Malibu, Nov 12 (AP/UNB) — Relief and heartache await those starting to return home to a Southern California wildfire zone.
Eager to know the status of his house, 69-year-old Roger Kelly defied evacuation orders Sunday and hiked back into Seminole Springs, his lakeside mobile home community in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu.
His got the thrill of finding his house intact. But some a half-block away were laid to waste, as were dozens more, and virtually everything on the landscape around the community had been turned to ash.
"I just started weeping," Kelly said. "I just broke down. Your first view of it, man it just gets you."
The community where Kelly and his wife have lived for 28 years and raised two children was among the hardest hit by the so-called Woolsey fire that broke out Thursday, destroying at least 177 homes and leaving two people dead.
Despite strong Santa Ana winds that returned Sunday, no additional structures were believed to have been lost, meaning many would return in the coming week to find their home as Kelly did, authorities said.
Santa Ana winds, produced by surface high pressure over the Great Basin squeezing air down through canyons and passes in Southern California's mountain ranges, are common in the fall and have a long history of fanning destructive wildfires in the region.
Huge plumes of smoke still rose in the fire area, which stretches miles from the northwest corner of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley to the Malibu coast.
Airplanes and helicopters swooped low over hills and canyons to drop loads of fire retardant and water.
A one-day lull in the dry, northeasterly winds ended at midmorning and authorities warned that the gusts would continue through Tuesday.
The lull allowed firefighters to gain 10 percent control of the Woolsey fire, which has burned more than 130 square miles (335 square kilometers) in western Los Angeles County and southeastern Ventura County since Thursday.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby stressed there were numerous hotspots and plenty of fuel that had not yet burned, but at sunset he said there had been huge successes despite "a very challenging day."
The count of destroyed homes was expected to increase when an update is reported Monday. Osby noted that a November 1993 wildfire in Malibu destroyed more than 270 homes and said he would not be surprised if the total from the current fire would be higher.
The fire's cause remained under investigation but Southern California Edison reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that there was an outage on an electrical circuit near where it started as Santa Ana winds blew through the region.
SoCal Edison said the report was submitted out of an abundance of caution although there was no indication from fire officials that its equipment may have been involved. The report said the fire was reported around 2:24 p.m. Thursday, two minutes after the outage.
Venture County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen hadn't heard about the Edison report. "It wouldn't surprise me" if it turns out that winds caused equipment failure that sparked a fire, he said.
The two dead were severely burned, their bodies discovered in a car on a long residential driveway on a stretch of Mulholland Highway in Malibu, where most of the surrounding structures had burned. Authorities said investigators believed the driver became disoriented and the car was overcome by fire.
The deaths came as authorities in Northern California announced the death toll from a massive wildfire there has reached 29 people, matching the deadliest fire in state history.
Progress was made on the lines of smaller fire to the west in Ventura County, which was 70 percent contained at about 7 square miles (18 square kilometers), and evacuations were greatly reduced. But thousands remained under evacuation orders due to the Woolsey fire.
Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, Osby said.
Also injured was a well-known member of the Malibu City Council. Councilman Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner was injured while trying to save his home, which burned down, Councilman Skylar Peak told reporters Sunday.
Peak said Wagner was hospitalized but was expected to recover. Wagner runs Zuma Jay Surfboards, a longtime fixture on Pacific Coast Highway near the landmark Malibu Pier.
The extensive celebrity community within Malibu wasn't spared. Singer Robin Thicke and actor Gerard Butler and were among those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
Spot fires continued to occur late Sunday afternoon near the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University, where 3,500 students were sheltering in place. The university said it was closing Malibu campus and its Calabasas campus to the north until Nov. 26 but classes would be remotely administered online and through email.
But fire officials say fire behavior has changed statewide after years of drought and record summer heat that have left vegetation extremely crisp and dry. That change has impacted the ability to move firefighting resources around the state.
"Typically this time of year when we get fires in Southern California we can rely upon our mutual aid partners in Northern California to come assist us because this time of year they've already had significant rainfall or even snow," said Osby, the LA County fire chief.
With the devastation and loss of life in the Northern California fire, "it's evident from that situation statewide that we're in climate change and it's going to be here for the foreseeable future," he said.
Yangon, Nov 11 (AP/UNB) — The repatriation of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh, to which more than 700,000 fled since last year to escape deadly violence carried out by Myanmar's security forces, will begin this week, top Myanmar officials said Sunday.
Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye announced at a news conference that Bangladesh had informed Myanmar authorities that repatriation, agreed upon in principle months ago, would begin on Thursday. A Myanmar government statement said an initial group of 2,251 would be sent back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.
Noting that the actual date depended upon Bangladesh taking action, Win Myat Aye said, "Whether it will happen on the day or not, we have to be ready on our side and we try our best to do that."
Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's repatriation commissioner, said he was unaware that a date had been set. "I have got no decision from our foreign ministry or any other higher authorities," he said.
The Rohingya exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following coordinated insurgent attacks in August 2017. The scale, organization and ferocity of the operation led to accusations from the international community, including the United Nations, of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Myanmar's government has denied this.
Human rights advocates say conditions are not yet safe for the return of the Rohingya refugees, who have generally been denied citizenship and civil rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where prejudice against them runs high.
The U.N.'s independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, last week urged a halt to "rushed plans" for the repatriation, saying a lack of guarantees that the refugees wouldn't face new persecution if they returned home was concerning.
According to Sunday's Myanmar government statement, the returning Rohingya would stay at repatriation camps for two days and receive food and clothing before moving on to transit camps. It said China, India and Japan were "providing necessary assistance" for the repatriation process, but did not give details.
It isn't clear how long the returnees would have to stay in the transit camps or where they would go afterward, as many Rohingya villages have been erased by bulldozers, with the land given to local Rakhine Buddhists.
Officials said Sunday that returnees can get an ID document called a National Verification Card that will allow them to travel anywhere in the Maungdaw area of Rakhine State. They can then begin to apply for citizenship.
But there is widespread skepticism that any returning refugees will ever be granted citizenship.
The overwhelming majority of people in Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya are a native ethnic group, instead seeing them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and calling them "Bengalis."
In remarks delivered last month at the United Nations, Yanghee Lee said the Rohingya "should not go back to ... the oppressive laws, the discrimination. The minimum they need is freedom of movement, access to basic health services."
"Right now, it's like an apartheid situation where Rohingyas still living in Myanmar ... have no freedom of movement," Lee said. "The camps, the shelters, the model villages that are being built, it's more of a cementing of total segregation or separation from the Rakhine ethnic community."
Paradise, Nov 11 (AP/UNB) — Sheriff's investigators have begun the agonizing task of scouring through the wreckage of California's most destructive fire on record in search of the dead. By Saturday, the death toll had reached 23, but it seemed likely to climb.
With the entire town of Paradise wiped out and the fire still raging furiously in surrounding communities, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county was bringing in a fifth search and recovery team. An anthropology team from California State University, Chico was also assisting, because in some cases "the only remains we are able to find are bones or bone fragments."
"This weighs heavy on all of us," Honea said. "Myself and especially those staff members who are out there doing what is important work but certainly difficult work."
The victims have not been identified, but the department has a roster of 110 people believed missing. Officials hope many of the elderly on the list simply are elsewhere without cellphones or away to contact loved ones. Honea said the agency was also bringing in a mobile DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in the identification process.
The death toll made the Camp Fire the third-deadliest on record in the state, another statistic for a blaze now logged at 164 square miles (425 square kilometers) that has cost at least $8.1 million to fight so far, said Steve Kaufmann, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Entire neighborhoods were leveled, destroying more than 6,700 buildings, almost all of them homes, and the business district was destroyed by a blaze that threatened to explode again with the same fury that largely incinerated the foothill town.
More firefighters headed to the area Saturday, with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour expected through Monday, raising the risk of conditions similar to those when the fire started Thursday, said Alex Hoon with the National Weather Service.
Two people were also found dead in a wildfire in Southern California , bringing the total number of fatalities statewide to 25 as the fires tore through Malibu mansions and working-class suburban homes. State officials put the total number of people forced from their homes statewide at more than 200,000. Evacuations included the city of Malibu, home to some of Hollywood's biggest stars.
Back in Paradise, the air still clogged with smoke, residents who stayed behind to try to save their property or who managed to get back to their neighborhoods found cars incinerated and homes reduced to rubble.
People sidestepped metal that melted off cars and Jet-Skis and donned masks as they surveyed ravaged neighborhoods despite an evacuation order for all of Paradise, a town of 27,000 founded in the 1800s. Some cried when they saw nothing was left.
Jan MacGregor, 81, got back to his small two-bedroom home in Paradise with the help of his firefighter grandson. He found his home leveled — a large metal safe and pipe work from his septic system the only recognizable traces. The safe was punctured with bullet holes from guns inside that went off in the scorching heat.
He has lived in Paradise for nearly 80 years, moving there in 1939 when he said the town had just 3,000 people and was nicknamed Poverty Ridge. The fire was not a complete surprise, he said.
"We knew Paradise was a prime target for forest fire over the years," he said. "We've had 'em come right up to the city limits — oh yeah — but nothing like this," he said.
MacGregor said he probably would not rebuild: "I have nothing here to go back to."
Homes and other buildings in Paradise were still burning, and fire crews were trying to extinguish those blazes, said Scott McLean, a captain with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Officials warned firefighters to wear their helmets and be careful of falling trees.
Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests have led to more destructive wildfire seasons that have been starting earlier and lasting longer.
California emerged from a five-year drought last year but has had a very dry 2018. Much of the northern two-thirds of the state, including where the fire is burning, is abnormally dry, according to a U.S. government analysis.
Elinor "Jeannie" Williams, 86, was not among the nine victims of the blaze but died as she waited to be airlifted from an evacuated hospital where she was being treated for a head injury.
She was dying, and the family expected to lose her in a few days, said her stepdaughter, Lisa. Still, her death has been hard on her 84-year-old father, Robert, who also may have lost his home, she said.
"He's lost, he's confused, he's trying to hang in there," she said. "It's hitting him hard. Everything is gone, including his wife."
Tallahassee, Nov 11 (AP/UNB) — The first election workers have begun the enormous task of recounting ballots in Florida's bitterly close races for the U.S. Senate and governor, ramping up their efforts after the secretary of state ordered a review of the two nationally watched contests.
Miami-Dade County election officials began feeding ballots into scanning machines Saturday evening. The tedious work in that one South Florida county alone could take days, considering some 800,000 ballots were cast. Multiply that by 67 counties in the nation's third most populous state, and the scope of the task was beginning to sink in Sunday.
The Florida secretary of state ordered the recounts Saturday, an unprecedented step for the two flagship races in a state that took five weeks to decide the 2000 presidential election. Secretary of State Ken Detzner's office said it was unaware of any other time either a race for governor or U.S. Senate in Florida required a recount, let alone both in the same election.
Florida's 67 counties can decide when to begin their recounts, but must complete them by Thursday. Elections officials in two large counties in the Tampa Bay area — Pinellas and Hillsborough — said they would begin recounts Sunday morning.
Unofficial results show that Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by less than 0.5 percentage points, which will require a machine recount of ballots. In the Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott's lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is less than 0.25 percentage points, requiring a hand recount of ballots from tabulation machines that couldn't determine which candidate got the vote.
The recount opens against a backdrop of political tensions. President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted without evidence that the elections were being stolen. Angry protesters gathered at an elections office in Broward County on Saturday, waving signs and shouting with bullhorns.
Following the announcement of a recount, Gillum withdrew his concession in the governor's race.
"Let me say clearly, I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote," he said, adding that he would accept whatever outcome emerges.
In a video statement released Saturday, DeSantis said the election results were "clear and unambiguous" and that he was preparing to become the state's next governor. He also thanked the state's supervisors of elections, canvassing boards, and the staffs for "working hard to ensure that all lawful votes are counted."
"It is important that everyone involved in the election process strictly adhere to the rule of law which is the foundation for our nation," he said.
In the Senate recount, Scott implored the state's sheriffs to "watch for any violations and take appropriate action" during the recount.
Scott and his supporters, including Trump, have alleged that voter fraud is underway in Democratic-leaning Broward County, where the Republican lead has narrowed since Election Day. There's no evidence of voter fraud and the state's election division, which Scott runs, said Saturday that its observers in Broward had seen "no evidence of criminal activity."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday it has not launched any investigation into election fraud.
The scene recalled the 2000 presidential recount, when it took more than five weeks for Florida to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, and thus giving Bush the presidency.
Florida was mocked for the way it handled the infamous 2000 recount, especially since there was no uniform process then on how to proceed. That has changed, with the Legislature passing a clear procedure on how a recount should be conducted.
Florida is also conducting a recount in a third statewide race. Democrat Nikki Fried had a 0.07 percentage point lead lead over Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the race for agriculture commissioner, one of Florida's three Cabinet seats.
Paris, Nov 11 (AP/UNB) — World leaders with the power to make war but a duty to preserve the peace gathered by the dozens Sunday to mark the end of World War I's slaughter 100 years ago, turning Paris in the epicenter of global commemorations that drove home a powerful message: never again.
Over 60 heads of state and government were taking part in a solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the mute and powerful symbol of sacrifice to the millions who died from 1914-18.
The Paris weather — grey and damp — seemed aptly fitting when remembering a war fought in mud and relentless horror.
The commemorations started late, overshooting the centenary of the exact moment when, 100 years earlier at 11 a.m., the eerie silence of peace replaced the thunder of guns on the Western France. As bells marking the armistice hour started ringing out across Paris and in many nations hit by the four years of slaughter, French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders were still on their way to the centennial site at the Arc de Triomphe.
Under a sea of black umbrellas, a line of leaders led by Macron and his wife, Brigitte, marched in a stony silence on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees, after dismounting from their buses.
U.S. President Donald Trump arrived separately, in a motorcade that drove past two topless protesters with anti-war slogans on their chests who somehow got through the rows of security and were quickly bundled away by police. The Femen group claimed responsibility.
Last to arrive was Russian President Vladimir Putin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was positioned in pride of place between Trump and Macron, a powerful symbol of victors and vanquished now standing together, shoulder to shoulder. Overhead, fighter jets ripped through the sky, trailing red, white and blue smoke.
The geographical spread of the leaders in attendance showed how the "war to end all wars" left few corners of the earth untouched but which, little more than two decades later, was followed so quickly and catastrophically by the even deadlier World War II.
On the other side of the globe, Australia and New Zealand held ceremonies to recall how the war killed and wounded soldiers and civilians in unprecedented numbers and in gruesome new, mechanized ways.
Those countries lost tens of thousands of soldiers far away in Europe and, most memorably in the brutal 1915 battle of Gallipoli, in Turkey.
In Paris, the jewel that Germany sought to capture in 1914 but which the Allies fought successfully to defend, the armistice commemorations were being followed by the afternoon opening of a peace forum pushed by the host, French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trump will be the most notable absentee at the forum, where Macron's defense of multilateralism will take center stage. Trump lives by an "America First" credo, and plans to visit the American cemetery at Suresnes on the outskirts of Paris before heading home.
On Saturday, he was criticized for canceling a visit to the Belleau Wood battleground northeast of Paris because of rain.
In the four years of fighting, remembered for brutal trench warfare and the first use of gas, France, the British empire, Russia and the United States had the main armies opposing a German-led coalition that also included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Almost 10 million soldiers died, sometimes tens of thousands on a single day.
The United States came late to the war, in April 1917, but over 1½ years it became a key player in the conflict and tipped the scales for the allies. When the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, the U.S. armed forces was on the cusp of becoming the major military power in the world.
Even though Germany was at the heart of provoking two world wars over the past century, the nation has become a beacon of European and international cooperation since.
On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the head of the United Nations, born from the ashes of World War II, and the president of Serbia. It was a Serb teenager, Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo in 1914 to set off events which led to the outbreak of war.