Fire heads for power lines, raising threat of blackouts

A raging forest fire in eastern Arizona that has forced thousands from their homes headed Wednesday for a pair of transmission lines that supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of people as far east as Texas.

The 607-square-mile fire is expected to reach the power lines as early as Friday. If the lines are damaged, parts of New Mexico and Texas could face rolling blackouts.

For now, firefighters who have helped keep the flames away from several towns in eastern Arizona are concerned that high winds could carry embers that can cause new, smaller spot fires.

“We have a lot of people out there who are going to be doing nothing but looking for spots and putting those things out if they see them,” said fire information officer Jim Whittington.

The fire has blackened about 389,000 acres and destroyed 11 buildings, primarily in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. No serious injuries have been reported.


Gov. Brown collects nearly 30,000 state-issued phones

California Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday he has taken back 29,398 state-issued cellphones from employees, displaying a pile of old BlackBerrys and flip phones for the media while promising to find more.

“We’ve eliminated tens of thousands of cellphones and saved taxpayers millions, but we’re not done,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Brown made headlines around the state when, within days of taking office, he ordered the return of half the state’s cellphones by June 1. The executive order, the first of Brown’s third term, was one of several popular, heavily symbolic measures he has used during the budget crisis to demonstrate his frugality.

The haul announced Wednesday amounted to a 44 percent reduction. The Democratic governor said in a release that he will reach his 50 percent goal by next month.

Brown turned in his own state-issued cellphone when he issued the executive order in January. His office estimated the state will save at least $13 million if 33,559 cellphones, or 50 percent, are retrieved.


Lawsuit alleges students were shackled to railings

Civil rights advocates have filed suit against Jackson’s public school district, claiming officials at one alternative school respond to minor violations by shackling children to railings and poles for hours at a time.

Critics of the Capital City Alternative School say the allegedly excessive punishment makes students more likely to drop out of school — and commit crimes later in life.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit on Wednesday in U.S. District Court. The suit names Jackson Public Schools and Capital City Alternative School officials and seeks class-action status on behalf of all of the school’s students.

The complaint says the punishments violate the Constitution and school board policy.

School officials said the district takes the allegations seriously and will respond through legal channels.