Investigators to examine why 19 men died in Ariz. wildfire
PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Fire crews battling a wildfire should identify escape routes and safe zones. They should pay close attention to the weather forecast. And they should post lookouts.
Those are standards the government follows to protect firefighters, which were toughened after a wildfire tragedy in Colorado nearly two decades ago. On Tuesday, investigators from around the U.S. were arriving in Arizona to examine whether 19 highly trained firefighters who perished over the weekend heeded those rules or ignored them and paid with their lives.
In the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters since 9/11, violent wind gusts Sunday turned what was believed to be a relatively manageable lightning-ignited forest fire in the town of Yarnell into a death trap that left no escape for the team of Hotshots willing to go to the hottest part of the blaze.
The tragedy raised questions of whether the crew should have been pulled out much earlier and whether all the usual precautions would have made any difference at all in the face of triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds and tinderbox conditions that caused the fire to explode.
Obamacare requirement delayed
WASHINGTON — In a major concession to business groups, the Obama administration Tuesday unexpectedly announced a one-year delay, until after the 2014 elections, in a central requirement of the new health care law that many companies provide coverage for their workers or face fines.
The move sacrificed timely implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature legislation but may help the administration politically by blunting an election-year line of attack Republicans were planning to use. The employer requirements are among the most complex parts of the health care law, which is designed to expand coverage for uninsured Americans.
“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively,” Treasury Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur said in a blog post. “We have listened to your feedback and we are taking action.”
Business groups were jubilant. “A pleasant surprise,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There was no inkling in advance of the administration’s action, he said.
Flight of Bolivia’s president rerouted
LA PAZ, Bolivia — The plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia was rerouted to Austria on Tuesday after France and Portugal refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board, the country’s foreign minister said.
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca denied that Snowden was on the plane, which landed in Vienna, and said France and Portugal would have to explain why they canceled authorization for the plane.
“We don’t know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,” Choquehuanca said from La Paz. Morales had earlier met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit of major gas exporters in the Kremlin.
In an interview with Russia Today television, Morales said that his South American country would be willing to consider granting asylum to Snowden.
Leaks by Snowden, a former NSA systems analyst, have revealed the NSA’s sweeping data collection of U.S. phone records and some Internet traffic, though U.S. intelligence officials have said the programs are aimed at targeting foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.
By wire sources