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American Scene

- - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

ARIZONA

Transmission lines threatened by wildfires

SPRINGERVILLE — A raging forest fire in eastern Arizona that has forced thousands from their homes headed Wednesday for a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of people as far east as Texas.

The 607-square-mile blaze is expected to reach the power lines as early as Friday. If the lines are damaged, parts of New Mexico and Texas could face rolling blackouts.

For now, firefighters who have helped keep the flames away from several towns in eastern Arizona are concerned that high winds could carry embers that can cause new, smaller spot fires.

CALIFORNIA

Utility: Pipe that exploded had prior leak

SAN BRUNO — A California utility says staff recently found documents revealing a prior gas leak on the pipeline that exploded near San Francisco last year and immediately notified federal investigators probing the blast.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman discussed the 1988 gas leak during a news conference Wednesday in suburban San Bruno.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Brian Swanson said staff found documentation on May 20 of the small leak on the same transmission line about nine miles south of the neighborhood devastated by September's deadly pipeline blast.

Mr. Swanson said the company replaced a 12-foot portion of the leaking pipe the same year.

Miss Hersman said it's "troubling" that the utility only revealed the leak a few weeks ago, nearly nine months after the investigation began.

The NTSB is still probing what caused the Sept. 9 explosion, which sparked a gigantic fireball that engulfed a San Bruno neighborhood and killed eight, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes.

IDAHO

Education firestorm sparks attempt at repeal

NAMPA — Idaho carried out a sweeping overhaul of its public school system this year and stood out nationally amid a rancorous debate over education around the country.

But the man who orchestrated the reforms, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, quickly learned that his landmark victory came with a price.

At the height of the firestorm over the reforms, vandals went to Mr. Luna's home, spray-painted his truck and slashed the tires. The anger of hundreds of teachers, parents and students filled the halls of Idaho's Capitol during hearings this spring.

And now, Mr. Luna's critics want to repeal his education laws and kick him out of office.

At issue is a polarizing new education package that restricts teacher collective bargaining and will eventually supply every Idaho high school student with a laptop.

MONTANA

Town floods second time in two weeks

ROUNDUP — One of the hardest-hit towns in flood-soaked Montana took another blow Wednesday as record flooding struck the small agricultural community for the second time in two weeks, forcing dozens of residents from homes that they had just started to clean up.

The Musselshell River gushed into Roundup's neighborhoods, nearly submerging cars and swallowing the ground floors of homes.

Officials evacuated between 30 and 35 residences and businesses on the southern end of the central Montana town near the river, said Randy Holmes, a disaster and emergency services volunteer.

TEXAS

Police defend acting on tip about bodies

HARDIN — The anonymous caller claiming to be a psychic offered police a startling tip: Multiple bodies, including those of children, had been buried at a rural Texas home.

Officers searched the property and quickly concluded the tip was a hoax but not before a flurry of media reports indicated that a mass grave had been found containing the remains of as many as 30 people.

Still, authorities insisted Wednesday that they were right to take the information seriously because of the severity of the crime that was alleged. Experts and other law enforcement agencies agreed.

The caller first contacted the Liberty County Sheriff's Department on Monday, claiming that the bodies were at a home near Hardin, about 70 miles northeast of Houston.

NEW YORK

Woman has baby after husband is killed

UTICA — A New York sheriff said the wife of a deputy gave birth to their second child within hours of a gunfight that took her husband's life.

Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol announced the birth of the girl Wednesday, one day after Deputy Kurt Wyman was killed at the end of a six-hour standoff.

The 24-year-old deputy was also the father of an 18-month-old boy. A sheriff's department spokesman said Tuesday that Deputy Wyman's wife had gone into labor after hearing about the shooting.

A prosecutor told the Syracuse Post-Standard he'll seek additional charges against Christian Patterson, 40, who's already facing an aggravated murder charge. The newspaper reported that Mr. Patterson is hospitalized but expected to survive wounds he suffered when police returned fire.

PENNSYLVANIA

Employee fired over Tweet

BETHLEHEM — An economic development agency has let one of its employees go over a Twitter post that suggested her colleagues knock off work early to play golf.

Social media specialist Vanessa Williams lost her job with the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. after she used the agency's official Twitter account on Friday to tweet: "We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?"

Miss Williams was given severance papers over the weekend, partly because of the Twitter message, President and CEO Phil Mitman told the Morning Call of Allentown.

"I think this is an interesting lesson for all of us about the use of social media and about how chatty and how much information goes out there immediately and what the consequences are," said Mr. Mitman, calling the tweet "out of line."

He said the agency does allow workers to leave early on Fridays, but only if they've already worked 40 hours. No one left early on Friday, he noted.

Miss Williams declined to comment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports