Firefighters gaining some control of massive blaze

Firefighters began Wednesday to gain control of a wind-stoked blaze that had raged unchecked across parched Central Texas for days, leaving hundreds of charred properties in its wake and causing thousands of people to flee.

As the crisis unfolded, Gov. Rick Perry headed to California for a GOP presidential debate while authorities commanded operations fighting the disaster.

The more than 33,000-acre blaze has blackened about 45 square miles in and around Bastrop, about 25 miles east of Austin, leaving two people dead and consuming nearly 800 homes, the Texas Forest Service said Wednesday.

But crews managed to bring the fire to about 30 percent containment Wednesday and officials anticipated more progress throughout the day, said Mike Fisher, the Bastrop County Emergency Operations Agency’s incident commander.

“We’re making pretty good progress getting around the perimeter,” Fisher said. “We’re hoping to say by the end of the shift today, that we can say we’re hopeful the fire’s not going to get any larger.”


Man gets 15 to 30 years in rape of church member, 15

A New Hampshire man convicted of raping and impregnating a 15-year-old church member, who was made to apologize to her Baptist congregation, was sentenced Tuesday to 15 to 30 years in prison.

Ernest Willis of Gilford, 52, robbed the girl of her childhood, the judge said in sentencing Willis.

A jury in May convicted Willis of raping the girl twice in 1997 – once while he was giving her driving lessons and weeks later at her Concord home. She babysat his children and, a prosecutor said Tuesday, considered him a father figure.

“Her trust and admiration were repaid with violence and rape,” the prosecutor told the judge.

Before his trial in May, Willis pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape. He maintained they had consensual sex on one occasion only, but acknowledged the girl was under the legal age of consent.

Willis, conveying no emotion in a lengthy statement to the court, said he was “sorry and ashamed for this thoughtless act of sexual misconduct.”


Space scientist admits he tried to sell secrets to Israel

An accomplished former government space scientist admitted in court Wednesday to trying to sell classified information to Israel, but federal agents say they believe they stopped him from actually passing any secrets. Not that they can know for sure.

The investigators say the undercover sting operation that caught Stewart David Nozette might never have been launched if he hadn’t been cheating on his taxes. But it has ended with Nozette facing 13 years in prison.

Nozette pleaded guilty to one count of attempted espionage, admitting he tried to provide Israel with top secret information about satellites, early warning systems, ways of retaliating against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information and major elements of defense strategy.

Prosecutors and Nozette’s lawyers agreed to the 13-year sentence, with credit for two years Nozette has already spent behind bars since his arrest. 

Solar panel project gets White House loan guarantee

The Obama administration is providing a loan guarantee for a massive solar energy project that could double the number of glimmering solar panels on residential rooftops in the U.S.

The Energy Department said Wednesday it provided a partial guarantee for a $344 million loan to San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity for the SolarStrong Project, which seeks to put solar panels on 160,000 homes on 124 military bases in 33 states.

“This is the largest domestic residential rooftop solar project in history,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release. “This groundbreaking project is expected to create hundreds of jobs for Americans and provide clean, renewable power to our military families.”

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said the company already has started at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

– From news service reports