Seventeen serious wildfires burned throughout California this week, with new fires erupting as more than 12,300 firefighters struggled to contain the damage. The Carr Fire, which originated near the city of Redding, has burned nearly 113,000 acres, killed six people, destroyed almost 1,000 homes, and forced 40,000 Northern Californians to flee, making it the sixth-most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. The blazes have been exacerbated by drought conditions along with an extreme heat wave; in some places, flames were so intense that they created tornado-like winds. Four men have died fighting the fires. “It’s a horrendous battle,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. In just one week, firefighters responded to over 1,000 wildfires. “When it’s time to leave, leave,” McLean said. “Do not stay.”
War dead returned
North Korea this week returned the suspected remains of 55 American troops killed in the Korean War. Trump praised North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for the transfer, though 5,300 service members who were lost in the North are still unaccounted for, and North Korea was believed to have the remains of 200 of them. Those returned this week included just one dog tag, but initial forensic tests suggest that the remains returned to Hawaii are, indeed, likely those of Americans. They arrived at a U.S. Air Force base near Seoul and were transported to a base near Honolulu, where they received an “honorable carry ceremony.” They will undergo analysis to identify the individual soldiers, which could take months if not years. Between 1996 and 2005, North Korea returned 229 sets of remains to the U.S.
Penn State University fraternity member Ryan Burke was sentenced to three months of house arrest this week for his role in the grizzly hazing death of Tim Piazza. Burke, 21, was the first of more than two dozen defendants charged in connection with the death of Piazza, a 19-year-old who was pledging to the Beta Theta Pi house last year when he was forced to drink in astonishing excess; an hour after his last drink, his blood alcohol level was triple the legal driving limit. Fraternity members left Piazza unconscious for hours after he hit his head in a fall. He died the next day of “multiple traumatic injuries.” Burke, who was in charge of recruiting for the now-shut fraternity, gave Piazza more vodka just 10 minutes after he’d finished a drinking obstacle course. Prosecutors had asked that Burke be sentenced to 90 days in jail, with Piazza’s mother calling the ritual “abuse, cruelty, and torture.”
President Trump threatened this week to force a shutdown of the federal government if Congress doesn’t agree to ramp up border spending, including funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress must pass a spending bill by Sept. 30, and Republicans have sought to delay a debate over immigration until after the midterm elections. “I don’t care what the political ramifications are,” Trump said in a flurry of tweets. “A Government Shutdown is a very small price to pay for a safe and Prosperous America!” Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had told reporters he expected bipartisan support for a spending solution, and Democrats echoed his optimism. Yet Trump appears dead set on fulfilling one of his signature campaign promises, while Republican leaders try to avert a shutdown fight until after the midterms. “It’s mind-boggling to me,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said.
The Transportation Security Administration admitted this week to conducting a secret domestic surveillance program, after The Boston Globe reported that U.S. marshals have been shadowing Americans at airports and on planes since March. Under the “Quiet Skies” program, air marshals compile reports on about 35 travelers per day, with details as innocuous as whether they slept on a plane or went to the restroom unusually often. Marshals complained that it was a “time-consuming and costly” assignment that took them away from “more vital” work. The program specifically targets citizens who aren’t suspected of a crime or on the terrorist watch list. A TSA spokesperson said the program “doesn’t take into account race and religion,” but would not say whether it had helped intercept any threats. Facing backlash from lawmakers, TSA officials said they would brief Congress on Quiet Skies this week.
Manafort trial begins
The first trial began this week for President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who prosecutors say failed to pay taxes on much of the $60 million he made while working for the party of Ukraine’s former autocrat, Viktor Yanukovych. The tax and bank fraud charges stem from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, although the alleged crimes occurred before Manafort worked for Trump. The trial, which is likely to last three weeks, is not expected to mention Trump or Russia. “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him,” the prosecutor told jurors, outlining Manafort’s decadent lifestyle that included “a custom, $15,000 jacket made from ostrich.” Manafort’s attorney blamed his client’s bookkeeping errors on his former deputy, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to two charges and is cooperating with the government. Manafort will also stand trial next month in Washington, D.C., for failing to register as a foreign agent.