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US wildfires: Firefighters grapple with raging blazes as temperatures soar to 54C in California’s baking Death Valley

Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns in Doyle, California
It comes after a large part of western states baked over the weekend in triple-digit temperatures which are expected to continue into the start of this week. Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns in Doyle, California

Firefighters are grappling with searing heat as they struggle to contain a huge wildfire in California as western states remain in the grip of a fierce heatwave.

It comes after a large part of the US west baked over the weekend in triple-digit temperatures which are expected to continue into the start of this week.

On Saturday, Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 53C (128F) according to National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek.

The temperature was only slightly lower than the one recorded a day earlier when the location reached 54C (130F) – the highest there since 1913 when Furnace Creek desert hit 57C (134F), considered the highest temperature on Earth.

Flames from the Jack Fire burn along a road in Oregon

The growing wildfire along the state’s border with Nevada forced major highways to close, while state power operators urged people to conserve energy after a huge wildfire in neighboring Oregon disrupted the flow of electricity from three major transmission lines.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, asked consumers to “conserve as much electricity as possible” to avoid any outages.

Western US states including California are fast sinking deeper into drought, sending the risk of fire sky-high in many areas.

A small plane crashed on Saturday in Arizona during a survey of wildfire in rural Mohave County, killing both crew members.

The victims were identified as Air Tactical Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who was working for the Coronado National Forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation contracted by the US Forest Service.

Meanwhile, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon spread to 224 square miles as it raged through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, disrupting service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to neighboring California.

The wildfire in California is the largest wildfire the state has seen this year.

A wildfire in Oregon has spread over 75,000 acres

Named the Beckwourth Complex Fire – a combination of two lightning-caused blazes burning north of Lake Tahoe – it grew by a third on Sunday to cover 134 square miles.

But firefighters working in temperatures that topped 38C (100F) were able to gain some ground and doubled containment to 20%.

People were warned to not stop and take pictures of the wildfires near the small town of Doyle in California’s Lassen County.

“You are going to impede our operations if you stop and look at what’s going on,” said the fire’s operations section chief Jake Cagle.

Elsewhere, a wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles as it blackened grass and timber as it raced into the Umatilla National Forest.

A blaze consumes a home as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, rages in California

And on Friday, Idaho’s governor Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency, sending the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

Nasty surprise as man bitten by python while sitting on the toilet

The python is thought to have slid into the toilet through the network of drains. File pic
The snake, a constrictor native to Asia, is thought to have entered the toilet at the man’s home in Austria via the drains.

A 65-year-old man was left with minor injuries after a reticulated python bit him while he was sitting on the toilet.

He was said to have felt a “pinch in the area of his genitals” before noticing a five foot (1.6 meters) snake beneath him in the toilet bowl at his home in the Austrian city of Graz.

The python, a constrictor native to Asia which can grow to a length of nearly 30ft (nine meters), is thought to have found its way into the toilet via the network of drains

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“Shortly after he sat on the toilet the Graz resident – by his own account – felt a ‘pinch’ in the area of his genitals,” the police said in a statement.

The victim needed treatment in hospital for minor injuries.

Although the snake’s suspected route into the toilet could not be confirmed, it is thought to have escaped from a neighbors apartment.

A reptile expert contacted by the emergency services removed the snake from the toilet, cleaned it and returned it to its owner.

A 24-year-old neighbour, who owns 11 snakes, has been reported to the prosecutors’ office on suspicion of negligently causing bodily harm, the police added.

Reticulated pythons are the world’s largest snakes and do not attack humans by nature.

However, they will constrict or bite if they feel threatened or if they mistake something for food.

Death toll rises to 90 in Surfside condo collapse

The death toll in the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, rose to 90 on Sunday, officials said in a news conference.Seventy-one of the victims have been identified and their next of kin have been notified, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

A son's unanswered text message, two sisters buried together, a newlywed couple and a 60-year-old love story: What we know about the collapse victims

A son’s unanswered text message, two sisters buried together, a newlywed couple and a 60-year-old love story: What we know about the collapse victimsThere are now 217 people accounted for and 31 others “potentially unaccounted for,” she said.

Recovering the victims has been much swifter after the search operation shifted its focus from rescue to recovery. Levine Cava said teams are making “incredible progress,” and as of Sunday morning, more than 14 million pounds of concrete and debris have been removed from the site.

Ten additional victims, all of whom were recovered between July 6 and 9, were identified by Miami-Dade officials in a statement Sunday.

They were identified as Maria Gabriela Camou, 64; Julio Cesar Velasquez, 66; Lorenzo De Oliveira Leone, 5; Alfredo Leone, 48; Maria Torre, 76; Richard Augustine, 77; Luis Sadovnic, 28; Edgar Gonzalez, 42; Alexia Maria Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 9; and Anna Sophia Pettengill Lopez Moreira, 6.The recovery effort is still delicate work, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said, telling reporters that search and recovery workers have “even found unbroken wine bottles in the rubble and recovered them.”Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky echoed that statement. The process of removing debris is faster for the section of the building that remained standing after the collapse and was brought down in a controlled demolition last week amid concerns it posed a threat to search and rescue teams.

The evidence from the collapsed Surfside condo is growing by the day, but the investigation could take years

The evidence from the collapsed Surfside condo is growing by the day, but the investigation could take years “On the rubble pile where we’re still in our search and recovery, it’s still a methodical process,” Cominsky said. “The crews there, they’re monitoring, they’re hand digging, As we’re delayering, it’s a slow process. “Other personal belongings, like rings, continue to be recovered as well, Burkett said. Those items are being “returned to the site storage area, categorized, photographed and saved for the families.” Burkett and Cominsky both acknowledged disappointment as rescue teams have accessed the condo tower’s stairwells, which they had hoped would be an area of refuge and perhaps provide the best chance for voids in the rubble where someone could survive. “The stairwell is always a primary — the stability of how the stairwell is built, it’s hardened better than other areas per se. So with a collapse that’s where you have your greatest void space, your greatest possibility,” Cominsky said. “Unfortunately, with this type of collapse and everything coming down, it just minimized those opportunities.”

Some of the search and rescue task forces that had been deployed to Surfside from out of state or out of the country are beginning to leave, including a team from Israel. Levine Cava said the team would depart Sunday after she presented two of its leaders with keys to Miami-Dade County to recognize their service to the community.Comsinky said a team from Virginia is also in the process of demobilizing, and that teams from New Jersey and Ohio are on “standby” and may begin that process soon. Florida Task Force 1, Florida Task Force 2 and teams from Indiana and Pennsylvania remain on scene

U.S. appeals court lets Arkansas curb abortion surgeries during the pandemic

U.S. appeals court lets Arkansas curb abortion surgeries during ...

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday allowed Arkansas to enforce a ban on most surgical abortions a part of a state directive aimed at postponing medical procedures not deemed urgent during the coronavirus outbreak.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri, lifted a federal judge’s order that had allowed the procedure to continue to be performed. The appeals court ruling does not affect abortions induced through medication in the early stage of pregnancy, which is still allowed.

The ruling comes two days after another federal appeals court allowed Texas to enforce curbs on abortions via medication as part of that state’s response to the pandemic.

Arkansas and Texas are among a handful of conservative states that have pursued limits on abortion during the crisis, saying they want to ensure that medical resources, including protective equipment, are available to help healthcare facilities cope with people with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

The 8th Circuit said that the lower court judge “usurped the functions of the state government by second-guessing the state’s policy choices in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sex toy sales take off amid Colombia’s coronavirus quarantine

Sex toy sales take off amid Colombia's coronavirus quarantine ...

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Gerson Monje holds up his cellphone to proudly show off his online sex shop. A red banner reading “sold out!” is plastered across half of the products.

While most Colombian businesses suffer during a five-week lockdown meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, one online industry has seen an explosion in sales in the usually conservative country: sex toys are flying off virtual shelves.

“Sales started going up on day four of the quarantine,” said Monje, who is still able to have products delivered to customers amid the national lockdown. “We’ve seen a rise of 50%.”

“People are at home and have more time on their hands. They’re with their partners or alone and need fun in their daily activities when it comes to being intimate,” Monje said.

Reuters spoke to six online sex shops in Colombia and all said they have seen a swell in sales since the quarantine began. Colombians are meant to remain at home until Apr. 27, except for outings to buy food and medicine and visits to banks, among other exceptions.

Sex toys could help people keep their spirits up during long isolation, psychologist Dr. Carolina Guzman said and might lead to an easing of sexual mores.

“Colombia has a very conservative idea around sexuality and communication surrounding it,” she said. “It’s a good time for people to allow themselves to work on their curiosity and to understand that buying and using these products is a great thing.”

Other countries have seen a similar phenomenon. Sales of sex toys in Denmark have more than doubled, while British lingerie chain Ann Summers said sex toy sales were up 27% in the last week of March.

Inside the Sex Sense sex shop in Bogota, manager Adriana Marin watched Pope Francis give a Good Friday Mass on her computer as she sprayed boxes of products with disinfectant.

Her online shop sales have taken off even though her storefront is closed and there is stiff competition. There are about 30 other sex shops in her neighborhood alone.

At the Bali Sex Store in Medellin, sales are up 140%.

Products with mobile phone applications that allow separated partners to control toys for one another are particularly popular, said Katty Gonzalez, the store’s marketing director.

“Before people didn’t have time because of so many things going on in their daily lives and I think that because of what’s happening at the moment, it’s giving them the opportunity to explore different things,” she said.

Indonesia locks up people for breaking virus quarantine rules.

SRAGEN, Indonesia – Fed up with people breaking virus quarantine rules, one Indonesian politician has decided to scare rulebreakers straight by locking them in a “haunted house.”

Sragen regency head Kusdinar Untung Yuni Sukowati says she issued the unusual edict this week to deal with an influx of people to the area after lockdowns in the capital Jakarta and other major cities.

Some newcomers, however, weren’t respecting orders that they isolate themselves for 14 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus across the region on Indonesia’s densely populated Java island.

So Sukowati instructed communities to repurpose abandoned houses that were feared to be haunted — tapping widespread beliefs in the supernatural, which play a key role in Indonesian folklore.

Five people have been tossed into Sragen’s spooky jails so far.

“If there’s an empty and haunted house in the village, put people in there and lock them up,” Sukowati told AFP Tuesday when asked about the rule.

Officials in Sepat village chose a long-abandoned house and outfitted it with beds placed at a distance and separated by curtains.

So far, the village has locked up 3 recently-arrived residents who are being forced to spend the remainder of their 2-week quarantine in the spooky abode.

Among them was Heri Susanto, who said his punishment hadn’t brought him face to face with any ghosts — so far.

“But whatever happens, happens,” said Susanto, who came from neighboring Sumatra island.

“I know this is for everyone’s safety. Lesson learned.”

Chipotle Paying Record $25 Million Fine Over Tainted Food, Norovirus Outbreaks

Chipotle Agrees to Record $25 Million Fine Over Tainted Food ...

Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed to pay a $25 million fine to resolve criminal charges accusing the fast-food chain of sickening more than 1,100 customers between 2015 and 2018.

The Justice Department announced the agreement Tuesday, noting it’s the largest fine ever for a food safety case.

As part of the three-year deferred prosecution deal, the company has also agreed to comply with an improved food safety program.

Chipotle was charged with two counts of violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for producing products that led to several food-borne illness outbreaks, prosecutors said.

“This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events and focus on serving our customer’s real food made with real ingredients that they can enjoy with confidence,” Chipotle Chairman and CEO Brian Niccol said in a statement.

According to the agreement, Chipotle admits to at least five foodborne illness outbreaks over the three-year period in Los Angeles, Boston, Virginia, and Ohio in which workers failed to comply with food safety protocols.

U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said hundreds of customers fell ill because Chipotle failed to ensure employees knew and complied with safety protocols. Tuesday’s “steep penalty” should not only result in greater protections, he added, but remind others in the industry to “review and improve their own health and safety practices.

More than 230 people became sick at a Simi Valley, Calif., location in 2015 because the restaurant failed to pass along information about an ill employee. More than 140 customers became sick at a Boston location following a norovirus outbreak.

“This case highlights why it is important for restaurants and members of the foodservice industry to ensure that managers and employees consistently follow food-safety policies,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt.

Cook County Jail Inmate Fears For Her Life In The Midst Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

 A federal judge said there will be no mass release of inmates from the Cook County Jail, COVID-19 or not. In late March the jail had two positive cases. Now it is potentially the largest cluster of COVID-19 in the country.

There have been 289 detainees who tested positive. Two inmates died, and the virus is the suspected cause.

Also, 167 correctional staff members and jail staff members have tested positive.

The jail might be the hottest spot in the country, a veritable petri dish of despair. Now a woman who likely shouldn’t be there is speaking from the inside.

Jessica Huff is in Cook County lockup on a burglary charge. She could be out, but her case is gummed up because she has another retail theft charge out of DuPage County, so she couldn’t get out on the monitoring she was granted in Cook County.

“I have a heart condition,” she said. “I have what is called endocarditis.”

She also has asthma, making her legal tangle life or death.

She is staying in the jail’s hospital. It’s Cermak 3 East Division H.

“All of us up here are in Cermak because we have severe conditions that we cannot be in population in the jail for,” Huff said. “That they are bringing people up here with COVID and placing them in the isolation cells that we have to live on this unit with. I was just in isolation for 24 hours for COVID because my roommate had severe symptoms of it. She’s still in isolation.”

Huff said the guards do not have protective masks or rubber gloves “at all times.”

Jail officials say all guards have proper personal protective equipment and are ordered to wear it at all times.

“I’m not admitting guilt, but if I were guilty, I don’t deserve a death sentence,” Huff said. “I don’t deserve to die in here. Nobody deserves to die in here. I fear for my life.”

And worse, she said it seems like her jailers simply don’t know what to do.

“They have sheets and towels underneath the doors of these cells to try to block them from the air coming out,” Huff said.

Patient safety is the number one concern, said Cook County Health. They run the jail hospital. The sheriff’s department said all guards are under order to wear PPE at all times.

As for why Huff is still in custody, she may not be soon. The warrant in DuPage County was just canceled. Friday the sheriff’s department brought her case to the state’s attorney and public defenders’ offices. She could have her electronic monitor removed in short order.

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Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader, and MLK aide, has died at 98yrs old

The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery fought to end segregation, lived to see the election of the country’s first black president and echoed the call for “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” in America.

For more than four decades after the death of his friend and civil rights icon, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fiery Alabama preacher was on the front line of the battle for equality, with an unforgettable delivery that rivaled King’s – and was often more unpredictable. Lowery had a knack for cutting to the core of the country’s conscience with commentary steeped in scripture, refusing to back down whether the audience was a Jim Crow racist or a U.S. president.

“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right,” Lowery prayed at President Barack Obama’s inaugural benediction in 2009.

Lowery, 98, died Friday at home in Atlanta, surrounded by family members, they said in a statement. He died from natural causes unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak the statement said. 

Obit Joseph Lowery
In this Aug. 14, 2013  photo, civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery speaks at an event in Atlanta.


“Tonight, the great Reverend Joseph E. Lowery transitioned from earth to eternity,” The King Center in Atlanta remembered Lowery in a Friday night tweet. “He was a champion for civil rights, a challenger of injustice, a dear friend to the King family.”