POLLOCK PINES, Calif. (AP) — Assessment teams hope to get an idea Saturday of just how many structures have been damaged or destroyed by a massive wildfire that threatens thousands of homes in Northern California.
While officials confirmed that several structures have been lost in what is being called the King Fire, dangerous conditions have prevented them from determining an exact number, fire spokesman Mike McMillian said. The blaze began one week ago, and a man accused of starting the blaze is being held on $10 million bail.
Although record amounts of retardant have been dropped on the fire that's about 60 miles from Sacramento, the blaze spread another 6 square miles overnight as forecasters say smoke from it could be seen in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — are helping California crews battle the blaze that's not only consumed grass and brush, but swaths of extremely dry tall timber.
"That's what makes it difficult for a direct attack," McMillian said. "The main fuel that is burning is the tall timber. We're making some progress, but it is slow going in some areas as we're trying to construct more contingency and control lines."
Also of concern is possible wind gusts of up to 30 miles-per-hour that could push the fire, which has spread north to the south, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.
"That would open up a whole new area for it to burn in," Tolmachoff said.
The fire has spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe, McMillian said. Also, the fire is threatening a key University of California, Berkeley research station that his home to scores of experiments on trees, plants and other wildlife.
Burning in rugged, steep terrain, the wildfire has consumed about 126 square miles and forced the evacuation of 2,800 people and burned multiple structures in the White Meadows area of Pollock Pines. More than 21,000 structures are threatened as the fire is 10 percent contained.
Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, pleaded not guilty to an arson charge Friday in El Dorado County Superior Court.
Authorities have not said what evidence they have linking Huntsman to the fire, by far one of the largest of about a dozen fires burning statewide.
Meanwhile, a fire in Weed and another near Oakhurst that destroyed or damaged more than 200 structures combined are close to full containment, officials said Saturday.
CANADENSIS, Pa. (AP) — Authorities who spent the night in the neighborhood where a man suspected in the fatal shooting of a Pennsylvania State Police trooper donned bulletproof vests and gathered heavy rifles before fanning out Saturday morning.
The burst of activity followed a long night that included gunshots and police telling residents to stay in their homes.
Police gave no information about the Saturday morning activity.
Authorities Friday night had closed roads in the wooded neighborhood of Barrett Township, in the Pocono Mountains. The shots were fired around 6:40 p.m., a Monroe County 911 dispatcher said.
State police told residents in the townships of Price and Barrett to stay inside and asked others not to travel to the area because of heavy police activity. Those who had been kept away were allowed to return to their homes Saturday morning, but told to shelter in place.
About 20 people who couldn't get back to their homes had taken refuge at the Barrett Township firehouse, said township supervisor Ralph Megliola.
State police would not say whether they believe they have 31-year-old Eric Frein surrounded. Their last communication came shortly after 9 p.m. Friday when a spokeswoman asked the media to relocate at a staging area farther away from the scene.
As state police appeared to undergo a shift change, an unmarked helicopter flew overhead early Saturday, its lights off.
Police have charged Frein with opening fire outside a state police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania on Sept. 12. Cpl. Bryon Dickson was killed and Trooper Alex Douglass was wounded by a gunman with a high-powered rifle.
Described as a self-taught survivalist with a grudge against law enforcement and government, Frein has been on the run ever since. He was placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted list, and hundreds of law enforcement officials have been searching for him in the dense woodlands surrounding his home in Canadensis. Schools in the area were closed again Friday.
Al and Debbie Mundy spent the night in their pickup after going out for groceries Friday night. When they got to the end of the road, a state trooper told them they would not be permitted back into the neighborhood.
"They would not let us turn around to go a quarter-mile back to our house," Al Mundy said.
Canadensis resident Richard Barry couldn't get home from work Friday night before the roadblocks went up. Barry said Saturday morning that he heard from family members who were at home and they told him police were going through their yard and the dog was barking.
Worried about his family, he said he preferred to wait near police in hopes of hearing something rather than staying overnight at the firehouse.
"I'm hoping that sooner or later he (Frein) just says 'I give up. You win,'" Barry said.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A battle over massive systems that use cameras to monitor license plates and track drivers' comings and goings across the country has raised the ire of those who are being rebuffed in their attempts to find out how the information is being used.
The license plate scanning systems have multiplied across the U.S. over the last decade, funded largely by Homeland Security grants. But judges — including one weighing in Friday — have said people don't have the right to know.
In that case, a tech entrepreneur fighting for access to his own files is trying to make the point that people can't find out what kind of information is being collected about them and how it's being used.
"If I'm not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn't be a secret police file on me" that details "where I go, where I shop, where I visit," Michael Robertson, 47, told The Associated Press. "That's crazy, Nazi police-type stuff."
But a San Diego judge Thursday tentatively denied his request. The judge said San Diego's regional planning agency doesn't have to honor the request under California's open records law because the information captured in every scan is part of a law enforcement investigation.
Robertson's attorney said his client, who founded and later sold the MP3.com digital musical service, will appeal if Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal makes her decision final after hearing arguments Friday.
The decision comes less than a month after another state judge denied a request by the ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for one week of records on all vehicles collected by the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The systems in use around the U.S. are governed by a patchwork of local laws and regulations that have not standardized how they're used and who has access to the information they collect.
About 7 in 10 law enforcement agencies used license plate scanners in 2012 and an overwhelming majority planned to acquire such systems or expand their use, according to a study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group.
Civil liberties advocates say these files need to be open to public scrutiny to prevent government overreach and unconstitutional privacy invasions.
On the other side are government and law enforcement officials who say they're not misusing the systems and that tracking and storing the data can help with criminal investigations, either to incriminate or exonerate a suspect.
"At some point, you have to trust and believe that the agencies that you utilize for law enforcement are doing what's right and what's best for the community, and they're not targeting your community," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. John Gaw said.
In San Diego's case, records are kept for up to two years, but other agencies keep them five years or more and are limited mainly by server space.
"If that information is deleted or purged too quickly, then we lost that, and we can never go back," said Lt. Karen Stubkjaer of the San Diego Sheriff's Department.
In Robertson's case against the San Diego Association of Governments, he was seeking access to a sweeping system that links the San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff's Department and eight other law enforcement agencies. The sheriff's department alone has made 9.8 million scans since the system was introduced in 2009, Stubkjaer said.
Robertson has no problem with officials using the technology for legitimate purposes like tracking down stolen cars. But he says license plate readers are ripe for abuse, and there's no reason for long-term storage of data on innocent people.
"I want a strong police force," he said. "But I also want my personal freedom."
Neither ruling set legal precedent, but are part of a growing debate.
"License plate readers are part of a larger conversation," said Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum. "Technology is changing how the police view crime, and it is raising a number of public policy issues: How long do you hold on to this information? And what part of this information should the public have access to?"
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Sierra Leone confined its 6 million people to their homes Friday for the next three days as the Ebola-ravaged West African country began what was believed to be the most sweeping lockdown against disease since the Middle Ages.
In a desperate effort to bring the outbreak under control, thousands of health care workers began going house to house in crowded urban neighborhoods and remote villages, hoping to find and isolate infected people.
President Ernest Bai Koroma urged his countrymen to cooperate.
"The survival and dignity of each and every Sierra Leonean is at stake," he said Thursday night in an address to the nation.
Health officials said they planned to urge the sick to leave their homes and seek treatment. There was no immediate word on whether people would be forcibly removed, though authorities warned that anyone on the streets during the lockdown without an emergency pass would be subject to arrest.
More than 2,600 people have died in West Africa over the past nine months in the biggest outbreak of the virus ever recorded, with Sierra Leone accounting for more than 560 of those deaths.
Many fear the crisis will grow far worse, in part because sick people afraid of dying at treatment centers are hiding in their homes, potentially infecting others.
However, international experts warned there might not be enough beds for new patients found during the lockdown, which runs through Sunday.
Most people seemed to be taking the order seriously, and there were no immediate reports of resistance.
"It will protect our country from this dangerous virus," said Ishmail Bangura, a Freetown resident. "Many of our people have died — nurses and doctors, too — so if they ask us to stay home for three days, for me it is not bad."
Across West Africa, health care workers have been attacked by villagers who accused them of spreading Ebola. Some citizens have also violently resisted efforts to quarantine them.
As the lockdown took effect, wooden tables lay empty at the capital's usually vibrant markets, and only a dog scrounging for food could be seen on one normally crowded street in Freetown.
Amid the heat and frequent power cuts, many residents sat on their front porches, chatting with neighbors.
Ambulances were on standby to bring any sick people to the hospital for isolation. The health care workers also planned to hand out 1.5 million bars of soap and dispense advice on Ebola.
"We hope and pray that when we talk to people they will take it as counseling," said Rebecca Sesay, a community Ebola education team leader. "That is why we are all out here."
The World Health Organization said it has no record of any previous nationwide shutdown of this scale and suggested it has not happened since the plague devastated Europe during the Middle Ages.
The closest parallel seems to have been a plague scare in India in 1994, when officials closed off a region around the city of Surat, shutting down schools, offices, movie theaters and banks.
UNICEF said the government campaign provides an opportunity to tell people how to protect themselves.
"If people don't have access to the right information, we need to bring lifesaving messages to them, where they live, at their doorsteps," said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF representative in Sierra Leone.
In a statement, the U.N. children's agency said the operation needs to be carried out "in a sensitive and respectful manner."
In the latest case of violence against health care workers, six suspects have been arrested in the killings of eight people in Guinea who were on an Ebola education campaign, the Guinean government said Friday.
The victims were attacked by villagers armed with rocks and knives. The dead included three local journalists.
Associated Press writers Kabba Kargbo in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia; Maria Cheng in London; and Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.