OAKHURST, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters from throughout California were being dispatched Tuesday to protect homes threatened by an out-of-control wildfire burning in the foothills near Yosemite National Park, the second fire around the park in recent weeks.
The nearly 2-square-mile, wind-whipped blaze in Madera County had destroyed eight structures and was threatening 500 homes around Oakhurst, a community about 16 miles from a Yosemite entrance, fire and sheriff's officials said. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for about 1,000 people, and another 4,000 were told to prepare to leave their homes, Madera County sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart said.
"This is a wind-dominated fire," Stuart said. "We have no control of that."
The fire comes as California is in the midst of its third straight year of drought, creating tinder-dry conditions that have significantly increased the fire danger around the state.
Evacuated residents in Oakhurst braced for the worst.
"There is nothing you can do when a fire is raging," said Clement Williams, 67. "You just have to flee. It's a real sinking feeling."
Williams and his wife, Gretchen Williams, 63, were trying to get information about the fire and their home from fire officials. They spent the night at a nearby hotel and casino.
Oakhurst was smoky, though no flames were visible from the downtown area. The fire was moving away from town toward a nearby reservoir and resort community, state fire spokesman Chris Christopherson said. Fire crews, however, were anticipating some help from cooler temperatures, higher humidity and calmer winds.
Winds pushed embers from the blaze up to a half-mile after the fire began Monday afternoon, Christopherson said.
It was unclear how many of the eight structures that were destroyed were homes.
State Route 41 toward Yosemite was closed in the area and travelers would need to use different routes into the park, authorities said.
The fire was burning near a propane business with 30,000 gallon tanks on site, but the tanks were spared, Stuart said.
The fire comes on the heels of another blaze around Yosemite this summer and last year's Rim Fire, which raged for two months across 400 square miles of land including part of Yosemite National Park. The Rim Fire threatened thousands of structures, destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.
Last month's fire, which also burned in the park, threatened about 100 homes and sent smoke into Yosemite's famed valley before it was brought under control.
Meanwhile, another out-of-control blaze that began Monday some 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield surged to 3,195 acres, or nearly 5 square miles.
"It burned north, south and east," said Cindy Thill, a fire spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. "It went uphill and downhill at the same time."
The fire burning near Lake Isabella in Kern County brought recommended evacuation orders for about 200 homes in several neighborhoods, the Forest Service said. A Red Cross evacuation center was set up at Kern Valley High School in Lake Isabella.
Some structures burned, but it wasn't immediately clear how many or if any were homes, Thill said. There was no containment of the fire early Tuesday.
More than 450 firefighters with air support were battling the flames in steep terrain amid low humidity and high temperatures.
Northeast of Los Angeles, crews were making quick work of a 275-acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 200 people from a campground and recreational areas.
The blaze that broke out Sunday afternoon above the foothill community of Glendora was 60 percent contained by Monday night and largely reduced to smoking embers.
Associated Press writers Chris Weber in Los Angeles and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.
LONDON (AP) — Calling all London tourists: Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes and Queen Victoria want a word with you.
Statues of some three dozen historical and fictional characters in London and Manchester are coming to life thanks to a new interactive project that gives them a voice to tell their stories.
Passers-by can swipe their smartphones on a tag or type in a web address to get an instant call from the characters depicted. Actors including Patrick Stewart and Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville perform the monologues, which last a few minutes each.
The project, launched Tuesday, features Isaac Newton at the British Library, Sherlock Holmes at Baker Street station, and Queen Victoria at Blackfriars Bridge, among others.
The statues will talk for a year and organizers hope to bring them to other cities.
The U.S. Department of Justice has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to the death of Michael Brown, from an independent autopsy to dozens of FBI agents combing Ferguson, Missouri, for witnesses to the shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer.
The goal, legal observers say, is to ensure that the truth about the killing is revealed, to ease racial tensions, and to reassure those fearing a cover-up that justice will be done.
Brown was shot dead in the street in the St. Louis suburb on Aug. 9. Gov. Jay Nixon asked for a federal investigation two days later, after riots erupted when the county police force confronted protesters with armored vehicles, tear gas and dogs. After the images of the military-style police response drew widespread criticism, federal officials said they were coaching local authorities on different tactics.
On Saturday, 40 FBI agents started going door-to-door in the neighborhood where the shooting took place, interviewing witnesses and gathering information. An independent federal autopsy was announced Sunday, and Attorney General Eric Holder said it was performed Monday. President Barack Obama also announced Monday that Holder would travel to Ferguson to meet with investigators and community leaders.
"What they usually do is wait for the local investigation to complete itself," said Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general under President George W. Bush.
Gonzales said that although he did not have all the information being evaluated by federal officials, it appeared to be an aggressive and unusual response to an unusual case.
"They're going in with one goal: to ascertain the truth. And to do so in a way that raw feelings can be comforted and soothed," said Gonzales, who is now dean of the Belmont College of Law in Nashville.
Ferguson is about 70 percent black. Ferguson's mayor is white, as are five of six city council members and 50 of its 53 police officers. Many in Ferguson and beyond fear that local officials will not act fairly in determining whether to charge the officer, Darren Wilson, with a crime.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, who is in charge of the investigation, also is white. He comes from a family of police officers, including his father. When he was 12, his father was fatally shot by a black man while responding to a call. In a 2000 case, McCulloch brought no charges against two officers who fired 21 shots into a vehicle, killing two black men during an attempted drug arrest.
McCulloch has declined calls to step away from the case, saying in a television interview, "I've been as fair and impartial and done as thorough of a job as we could."
At the Department of Justice, Holder, the first black attorney general, who took office promising to fiercely fight discrimination and inequality, has been an increasingly visible presence during the Ferguson case.
That is reassuring to Blair L.M. Kelley, a history professor at North Carolina State University.
"I'm glad to see him being proactive," she said. "That's the best way to tamp down anger on the streets, is to pursue justice in an evenhanded manner. I think he knows that and is using his position to best serve a broader sense of justice."
"It puts pressure on the local investigators to do their best, because he's there," Kelley said.
Sampson Cheney III, a Ferguson resident who lives 50 yards from where Brown was shot, is glad that federal agents are on the scene. He was interviewed by an FBI agent Saturday. He doubts that local officials would file charges against the officer.
"It seems (federal officials) don't have a horse in the race," Cheney said.
Holder and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke with representatives of civic groups who had been invited to participate in a White House call Monday afternoon.
A person on the call said participants were told that federal investigators have interviewed about 200 people so far, some referred through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The call was closed to reporters, and the participant spoke on condition of anonymity because of the no-media ground rules.
Kelley said Holder's actions have been reminiscent of the role played by Attorney General Robert Kennedy (whose portrait hangs outside Holder's office) during the civil rights movement, when President John F. Kennedy was trying to navigate black resistance to white supremacy in the Jim Crow South. Ultimately, the Kennedys used federal authority to ensure equal treatment for African-Americans. They also brought federal civil rights charges in some cases — a possibility that Holder's Justice Department is investigating in Ferguson.
The Justice Department investigated civil rights charges after the unarmed teen Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Florida. No charges were filed, despite requests by the NAACP and other advocacy groups.
But there are important differences between the Kennedy years and now, said John Malcolm, a former deputy assistant attorney general, who now is director of the Meese Legal Center at the Heritage Foundation.
"I don't think in this case police are like, we want to oppress black people and deny them their constitutional rights," Malcolm said. "They're responding to a riot situation, and it got out of control."
Malcolm could not recall a similar federal response to a case like Michael Brown's.
"It's certainly aggressive," he said. "It sends a message that the federal government is concerned and wants to get involved and de-escalate the tension as soon as possible."
Malcolm said that strategy could backfire, if it fans false assumptions that there is a racial component to the case. But overall he did not have any criticism of the DOJ's actions.
"This is a rapidly deteriorating situation," he said. "Clearly in the public mind there is a racial component to how police have acted. Police have not helped themselves with their overreaction to the situation. So I think there are times when (federal involvement) can help defuse the situation. Let's hope that's what happens here."
SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Police said they prevented a "horrific tragedy" by arresting two teenage boys who plotted to kill three high school staffers then gun down as many students as possible in a quaint Los Angeles suburb.
The boys, who were trying to get weapons, had been under constant surveillance since the school district informed police of their plans last Thursday, South Pasadena police Sgt. Brian Solinsky said Monday.
He would not elaborate on the plans or what form they took, but Solinsky said they were "very specific" and included named targets. The boys' names haven't been released. Police planned a news conference Tuesday to provide more information.
"This is a prime example of school officials recognizing suspicious behavior," Solinsky said in a statement. "It was this information that helped prevent a horrific tragedy."
Police found evidence the boys were looking for information on submachine guns, rifles, bombs and other explosives, especially propane.
"They were researching weapons and how to fire and assemble them," police Sgt. Robert Bartl told the Pasadena Star-News.
Enough evidence was gathered to serve warrants at the boys' homes Monday.
Police had to break into one boy's house as he resisted and they took him into custody as he tried to run, Solinsky said.
The boys were both about to begin their senior year at South Pasadena High School, a well-regarded school. The leafy San Gabriel Valley suburb of about 25,000 people 6 miles from downtown Los Angeles is known for its high-quality schools, which drive up the price of homes. Small two-bedroom bungalows can easily top $700,000.
Police aimed to make the arrests before the first day of class Thursday, though they found no evidence of a date for a planned attack, Bartl told the Star-News.
Detectives had been working around the clock and monitoring the boys since the threat first emerged. Relatives of both boys had been questioned, Solinsky said, but would not elaborate further.
The arrests came the day after another Los Angeles County boy was arrested on suspicion of posting online threats to shoot students at local schools, though sheriff's officials acknowledged that those threats were intended as pranks.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings and former punter Chris Kluwe said Tuesday they reached a settlement averting a lawsuit over Kluwe's claim that the team wrongfully released him last year because of his outspoken support for same-sex marriage rights.
Under the deal, the Vikings will donate an undisclosed sum of money to five human rights charities over the next five years, including at least two that focus on gay rights. Kluwe said he won't receive any money as part of the settlement.
"This will help a lot of people that really do need that help," Kluwe said. He said he was convinced the Vikings and owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were committed to the cause, and committed to being leaders on this issue in the NFL.
"They want to make this a reality where there is no discrimination in sports, there is no homophobia," Kluwe said at a news conference.
The Vikings said in a statement that the deal resolves all issues related to Kluwe's departure from the team and his accusations that a coach made anti-gay comments. Zygi Wilf said he wished Kluwe the best.
"In regards to this matter, our focus remains on maintaining a culture of tolerance, inclusion and respect, and creating the best workplace environment for our players, coaches and staff," Wilf said in the statement.
Under the settlement, the Vikings also agreed to require all team employees to undergo sensitivity training four times a year. The team will also host a national symposium in Minneapolis next spring that will address LGBT issues and professional athletics, said Kluwe's attorney, Clayton Halunen.
In addition to his wrongful termination claim, Kluwe alleged that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made anti-gay comments and tried to agitate him with homophobic language. Last month, the team issued a 29-page summary of a report that found no merit to Kluwe's claim that he was wrongfully dismissed, but it confirmed that Priefer made anti-gay remarks during practice. The Vikings suspended Priefer for three games and ordered him to undergo sensitivity training.
Kluwe threatened to sue the team if it didn't release the full 150-page report, but Halunen said Tuesday that the Vikings had done a thorough investigation into Kluwe's allegations. Halunen said he and Kluwe had initially pushed for the report's release out of concern that there may have been a systemic problem within the organization, but they viewed the full report as part of mediation and are satisfied there are no widespread issues.
Halunen identified two of the five nonprofits as the Matthew Shepard Foundation and You Can Play, a charity run by retired NFL player Wade Davis, who is gay. Both focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. He did not disclose the names of the other charities, saying they hadn't been notified yet.
He said the financial terms weren't disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement, adding: "This is a substantial commitment to LGBT causes."
Kluwe averaged 44.4 yards per punt over his eight-season career in Minnesota, including a career-high 39.7 yard net average in 2012. But he ranked just 17th in the NFL in punting that season before he was cut. He hasn't gotten a kicking job elsewhere since his release. He said Tuesday he is considering writing a book and pursuing public speaking opportunities.
Kluwe said taking a stand was worth it.
"It's always worth it," he said. "You have a children's game, and you have basic human rights. And there's one of those I'm always going to value more than the other."