also still pursuing leads in an ongoing investigation of a serial killer who has been charged with killing eight men in the city in recent years.

In 2014, a shooting in Moncton, New Brunswick left three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers dead and two wounded.

Police officers and RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) survey the area of a shooting in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada on Friday, August 10 2018.
Police officers and RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) survey the area of a shooting in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada on Friday, August 10 2018. Source: Associated Press

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'Hold, hold, hold' - Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

A last-minute technical problem yesterday delayed NASA's unprecedented flight to the sun.

The early morning launch countdown was halted with just one-minute, 55 seconds remaining, keeping the Delta IV rocket on its pad with the Parker Solar Probe.

Rocket maker United Launch Alliance said it would try again today, provided the helium-pressure issue can be resolved quickly.

As soon as the red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system went off, a launch controller ordered, "Hold, hold, hold".

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

The $2.2 million (USD) mission is already a week late because of rocket issues.

Yesterday's launch attempt encountered a series of snags; in the end, controllers ran out of time.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the middle of the night to witness the launch, including the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

Eugene Parker predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago.

He's now 91 and eager to see the solar probe soar.

He plans to stick around at least another few days.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard shortly after the Mobile Service Tower was rolled back. Source: Associated Press