WASHINGTON — The nation is closing in on its worst wildfire season in recorded history, with nearly 9.8 million acres already burned -- the equivalent of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and part of New Hampshire going up in flames.
Two large fires and more than 160 smaller ones remain active, and more fires are expected to be reported before the month ends. Together, they’re likely to push the 2015 total past the record 9.87 million acres burned in 2006.
The extent of scorched earth reflects a warming trend that has made the United States considerably drier, scientists and fire expects say, with less mountain snowpack particularly in Alaska and the southwest.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in September that $200 million a week was spent to battle wildfires nationwide. All told, some 30,000 people in at least a dozen states have been deployed for that effort - the largest force since 2000.
And to date, 13 firefighters have lost their lives across the country. More than 4,600 structures have been destroyed.
Obama to target concerns
WASHINGTON — Fears of terrorism are hanging over America’s holiday season, so President Barack Obama is planning a series of events this week aimed at trying to allay concerns about his strategy for stopping the Islamic State group abroad and its sympathizers at home.
Mr. Obama’s visits to the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center are part of a push to further explain his terrorism-fighting strategy, White House officials said, after a prime-time Oval Office address Dec. 6 that critics said failed to do much to reassure the public.
Another goal is to draw a contrast with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his inflammatory remarks about Muslims. The Obama administration has warned Mr. Trump’s rhetoric emboldens extremists looking to pull the U.S. into a war with Islam.
U.S. officials have insisted there are no specific, credible threats to the United States.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad, a graying little man who relies on Midwestern stick-to-itiveness rather than personal flair, is about to enter the political record books as the longest serving governor in American history, dating all the way back to colonial times.
On Dec. 14th, the six-term Republican will mark his 7,642nd day of service as governor. That’s just shy of 21 years in the office. Mr. Branstad will move beyond former New York Gov. George Clinton, whose service includes some pre-Constitution time, and is far out in front of any recent or current governor.
Most other long-serving governors topped out at four four-year terms, including former South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow, former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, former Ohio Gov. Jim Rhoads and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. All served more than one stint in the office.
Helping Mr. Branstad, 69, go longer is that Iowa is a rare state without a term limits law. Also, he has never sought higher office. He took a break in the private sector after serving four terms from 1983 to 1999, but came back to oust an incumbent Democratic governor in 2010.
1 killed at LA hotel
LOS ANGELES — One person was killed and three others injured in a shooting early Sunday at a popular hotel in downtown Los Angeles, police said.
The shooting occurred at the Standard Hotel, a spokeswoman for the LAPD said. The unidentified victim died at a hospital. The Los Angeles Fire Department transported at least two other people to a hospital, according to a fire department spokesman.
No arrests have been made.
Hate crimes inquiry
The police in California and the FBI on Sunday opened a hate crimes investigation after two mosques were vandalized overnight, the latest in a series of episodes of vandalism and arson at Muslim and Sikh houses of worship in Southern California since the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
Worshipers arriving on Sunday morning at the Islamic Center of Hawthorne found the words “Jesus is the way” spray-painted on its building, said Sgt. Christopher Port, a spokesman for the Hawthorne Police Department.
The word “Jesus” was also spray-painted in white on an outer wall of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baitus-Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, he said, and an object resembling a hand grenade was found in its driveway. The object was found to be “a plastic replica,” said Sara Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Two days before an arrest in a suspected arson at the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, the police in Buena Park, Calif., opened a hate crimes investigation after a Sikh temple was vandalized.
Fiery crash in Oregon
PORTLAND, Ore. — Firefighters battled a smoky fire Sunday that spread to eight railroad tanker cars and destroyed a fuel truck that crashed into the train Sunday morning.
Portland police said the driver of the semitrailer truck was killed in the crash, which is under investigation. No firefighter injuries were reported.
Nearby businesses were evacuated, the highway was closed and a half-marathon race in the area was canceled as crews responded to the blaze.