American Scene: Wildfires blaze across the West

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CLE ELUM — A fast-moving wildfire in central Washington has burned at least 60 homes and forced hundreds of people to flee.

It was one of several blazes scorching the West on Tuesday, threatening communities, sending up thick plumes of smoke and disrupting activity in national parks.

Fire commanders estimate that the Washington blaze has burned at least 24,000 acres — about 38 square miles — since it started Monday afternoon east of the small town of Cle Elum.

No injuries were reported, but more than 400 people were evacuated, said Department of Natural Resources Fire Incident Commander Rex Reed. The fire crept within six miles of Ellensburg, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

The blaze, which began at a bridge construction site, was not contained. Authorities worried about wind and heat, saying the fire danger was extreme.

NEW YORK

Toddler is killed as blast levels house

BRENTWOOD — An apparent gas-related explosion destroyed a house in a Long Island suburb of New York City on Tuesday, killing a toddler and sending 14 other people to hospitals.

Surrounding houses in the middle-class neighborhood also were damaged by the blast, which occurred just before noon. The entire structure of the house — situated on a block of well-kept, modest homes near a public golf course in this ethnically diverse middle-class suburb — was reduced to small shards of wood, plywood, drywall, insulation and other building materials. The air conditioners in one neighbor’s home were blown out, and a window was knocked out of its casing.

Brentwood Fire Department Inspector Robert Keane said the initial investigation indicated that the explosion “could be gas-related.” A police official said that two 200-pound propane gas tanks were on the premises, but that no natural gas lines were present on the block.

An 18-month-old boy was pulled from the rubble and rushed to a hospital, but he died. Residents, neighbors, a plumber and rescuers were among those who were hurt or suffered from smoke inhalation.

Three of the injured had been inside the house and were in serious condition. Authorities said they did not know whether they owned the house or were renters.

CALIFORNIA

Lawsuit filed over Brockovich chemical

FRESNO — Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Public Health for failing to establish a safe drinking water standard for the cancer-causing chemical made famous in the film “Erin Brockovich.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group filed the lawsuit Tuesday, claiming that the department is eight years late in setting the hexavalent chromium standard and has made no progress toward the goal.

The Legislature directed public health agencies to set the standard by 2004.

Officials said the delay was caused by a scientific dispute over whether hexavalent chromium is carcinogenic when ingested in water. Federal scientists eventually confirmed that it is.

Water quality testing by state officials shows that thousands of drinking water sources throughout California are contaminated with the chemical at unsafe levels.

MASSACHUSETTS

Man who killed wife, baby loses appeal

BOSTON — The highest court in Massachusetts rejected the appeal of a British man convicted of killing his wife and baby daughter in their rented home, saying in its decision released Tuesday that warrantless searches of the home were justified because those inside might have been in danger.

In arguing for a new trial, attorneys for Neil Entwistle said evidence obtained during the warrantless searches of the Hopkinton home while police were looking for the missing family should have been dismissed at trial. They also argued that media coverage made it impossible to get an impartial jury.

The court rejected the arguments, concluding that Entwistle “received a fair trial that was ably tried and judged.”

Entwistle was convicted of the 2006 shootings of his wife, Rachel, and their daughter, 9-month-old Lillian.

He is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for their murders.

CALIFORNIA

Computers stolen from Jobs’ home

PALO ALTO — Several computers and personal items worth more than $60,000 were stolen from the Northern California home of the late Steve Jobs in what authorities insist was a run-of-the-mill burglary.

“I’ve never gotten this many calls from people,” Scott Tsui, supervising Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, said of the July 17 theft in Palo Alto. “Other than the fact it involves Mr. Jobs, it’s a pretty standard burglary case.”

Kariem McFarlin, 35, of Alameda, was arrested Aug. 2 and charged with residential burglary and selling stolen property. He remains jailed with bail set at $500,000 pending an Aug. 20 court hearing.

Authorities think that Mr. McFarlin was unaware that he had broken into the Jobs home.

Palo Alto police reported a jump in residential burglaries in 2012, more than 100 in six months.

Jobs was known for a modest personal life and lived in the residential neighborhood. Authorities suspect his seven-bedroom house was targeted because it was undergoing renovation and may have appeared less secure. They think the house was unoccupied at the time of the burglary.

HAWAII

Teen’s family sues tourist, company

HONOLULU — The family of a 16-year-old California girl killed in a Hawaii watercraft crash is suing an Australian tourist charged with negligent homicide.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Circuit Court in Honolulu by Kristen Fonseca’s family also names as a defendant Aloha Jet Ski, which rented personal watercraft that the Vacaville, Calif., girl and the Australian tourist were riding.

The lawsuit claims employees did nothing to prevent Tyson Dagley from driving recklessly.

Company representatives couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Dagley was arraigned on the misdemeanor charge Tuesday. Investigators said the 20-year-old was standing on his rented watercraft before it hit Fonseca’s watercraft from behind. They said he was looking at his girlfriend, who was taking video and photos, and didn’t pay attention to where he was going.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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