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News Wrap: Calif. Firefighers Make Gains on Yosemite Blaze

August 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Talk of U.S. military strikes on Syria rattled Wall Street. Stocks sank on fears of even more instability in the Middle East. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 170 points to close at 14,776. The Nasdaq fell 79 points to close at 3,578. In addition, the price of oil in New York topped $109, the highest in a year-and-a-half.

Firefighters in California claimed advances today against a huge fire near Yosemite National Park. It’s now charred an area larger than the city of Chicago, but is 20 percent contained. The battle against the expanding blaze entered its 11th day, as fire crews worked to grow the containment lines around more of its perimeter.

Even with that progress, the enormous wildfire burned more of the Stanislaus National Forest overnight, spreading to a total of 280 square miles.

MIKE DUEITT, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: It’s not growing like it did in the earlier days. But it is still active. It’s still moving. It’s still giving them fits. It’s spotting.

KWAME HOLMAN: NASA satellite images released today showed smoke plumes reaching for miles.

Officials hoped the forecast cooler temperatures and higher humidity starting tomorrow will allow crews to get the upper hand.

LEE BENTLEY, U.S. Forest Service: We are starting to get a little bit ahead on this thing. It’s been a real tiger. It’s been going around trying to bite its own tail, and it won’t let go. But we will get there.

KWAME HOLMAN: The wildfire has expanded steadily eastward in recent days, moving deeper into Yosemite National Park’s backcountry, but most of the park remains open and unaffected.

Flames also have come within a half-mile of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of San Francisco’s drinking water. But officials today were more confident the fire wouldn’t disrupt hydroelectricity made by the reservoir’s dam. And the danger of ash tainting the water supply was avoided by a new gravity-operated pipeline that moved water to holding basins closer to the city.

Elsewhere, the fire has consumed stands of thick oak and pine as it closes in on Tuolumne City west of Yosemite.

PAT BUCK, Tuolumne city resident: Going up and down the canyons, and we don’t know where it’s coming up, and we don’t know from day to day which community is threatened, so a little spooky, a little spooky.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Rim fire now is the largest on record in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Investigators still are trying to determine how it started.

The U.S. secretary of homeland security says her agency is better prepared now to respond to natural disasters and to terrorism. Janet Napolitano gave her farewell speech today and touted the department’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, the Gulf oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombing.

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary: Each of these challenges tested us in new ways. They presented new opportunities for us to learn, grow and get better at what we do as a department and as a nation.

I’m proud of our accomplishments and the men and women across DHS who made them possible. I’m proud of how far we have come over the past four-and-a-half years. And I’m proud to have played a role in guiding the department to a more mature and stable state of operations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Napolitano departs Washington next week. She is leaving to become president of the University of California system.

A former J.P. Morgan Chase trader was arrested in Spain today for allegedly covering up $6 billion in losses. Javier Martin-Artajo turned himself in to police in Madrid and said he will fight any attempt to extradite him. He and another trader face U.S. criminal charges of falsifying bank records. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

For the first time, the public can see then President Gerald Ford describe an attempt on his life. It happened in Sacramento, Calif., in September 1975. Two months later, Mr. Ford testified privately against the would-be assassin, Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson. Yesterday, a federal court released the videotaped deposition and The Sacramento Bee newspaper posted it online.

In it, the president calmly tells how Fromme tried and failed to shoot him.

PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: The weapon was large. It covered all or most of her hand as far as I could see. And I only saw it instantaneously, because almost automatically one of the Secret Service agents lunged, grabbed the hand and the weapon, and then I was pushed off by the other members of the Secret Service detail.

KWAME HOLMAN: Fromme was convicted and ultimately released from federal prison in 2009. Mr. Ford passed away in 2006. His testimony was made public at the request of a Sacramento historical group.

A Philadelphia hospital today released Sarah Murnaghan, the child who sparked a national debate about the organ transplant system. She suffers from cystic fibrosis and was at the bottom of the priority list for new adult lungs because of her age, until a federal judge intervened. Today, she arrived home. Her parents, Fran and Janet Murnaghan, said they hope their story serves as an example for others.

FRAN MURNAGHAN, father of Sarah Murnaghan: You can really make change and you can really — the most important thing is, always advocate for your child, always. And if there are things that you don’t think can be accomplished, they can. They can. And people will come behind you and support you to do that.

JANET MURNAGHAN, mother of Sarah Murnaghan: Yes. There are a lot more amazing people out than…

FRAN MURNAGHAN: You can ever imagine.

JANET MURNAGHAN: … you could ever imagine.

KWAME HOLMAN: The 11-year-old child had been hospitalized since February. She received her new lungs over the summer.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.