California wildfire grows, 1,500 under evacuation orders

A resident helps to protect his brother’s store as a wildfire burned and surrounded the area in Spring Valley, California. Some 2,700 firefighters and more than a dozen aircraft are fighting the flames of the 13,000-acre wide blaze. (The Sacramento Bee via AP)
Updated 27 June 2018
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California wildfire grows, 1,500 under evacuation orders

  • The fire that burned some two dozen homes and other buildings since Saturday continued to threaten about 600 buildings in Lake County north of San Francisco
  • State fire officials said highs in the 80s, low humidity and erratic winds pushed the blaze to 13,000 acres on Tuesday

SPRING VALLEY, California: A Northern California wildfire that has burned some two dozen homes and buildings gained thousands of acres on Tuesday as it burned through tinder-dry chaparral, and residents forced to flee a tiny rural community had no idea when they can return.
The fire that burned some two dozen homes and other buildings since Saturday continued to threaten about 600 buildings in Lake County north of San Francisco. The entire Spring Valley area was under evacuation orders, state fire officials said.
At least 1,500 people and as many as 3,000 fell into that zone.
State fire officials said highs in the 80s, low humidity and erratic winds pushed the blaze to 13,000 acres (20 square miles or about 52.5 square kilometers) on Tuesday and the same weather was expected on Wednesday.
However, fire crews also gained on the blaze, which was 17 percent contained. Some 2,700 firefighters and more than a dozen aircraft fought the flames.
The humidity has been tending to rise at night, dampening the fire’s spread but “sometimes it can actively burn through the night,” warned Anthony Brown with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Once daylight comes up ... it starts to get dried out again.”
Spring Valley resident Deborah Edwards, 67, was seven hours out of town when her neighbor called to alert her about the mandatory evacuation — the third evacuation order Edwards has had to follow in the past few years. She and her husband drove back to collect their Labradors from an evacuation center where the neighbor had taken them.
“We’ve done this enough times so we can go ahead and go,” she said. “I had all my important papers in a place beforehand so the neighbor knew what to take.”
California officials said the same hot, dry conditions and drought-stricken vegetation led to the state’s deadliest and most destructive fire year in 2017.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency in rural Lake County. The declaration will enable officials to receive more state resources to fight the fire and for recovery.
Jim Steele, an elected supervisor, said the county is impoverished and its fire-fighting equipment antiquated. He also said the county has just a few roads into and out of the region, which can hinder response time.
The blaze is the latest in the county of just 65,000 people in the last few years. In 2015, a series of fires destroyed 2,000 buildings and killed four people. The following year, an arsonist started a fire that wiped out 300 buildings.
Last year, the county was among those ravaged by a string of fires that ripped through Northern California wine country.
“I think we’re all just so traumatized and overwhelmed with all these fires year after year, this whole community is at a breaking point,” said Terri Gonsalves, 55, who evacuated her home around midnight Sunday.
Residents also fled wildfires in Shasta and Tuolumne counties. At least a dozen blazes are burning throughout California. No cause has been determined for any of the fires.
Last year, California’s costliest fires killed 44 people and tore through the state’s wine country in October, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage.


SpaceX rocket accident leaves company’s Starlink satellites in wrong orbit

Updated 10 sec ago
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SpaceX rocket accident leaves company’s Starlink satellites in wrong orbit

  • An upper stage engine malfunctioned minutes after the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Thursday night, carrying 20 Starlink satellites
  • More than 6,000 orbiting Starlinks currently provide Internet service to customers in some of the most remote corners of the world

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A SpaceX rocket has failed for the first time in nearly a decade, leaving the company’s Internet satellites in an orbit so low that they’re doomed to fall through the atmosphere and burn up.
The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Thursday night, carrying 20 Starlink satellites. Several minutes into the flight, the upper stage engine malfunctioned. SpaceX on Friday blamed a liquid oxygen leak.
The company said flight controllers managed to make contact with half of the satellites and attempted to boost them to a higher orbit using onboard ion thrusters. But with the low end of their orbit only 84 miles (135 kilometers) above Earth — less than half what was intended — “our maximum available thrust is unlikely to be enough to successfully raise the satellites,” the company said via X.
SpaceX said the satellites will reenter the atmosphere and burn up. There was no mention of when they might come down. More than 6,000 orbiting Starlinks currently provide Internet service to customers in some of the most remote corners of the world.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the problem must be fixed before Falcon rockets can fly again.
It was not known if or how the accident might impact SpaceX’s upcoming crew flights. A billionaire’s spaceflight is scheduled for July 31 from Florida with plans for the first private spacewalk, followed in mid-August by an astronaut flight to the International Space Station for NASA.
The tech entrepreneur who will lead the private flight, Jared Isaacman, said Friday that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has “an incredible track record” and as well as an emergency escape system.
The last launch failure occurred in 2015 during a space station cargo run. Another rocket exploded the following year during testing on the ground.
SpaceX’s Elon Musk said the high flight rate will make it easier to identify and correct the problem.

 


District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

Updated 12 July 2024
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District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

  • The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35”

THE HAGUE: Dutch judges on Friday slapped down an urgent request by a trio of rights groups to penalize the Netherlands for not respecting a ban on supplying F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
In a landmark verdict in February, an appeals court ordered the Netherlands to stop delivering parts for fighter jets used by Israel in its offensive in the Gaza Strip.
But the rights groups went back to court in June, saying that the ban has not prevented parts ending up in Israeli planes.
Their lawyers accused the Dutch government of continuing “to deliver (parts) to other countries, including the US.”
The three groups asked The Hague District Court in an urgent request to impose a €50,000 per day fine on the state for not respecting the verdict.
Their lawyers said F-35 parts exported by the Netherlands continued to reach Israel via other routes, including the so-called “Global Spares Pool” — a joint stock of spare parts maintained by countries that operate the F-35.
The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35.”
The judges said the February judgment had a “more limited scope” than the rights group’s current urgent request.
“It has not been demonstrated that the state is not complying with the ban or does not intend to continue to comply,” the judges said.
“Therefore, there is no penalty for a violation,” the judges said.
In its verdict in February, appeals judges found that there was a “clear risk” the planes would be involved in breaking international humanitarian law.
The Dutch government then acknowledged it could not prevent parts shipped to the US from eventually ending up in Israeli F-35s.
But its lawyers said it did not believe the Netherlands had to restrict exports of F-35 parts to countries other than Israel.
The Dutch government added that it would implement the February verdict but announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

 


Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age

Updated 12 July 2024
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Teenage migrant in Spain’s Canaries sleeping rough after coming of age

  • Around 19,000 migrants, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2024, a 167 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to government figures

MADRID: When Abdellatif Bouhlal landed on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria after surviving the perilous sea journey from Morocco on a rickety dinghy, he was alone and just 15 years old.
Having been picked up at sea, Bouhlal spent three years in a reception center for unaccompanied minors, but when he came of age, he had to leave and find his shelter.
With the authorities slow to process the paperwork he needs as a foreigner to be able to work in Spain, he was forced to sleep rough and beg for money, he said.
“On the same day I turned 18, they dumped me out on the streets like a dog,” he said from a makeshift tent on El Cabron beach in the town of Arinaga.
Bouhlal’s story is shared by thousands of young migrants who attempt the perilous journey on the deadly Atlantic route, only to find a host country that struggles to cope with an unprecedented number of arrivals and integrate them into the domestic jobs market.
Around 19,000 migrants, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2024, a 167 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to government figures.
Disagreements on migration policy have driven a wedge between the conservative People’s Party, or PP, and the far-right Vox, which ruled five Spanish regions together until Thursday when the PP backed a plan by Spain’s central Socialist-run government to move around 400 under-18 migrants from the Canary Islands to the mainland.
Bouhlal, born in the north-central Moroccan city of Beni Mellal, said he had left his country because he saw no future.
His scant belongings include a bare mattress, a cardboard box with second-hand clothes, and a few candles.
On windy nights, he covers his head with a blanket to protect his eyes from the sand being blown around.
Bouhlal said that when he begs for money, he faces the dilemma of spending it on food or the bus fare to the island’s capital, Las Palmas, for appointments with officials handling his residency case.
He has not seen his mother in 3 1/2 years.
A tearful Bouhlal, who does not have a phone, said he closes his eyes every night and pictures having dinner with her and his little sister. “Not talking to her really hurts,” he said.

 


Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says

Updated 12 July 2024
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Russian assassination plots against those supporting Ukraine uncovered in Europe, official says

  • The plots have sometimes involved recruiting common criminals in foreign countries to conduct the attacks
  • One major plot recently uncovered had targeted Armin Papperger, CEO of defense company Rheinmetall

WASHINGTON: Western intelligence agencies have uncovered Russian plots to carry out assassinations, arson and other sabotage in Europe against companies and people linked to support for Ukraine’s military — one of the most serious being a plan to kill the head of a German arms manufacturer, a Western government official said.
The plots have sometimes involved recruiting common criminals in foreign countries to conduct the attacks, said the official, who is familiar with the situation but not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One major plot recently uncovered had targeted Armin Papperger, CEO of defense company Rheinmetall, the official said.
The official declined to offer any details on other plots, which were first reported by CNN. The CNN report said the US informed Germany, whose security services were able to protect Papperger and foil the plot.
Rheinmetall is a major supplier of military technology and artillery rounds for Ukraine as it fights off Russian forces. The company last month opened an armored vehicle maintenance and repair facility in western Ukraine and also aims to start production inside the country.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson declined to comment on the alleged plot to kill Papperger but said, “Russia’s intensifying campaign of subversion is something that we are taking extremely seriously and have been intently focused on over the past few months.”
“The United States has been discussing this issue with our NATO allies, and we are actively working together to expose and disrupt these activities,” Watson added. “We have also been clear that Russia’s actions will not deter allies from continuing to support Ukraine.”
Neither Rheinmetall nor the German government would comment Friday on the reported plot against Papperger. The Interior Ministry can’t comment on “individual threat situations,” spokesperson Maximilian Kall said, but he added that more broadly, “we take the significantly increased threat from Russian aggression very seriously.”
“We know that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s regime wants above all to undermine our support for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian war of aggression, but the German government won’t be intimidated,” Kall said.
He noted that German security measures have increased significantly since 2022 and that “the threats range from espionage and sabotage, through cyberattacks, to state terrorism.”
European officials gathered for the NATO summit in Washington this week spoke of dealing with an escalation of “hybrid” attacks that they blame on Russia and its allies.
That includes what authorities called suspicious recent fires at industrial and commercial sites in Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, Germany and other nations, and charges that Russia-allied Belarus was sending large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa to the borders of Poland, Latvia and other countries belonging to NATO.
When asked at a news conference at the NATO summit Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he could not comment on the CNN report. He did note a widespread campaign by Russian security services to conduct “hostile actions” against NATO allies, including sabotage, cyberattacks and arson.
“These are not standalone instances. These are part of a pattern, part of an ongoing Russian campaign. And the purpose of this campaign is, of course, to intimidate NATO allies from supporting Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
In April, German investigators arrested two German-Russian men on suspicion of espionage, one of them accused of agreeing to carry out attacks on potential targets, including US military facilities, in hopes of sabotaging aid for Ukraine.
Germany has become the second-biggest supplier of weapons to Ukraine after the United States since Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report of a plan to kill Papperger. “All of this is again presented in the fake style, so such reports cannot be taken seriously,” he told reporters Friday.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Russian counterpart, Andrei Belousov, on Friday, their second call in less than a month, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh announced at a briefing Friday. The call was initiated by the Russian defense minister, Singh said.
She did not have further details to share, including whether the two leaders spoke about the accusations that Russia had attempted to assassinate top officials of Western defense firms producing weapons systems that are sent to Ukraine, but said “maintaining lines of communication is incredibly important right now.”


Nigeria school collapse kills 21, scores injured

Updated 46 min 11 sec ago
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Nigeria school collapse kills 21, scores injured

  • A local television station reported 12 deaths
  • “Approximately 120 people were trapped, with many evacuated,” Plateau Commissioner for Information Musa Ashoms said

JOS, Nigeria: A school in central Nigeria collapsed on Friday killing at least 21 people, mostly pupils as they were sitting their exams, the Red Cross and witnesses said.
Trapped pupils cried for help under the rubble as desperate parents looked for their children after the Saint Academy school in Jos North district of Plateau State fell in on classrooms, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.
Rescue workers tried to reach the victims with heavy machinery and images from the scene showed crowds gathering around a caved-in concrete building and heaps of debris.
Red Cross spokesman Nuruddeen Hussain Magaji told AFP there were “21 fatalities, and 69 injuries all in admission at various hospitals.”
Earlier, AFP saw 16 bodies in two hospital morgues in Jos. All were wearing school uniforms.
With his mother at his hospital bedside, injured pupil Wulliya Ibrahim, 15, told AFP: “I entered the class not more than five minutes, when I heard a sound, and the next thing is I found myself here.”
“We are many in the class, we are writing our exams,” he said.
Earlier, the National Emergency Management Agency said the two-story building housing Saint Academy collapsed killing “several students.”
Chika Obioha, a resident at the scene, told AFP he saw at least eight bodies at the site and that dozens more had been injured.
“Everyone is helping out to see if we can rescue more people,” he said.
AFP’s correspondent said he saw 11 bodies in the morgue at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital and that five dead were taken into the mortuary at the Our Lady of Apostles Hospital in Jos.
At least 15 rescued and injured pupils were admitted, officials at the Our Lady of Apostles Hospital said.
Officials at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital did not comment.
It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse but residents said it came after three days of heavy rains.
“Devastated by the tragic loss of young lives at Saint Academy,” UNICEF Nigeria representative Cristian Munduate wrote on X.
“Children, full of dreams were writing exams when the school building collapsed. Deepest condolences to families affected.”
Building disasters are fairly common in Africa’s most populous nation because of lax enforcement of construction standards, negligence and low-quality materials.
At least 45 people were killed in 2021 when a high-rise building under construction collapsed in the upscale Ikoyi district in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos.
Ten people were killed when a three-story building collapsed in the Ebute-Metta area of Lagos the year after.
Since 2005, at least 152 buildings have collapsed in Lagos, according to a South African university researcher investigating construction disasters.
Bad workmanship, low-grade materials and corruption to bypass official oversight are often blamed.