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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

October 11, 2017 - 8:05 PM

Winds whip new terror into deadly California wildfires

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Fueled by the return of strong winds, the wildfires tearing through California wine country exploded in size and number Wednesday as authorities ordered new evacuations and the death toll climbed to 21 — a figure expected to rise higher still.

Three days after the fires began, firefighters were still unable to gain control of the blazes that had turned entire Northern California neighbourhoods to ash and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.

"We are literally looking at explosive vegetation," said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It is very dynamic. These fires are changing by the minute in many areas."

The entire historic town of Calistoga, population 5,000, was evacuated. In neighbouring Sonoma County, authorities issued an evacuation advisory for part of the town of Sonoma and the community of Boyes Hot Springs. By that time, lines of cars were already fleeing.

"That's very bad," resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy sheriff warned him that the driving winds could shift the wildfires toward the town of Sonoma proper, with 11,000 residents. "It'll go up like a candle."

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Woman who searched for days learns mother killed in wildfire

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — A frantic Jessica Tunis had been calling hospitals and posting on social media when her family's search ended up back at the charred ruins of her mother's Santa Rosa house on Wednesday, looking for clues in the debris as to where she might be.

Linda Tunis had last called Jessica from her burning house at Journey's End mobile home park early Monday, saying "I'm going to die" before the phone went dead. Her home was destroyed in wildfires that swept Northern California's wine country.

"She's spunky, she's sweet, she loves bingo and she loves the beach, she loves her family," said Jessica Tunis, crying. "Please help me find her. I need her back. I don't want to lose my mom."

Hours later Tunis texted an AP reporter to say that her brother, Robert, had found her mother's remains among the debris. Authorities put the remains of the 69-year-old woman in a small white plastic bag and strapped it to a gurney before taking it away.

Hundreds of people remained unaccounted for Wednesday as friends and relatives desperately checked hospitals and shelters and pleaded on social media for help finding loved ones missing amid California's wildfires.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. DEATH TOLL RISES AS CALIF. WILDFIRES FLARE UP ANEW

The massive blazes have killed at least 21 people and destroyed some 3,500 homes and businesses, many in Sonoma's wine country.

2. LOVED ONES SEARCH FOR HUNDREDS MISSING IN FIRES

The Sonoma County sheriff says 380 people are unaccounted for in the hard-hit county.

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Trump turns back to tax overhaul; pitch aimed at truckers

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (AP) — President Donald Trump pitched his tax plan as a boost for truckers at an event Wednesday in Pennsylvania, saying, "America first means putting American truckers first."

Trump appeared before about a thousand cheering people at an airplane hangar dramatically draped with American flags. Two big rigs were in the background.

"It will be rocket fuel for our economy," Trump said of a plan that would dramatically cut corporate tax rates from 35 per cent to 20 per cent, reduce the number of personal income tax brackets and boost the standard deduction.

Trump said a cut to business taxes would help truckers because there will be "more products to deliver and more contracts to fill." He also said his plan would benefit middle-class families by lowering rates, creating new jobs and making it easier for business owners to pass companies on to their children.

"So many people have come up to me and said give it to the middle class, give it to people who need it," Trump said.

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Pressure mounts for Vegas police to explain response time

Pressure mounted Wednesday for Las Vegas police to explain how quickly they reacted to what would become the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history after two hotel employees reported a gunman spraying a hallway with bullets six minutes before he opened fire on a crowd at a musical performance.

On Monday, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo revised the chronology of the shooting and said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, had shot a hotel security guard through the door of his suite and strafed a hallway of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino with 200 rounds six minutes before he unleashed a barrage of bullets into the crowd.

That account differed dramatically from the one police gave last week when they said Paddock ended his hail of fire on the crowd in order to shoot through his door and wound the unarmed guard, Jesus Campos.

"These people that were killed and injured deserve to have those six minutes to protect them," said Chad Pinkerton, an attorney for Paige Gasper, a California college student who was shot under the arm in the attack. "We lost those six minutes."

Maintenance worker Stephen Schuck told NBC News that he was checking out a report of a jammed fire door on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay when he heard gunshots and the hotel security guard who had been shot in the leg peeked out from an alcove and told him to take cover.

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US demands raise fears that leaving NAFTA could hurt economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The North American Free Trade Agreement is in its 23rd year. But there are growing doubts that it will survive through its 24th.

President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the agreement if he can't get what he wants in a renegotiation. But what he wants — from requiring that more auto production be made-in-America to shifting more government contracts to U.S. companies — will likely be unacceptable to America's two NAFTA partners, Mexico and Canada.

Round 4 of NAFTA talks began Wednesday in Arlington, Virginia. In a sign of how contentious things could get, the countries extended the negotiations for two extra days, through Tuesday.

"What is the administration going to do? Are they going to be patient and work through these things?" asks Phil Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "Or are they going to take this as a pretext and say, 'We tried negotiations; they failed. Now we need to blow this up?' "

Blowing up the deal appears to be Trump's favoured choice. On the campaign trail, he called NAFTA a job-killing disaster. And in an interview with Forbes magazine published Tuesday, Trump said: "I happen to think that NAFTA will have to be terminated if we're going to make it good. Otherwise, I believe you can't negotiate a good deal."

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Facebook exec meets with lawmakers amid Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of Facebook's top executives met Wednesday with House members investigating the company's Russia-linked ads and told them the social media giant is serious about dealing with the issue.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, told lawmakers behind closed doors that the company is working hard to ensure Americans "understand what the propaganda is that they may or may not be reading," said House Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, who is leading the House intelligence committee probe.

Wednesday's meetings are ahead of a Nov. 1 House Intelligence Committee hearing at which Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to testify. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also holding an open hearing with the three companies that day.

Investigators have recently focused on the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media and have pressured Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, to release any Russia-linked ads. Facebook recently provided three congressional committees with more than 3,000 ads they had traced to a Russian internet agency.

Facebook has said those ads focused on divisive political messages, including LGBT issues, immigration and gun rights, and were seen by an estimated 10 million people.

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Judge won't order officials to allow abortion for immigrant

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge in San Francisco said Wednesday that the government cannot prevent a pregnant 17-year-old at a Texas facility for unaccompanied immigrant children from getting an abortion, but declined to issue an order that would bar federal officials from interfering in the girl's access to the procedure.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the legal challenge on behalf of the girl by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California was not filed in the right court.

The ruling allows the girl's attorneys to file a new lawsuit seeking the same order in another federal court district. A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, Peter Phipps, said at a hearing Wednesday that the government might propose having Jane Doe's case heard in Texas or Washington, D.C.

Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said the group hadn't decided its next step, but would continue to fight for the girl's right to an abortion.

"A first-year law student understands that it is unconstitutional for the government to ban abortion," she said. "The legal claim is pretty straightforward."

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As scope of Weinstein conduct widens, questions of who knew

NEW YORK (AP) — As the grim scope of the allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein continued to expand Wednesday, the organization that bestows the Academy Awards moved to distance itself from the film mogul, Ben Affleck was forced to defend his own previous actions, and scrutiny fell on who knew what about the Weinstein's behaviour over the decades it allegedly took place.

A key and potentially volatile component of Tuesday's New Yorker expose was the claim that "a culture of complicity" has existed at both The Weinstein Co. and his previous film company, the Walt Disney-owned Miramax. "Numerous people throughout the companies (were) fully aware of his behaviour but either abetting it or looking the other way," the magazine reported.

Further scrutiny has followed the contention that Weinstein's conduct was "an open secret" in Hollywood. Focus has turned, in part, to not just the workplace environments Weinstein operated in, but the stars who may have had some knowledge of Weinstein's alleged behaviour but who failed to raise any alarms.

Ben Affleck was called out Tuesday by actress Rose McGowan. In a tweet, McGowan accused Affleck of lying after issuing a statement that he was "saddened and angry" about the Weinstein revelations. McGowan, who The New York Times reported reached a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein in 1997, suggested Affleck knew decades ago about Weinstein's behaviour.

Actress Hilarie Burton also renewed an earlier allegation that Affleck groped her during a visit to MTV's TRL, which she was hosting in 2003. Affleck on Wednesday tweeted an apology: "I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize."

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Strasburg, Nationals beat Cubs 5-0, force NLDS to Game 5

CHICAGO (AP) — Stephen Strasburg gave Washington everything he had, and it was more than enough.

So much for all those questions about heart and character.

Strasburg shook off an illness and pitched seven dominant innings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 on Wednesday to send their NL Division Series to a decisive Game 5.

"I just focused on one pitch at a time and going as long as I could," Strasburg said.

Moments after Sean Doolittle closed out Strasburg's first career playoff win, the focus shifted to the final game of the series in Washington on Thursday night. Kyle Hendricks starts for the World Series champion Cubs after throwing seven sharp innings in a 3-0 victory over Strasburg in Game 1.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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