Firefighters battling wildfire
threatening Big Sur in Calif.
Firefighters bulked up their defenses Friday against a wildfire that threatened parts of this storied tourist town and prepared for more lightning strikes that could ignite new fires across Northern California. More than 1,000 fires, mostly caused by lightning, were burning Friday, including two gigantic blazes in the Los Padres National Forest.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked President Bush for a federal emergency declaration to free up more aid, saying the fires this season had burned more than 400 square miles.
Firefighters rushed to protect about 575 threatened homes and historic structures in the Big Sur area. They allowed the fire to rage nearly unchecked through steep mountain forests, where flames torched massive redwoods and sent them toppling. Associated Press
California San Jose
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), bitterly divided over sexuality and the Bible, set up another confrontation Friday over its ban on ordaining noncelibate gays and lesbians. The denomination's General Assembly voted 54 percent to 46 percent Friday to drop the requirement that would-be ministers, deacons and elders live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” The proposed change to the church constitution requires approval from a majority the nation's 173 presbyteries. Associated Press
Lawmakers subpoenaed Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Friday for transcripts of interviews with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during the federal probe into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. Signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., the subpoena requests all documents from the office of former Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald relating to interviews of Bush, Cheney and their aides that were conducted outside the presence of the grand jury investigating the leak. Associated Press
The head of the agency behind the seizure of more than 400 children from a polygamist group announced Friday that he is retiring. The news release announcing Carey Cockerell's retirement as commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offered no reason for his departure, but he said he'd been thinking about stepping down since last year, before the April raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado. Associated Press
New York Central Islip
A millionaire convicted of helping his wife keep two Indonesian housekeepers as virtual slaves was sentenced Friday to 31/3 years in prison. Perfume maker Mahender Sabhnani, 51, was convicted in December on charges including forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude and harboring aliens. The victims testified that they were beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives, and forced to climb stairs and take cold showers for misdeeds that included sleeping late or stealing food from the trash. Associated Press
6 police officers killed as
Mexico's drug war rages on
Mexico's raging drug war claimed the lives of six more police officers, ambushed on patrol in the marijuana-rich state of Sinaloa, authorities said Friday. The ambush follows the assassination Thursday of a police commander, part of a long string of killings apparently aimed at eroding public confidence in the government's ability to challenge drug gangs. Los Angeles Times
Buckingham Palace accountants said the cost of maintaining Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family is a bargain for taxpayers, despite a price tag of 40 million pounds (about $80 million). In their annual report, palace officials stressed that the cost of the monarchy is just 66 pence ($1.30) for each Briton. Associated Press