In our news wrap Friday, states and school districts across the country are taking varying approaches to mask mandates, more than 50 wildfires are burning in Greece, the Taliban reportedly captured their first provincial capital in Afghanistan, a New Jersey gym owner became the first person to plead guilty to assaulting a police officer on Jan. 6, and a U.S. track veteran made history in Tokyo.
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The U.S. economy has turned in big new hiring numbers as it powers back from pandemic losses.
The Labor Department reports employers added a net 943,000 jobs in July, beating projections. The unemployment rate fell half-a-point to 5.4 percent. President Biden said today that continued growth depends heavily on more people getting vaccinated.
We will return to this after the news summary.
Battles escalated today across the country over masking up in schools to ward off COVID-19. In Florida, Republicans running the state Board of Education approved tuition vouchers for private schools, where public schools impose mask mandates and parents object.
But New Jersey's Democratic governor ordered mask-wearing for everyone in school buildings, public and private.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ):
There are issues that are and must always remain above politics, and this is one of them. Anyone telling you that we can safely reopen our schools without requiring everyone inside to wear a mask is quite simply lying to you, because we can't.
In other developments, a state judge in Arkansas temporarily blocked a ban on mask mandates, this one day after the governor, Asa Hutchinson, said he regrets the ban on mask mandates that he signed into law several months ago.
Amazon ordered all of its U.S. employees to wear masks at work. And United Airlines became the first major U.S. carrier to mandate vaccinations for its workers.
The Biden administration today extended a pandemic pause on repayments, interest, and collections for federal student loans. It will now run through January. The U.S. Education Department said it is the last time the pause will be continued.
A catastrophic fire in Northern California is still spreading tonight. It already engulfed one entire town as it burns into the record books.
Amna Nawaz has our report.
After swelling 110 square miles in a single day, California's Dixie Fire is now the largest anywhere in the country, fueled by hot weather and gusty conditions.
As of this morning, the blaze also ranked as the third biggest in state history, stretching across 676 square miles in Northern California. Greenville, a small, historic gold rush town, is already gone, consumed by flames Wednesday night.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa represents the district.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA):
We lost Greenville tonight. And there's just not words for how us in government haven't been able to get the job done.
Century-old wooden buildings overnight reduced to smoldering debris. Sheriff Todd Johns is a lifelong resident.
My heart is crushed by what has occurred there. And to the folks that have lost residences and businesses, I have met some of them already. Their life is now forever changed, and all I can tell you is, I'm sorry.
Johns estimates more than 100 homes were destroyed, though there's no official accounting yet.
The fire's impact also reaches far beyond the state. In Reno, Nevada, this morning, what appear to be snowflakes, actually ash, blowing in from more than 100 miles away. The Dixie Fire is now into its fourth week. The cause is under investigation. But Pacific Gas & Electric says it suspects a fallen tree on one of its power lines.
The fire is so far just 35 percent contained. Better weather conditions this weekend could help firefighters battling to save what they can, while others reflect on what was lost.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.
More than 50 wildfires are also burning across Greece. Thousands of people were forced to flee one fire north of Athens today. At least one person was killed.
Firefighters and volunteers fought to contain the flames, despite high winds and searing heat. Helicopters flew through smoke, dumping water to douse the fire. Meanwhile, fires on the island of Evia forced evacuations by sea.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have apparently captured their first provincial capital in a fast-moving offensive. Insurgents today entered Zaranj, which is a city of 50,000 people in Nimruz province. Fierce fighting also continued in the capital of Helmand Province, as a U.N. special envoy demanded that the Taliban end its assaults.
Deborah Lyons, United Nations Special Envoy For Afghanistan:
We have seen a 50 percent — 5-0 percent — increase in civilian casualties, with the certainty of many more as the cities are attacked.
A party that was genuinely committed to a negotiated settlement would not risk so many civilian casualties.
The U.S. envoy spoke from Kabul, where the Taliban assassinated the Afghan government's media chief.
Back in this country, an aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has filed a criminal complaint, alleging that he groped her. It is believed to be the first such report to a law enforcement agency. A state investigation found the aide is one of 11 women whom Cuomo sexually harassed. He denies all the allegations.
A New Jersey gym owner is now the first person to plead guilty to assaulting a police officer during the January mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. Scott Kevin Fairlamb's plea deal today could set a benchmark for other cases to follow. He will be sentenced next month.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 144 points to close at 35208, another record high. The Nasdaq fell 59 points. But the S&P 500 added seven, also reaching a new high.
And at the Summer Olympics, a U.S. track veteran made history in Tokyo; 35-year-old Allyson Felix took bronze in the 400-meter dash. She now has 10 Olympic medals overall, the most ever for a female Olympian.
And in beach volleyball, Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman won gold, beating Australia today.