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California wildfire destroys 15 homes



Published: Sat, September 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



California wildfiredestroys 15 homes

YANKEE HILL, Calif. -- Kenneth Renfrow believed he had prepared for the worst. But it took just 10 minutes Friday for a raging wildfire to consume his home and the car where he had stashed his valuables in case he needed to make a quick getaway.

"The fire was coming too far, too fast. There was nothing but a big wall of fire," the 65-year-old retired construction worker said. "There was nothing that I owned that didn't have flames on it."

Brisk winds doubled the size of the wildfire Friday in Butte County, north of Sacramento, turning Renfrow's home and at least 14 others into charred skeletons. About 400 other homes were threatened.

The 6,200-acre blaze was one of three major fires burning in northern California. It turned the sky brown around Lake Oroville, about 85 miles north of Sacramento, and left the area reeking of smoke.

The fire broke out Thursday morning near the small town of Jarbo Gap, in Butte County. People were forced to flee homes and a mobile home park in sparsely populated Yankee Hill. The fire was only 5 percent contained Friday; its cause remained unknown.

Condit aide deniesreport of retirement

WASHINGTON -- A top aide to Rep. Gary Condit denied reports Friday that the embattled Modesto, Calif., Democrat had decided to retire from Congress in the wake of the Chandra Levy controversy.

The reports came as Condit potentially faced more problems. A Stanislaus County (Calif.) grand jury has reached a decision on whether it will investigate claims that Condit obstructed justice by asking Anne Marie Smith, a San Francisco-based flight attendant, to deny they had an affair.

The results of the secret grand jury vote were sent in a letter to Smith's attorney Friday and will not be made public, a county official said. Condit has said the two did not have an affair, but Smith has said they had a 10-month relationship.

NBC News reported Friday that Condit had decided to retire from Congress when his term ends next year and would announce the decision when the California Legislature completes its session next week.

Condit's chief of staff, Mike Lynch, said the seven-term incumbent told him Friday that he had not decided whether he will run for re-election in 2002. Condit has until Dec. 7 to file papers to appear on the March primary ballot.

Police seek fugitivesin Yellowstone park

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. -- Park rangers and a SWAT team ordered a popular campground to be evacuated Friday and surrounded a stolen truck, but the occupants, believed to be two armed fugitives, escaped.

Authorities watched the truck for seven hours, thinking the men and an unidentified woman were inside, but a SWAT team then approached the truck and found it empty, park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said.

"There apparently was a brief moment when the first park ranger on the scene lost sight of the truck momentarily this morning and we believe that's when they got away," Matthews said.

Authorities believe the men are Patrick J. Engelbrecht, 18, and Thomas J. O'Flanagan, 19, both of Superior, Wis. They are wanted for a string of burglaries in that state in which police say they stole at least a half-dozen guns, including assault rifles.

They also are prime suspects in the assault of an elderly couple at their home in New Brighton, Minn., Wednesday. Police say the men beat the husband and wife, then stole the pickup truck from their driveway.

Authorities had not determined the woman's identity.

Slumping tourism

JERUSALEM -- Israel's tourism industry has lost billions of dollars in the 11 months since Israel-Palestinian fighting broke out, and the downturn has forced 30 hotels to close, officials said Friday.

Many hotels have had almost no guests, said Nitzan Ilan, spokeswoman for the Israeli Tourism Ministry. Some of the hotels may temporarily be converted into offices or dormitories for immigrants, she said.

Tourism plunged 53 percent during the first six months of 2001, compared to the same period last year, according to ministry figures. The industry has lost $2 billion since fighting erupted Sept. 28.

Tourism amounts to nearly 10 percent of Israel's gross national product.

Many Western governments have warned their citizens not to travel to Israel and the Palestinian areas because of the violence that has killed more than 600 people on the Palestinian side and more than 160 on the Israeli side.

Combined dispatches




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