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News Wrap: 3 wildfires rage out of control in Southern California

In our news wrap Friday, firefighters in Southern California faced an uphill battle against three raging wildfires. A statewide heat wave, bone-dry conditions and gusty winds made for a difficult task, and more than 5,400 homes are at risk. Also, the death toll from a powerful wind storm that slammed the Midwest earlier this week has risen to four people. Millions of acres of crops were damaged.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that the U.S. coronavirus death toll could hit 200,000 by Labor Day, that as the U.S. has suffered its highest daily number of deaths since mid-May, more than 1,500.

    Coast to coast, states are recording bleak firsts. California became the first state to top 600,000 infections, while Georgia had its deadliest day on record.

    We will hear how the pandemic is affecting summer jobs later in the program.

    The U.S. Postal Service has warned 46 states and the District of Columbia that some mail-in ballots may not be counted in time for November's presidential election. That is according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

    This is especially a concern for states that allow voters to request ballots just days before the election. A historic number of absentee ballots are expected to be cast during the pandemic, as the very time the Postal Service struggles with financial troubles and delays.

    We will take a closer look at this situation later in the program.

    Firefighters in Southern California faced an uphill battle today against three raging wildfires. A statewide heat wave, bone-dry conditions and gusty winds made for a difficult task. The largest fire has charred more than 18 square miles, and threatens more than 5,000 — excuse me — 5,400 homes. It has little containment.

    Residents described the scene as the flames spread.

  • Randy Miller:

    I thought, this is getting out of control. All of a sudden, that little 10-foot section of smoke up there was wider and wider and wider. Next thing, it was growing and growing. The whole top was smoking.

    And then the fire department started coming in, and all the sheriffs, et cetera, et cetera, telling me to get out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The weekend's forecast for the area calls for triple-digit temperatures and extreme fire danger.

    The death toll from a powerful windstorm that slammed the Midwest earlier this week has now risen to four people. Millions of acres of crops were damaged and some 250,000 Iowans are still without electricity five days later.

    Governor Kim Reynolds said that teams are working around the clock to restore power.

  • Governor Kim Reynolds:

    What we need to do is, we need to get power to Iowans and to those that are affected. They have tried to prioritize, but I want you to know that the team that's standing behind me, your local emergency manager, your mayor, everybody is working to make sure that we can get that done in a timely manner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One hundred members of the Iowa National Guard arrived in Cedar Rapids today to help clear away debris from power lines.

    A former FBI lawyer is expected to plead guilty to making a false statement as part of a federal probe into the origins of the bureau's Russia investigation. A lawyer for Kevin Clinesmith said that he will admit he altered an e-mail from the CIA that was used to get court permission for a secret wiretap on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

    President Trump weighed in this afternoon.

  • President Donald Trump:

    What happened should never happen again. So, he is pleading guilty, terrible thing, terrible thing. The fact is, they spied on my campaign, and they got caught.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The charging document does not allege any criminal wrongdoing by anyone else and offers no evidence of a broader conspiracy to undermine President Trump's 2016 campaign.

    In Belarus, tens of thousands marched through the capital of Minsk today, angered over a disputed election and the brutal police crackdown that followed. Police have freed about 2,000 people arrested during this week's demonstrations. But reports of widespread torture of those in custody are driving fresh outrage.

    All this as the European Union is drafting a list of people in Belarus who could face sanctions for their role in the crisis.

    Nick Schifrin has our story. And a warning: Some of the images are graphic. You may find them disturbing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The scars of authoritarian rule are written on Vartan Grigoryan's back and in the stitches holding together his eye.

  • Vartan Grigoryan (through translator):

    I was told to lie down, and so I did. They started beating me. I did not resist. They took me to a police truck, and beat me there as well.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    He was in a group of men released from a detention facility that included 19-year-old Alexander Vilks in the green jacket. That's his mother. He'd been held for two days without any communication.

    And when he shows her the wounds inflicted inside? She can't bear it.

  • Alexander Vilks (through translator):

    They treated us as if we were terrorists. They beat us very badly, mostly hitting our legs, but also across the body.

  • Hanna Liubakova:

    This was some darkest days in the history of modern Belarus.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hanna Liubakova is a journalist for the independent site Outriders.

  • Hanna Liubakova:

    Whenever a person was transported from one place to another, that person was beaten. There were 80 people that were held there for 24 hours, without food, without water, and, basically, they could not sleep.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Since Sunday, authorities have cracked down on massive protests that followed what they call an election stolen by Alexander Lukashenko, known as Europe's last dictator.

    The demonstrations are the largest since independence 30 years ago. When one protest of 10,000 reached a government building today, soldiers laid down their shields.

    Belarus' top security official apologized to beaten protesters. And, today, the protests expanded to workers at state-owned factories, the backbone of the Belarusian economy. They organized a general strike.

    These workers were asked to raise their hand if they voted for Lukashenko, or for opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

  • Hanna Liubakova:

    Those who were not interested in politics have suddenly understood the nature of this government, of this president. Those who were not against Lukashenko are now taking another side because of this police brutality, of this police violence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, Tsikhanouskaya offered a way forward.

  • Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (through translator):

    I call on the authorities to end this and enter a dialogue. I ask the mayors of all cities to organize peaceful mass rallies.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But this is still Lukashenko's regime.

  • Marisa Duhram:

    So, they put me on the ground. They put a sheet over my head, so I really couldn't see what was happening.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Marisa Durham is an American master's student, whose boyfriend, Stas Gorelik, is Belarusian who has been studying in the States. They weren't protesting, but police forcibly entered their apartment two days ago and took him away.

  • Marisa Duhram:

    Stas always did everything in his — everything to always make sure that I was safe, no matter what. And he always took care of me. And he always knew. And the most that I want to do right now try to protect him and help him.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Late tonight, her fear was eased. After our interview, Stas was released.

    And 26 years later, a president's grip on power is getting weaker.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Afghanistan, the government released the first wave of its final 400 Taliban prisoners today. It was a key demand for peace negotiations with the militant group, in a bid to end more than 18 years of war. Officials registered the prisoners' information as they processed their release.

    Taliban officials said the government released 86 prisoners today. There was no immediate word when the rest will be freed. A congressional watchdog group said today that the top two officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were appointed to their posts without legal authority.

    It found the appointments of DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, violated succession rules at federal agencies, since the last Senate-confirmed DHS secretary resigned in 2019. The watchdog has now referred the issue to the agency's inspector general.

    In economic news, retail spending returned to pre-pandemic levels in July. But sales weren't quite as strong as analysts had hoped. And trading was light on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 34 points to close at 27931. The Nasdaq fell 23 points, and the S&P 500 shed half-a-point.

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