Tag Archives: prompt

Wind-whipped Southern California wildfires prompt mass evacuations, injure 2 firefighters

Wind-driven walls of flame spurred mass evacuations in Southern California and left two firefighters badly injured on Monday, as hundreds of thousands of residents endured a second day of power shutoffs meant to counter heightened fire risks from dry and gusty weather.

The latest threats came amid what meteorologists called the strongest onslaught of extreme winds — and lowest humidity levels — yet documented during an already epic California wildfire season ranked as the worst on record in terms of acreage burned.

Fires have scorched more than 16,500 square kilometres — equivalent to the land mass of the state of Hawaii — since the start of the year, with thousands of homes destroyed and 31 lives lost.

Red flag warnings for incendiary weather conditions remained in place across much of California due to winds gusting in excess of 129 km/h, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Illustrating the hazards posed by California’s latest bout of desert-born winds, a blaze dubbed the Silverado fire erupted early Monday and spread across 2,913 hectares of Orange County by late afternoon, county fire authority spokesperson Thanh Nguyen told Reuters.

Utility company Southern California Edison said its equipment is under investigation as a possible source of the blaze.

Firefighters work in a neighbourhood as the Silverado fire approaches Irvine, Calif., on Monday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Some 90,800 residents were ordered evacuated from homes in and around the city of Irvine as the fire raged largely unchecked through drought-parched brush in the canyons and foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles, officials said.

No property losses were immediately reported. But two firefighters among some 500 personnel battling the flames with bulldozers and hand tools were hospitalized with severe burns, authorities said.

A second Orange County blaze, the Blue Ridge fire, later broke out near Yorba Linda and has charred roughly 485 hectares, Nguyen said. Local television news footage showed at least one home gutted by flames.

An estimated 1,170 homes were under evacuation orders from that blaze, the county fire authority said on Twitter late Monday.

Precautionary outages

Southern California Edison reported shutting off electricity to 21,000 homes and businesses as a precautionary measure in the face of elevated fire risks posed by dangerous winds.

Hundreds of kilometres away, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said it had cut off power to more than 350,000 of its customers for the same reason.

Wind-damaged electrical lines have been implicated in causing dozens of devastating California wildfires in recent years, and utilities have increasingly resorted to such “public safety power shutoffs” to reduce the risk.

Wind gusts were clocked at up to 143 km/h in Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco Bay, and were steadily blowing at more than 80 km/h elsewhere through the region.

A plane drops flame retardant on the Silverado fire burning near Lake Forest, Calif., on Monday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

“It’s the strongest wind event, and the lowest humidity event, for this fire season,” National Weather Service forecaster Jim Mathews told Reuters.

By midday Monday, PG&E said it was beginning to restore services to some customers “where it is safe to do so,” with most of the shutoffs expected to be ended by Tuesday night as winds abated.

The latest outbreak of fires cap a summer of record California wildfire activity stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, drought, wind and dry lightning storms that scientists point to as a consequence of climate change.

Further east in drought-stricken Colorado, an Arctic storm sweeping the Rockies over the weekend dumped 15 to 40 centimetres of snow on the two largest wildfires in that state’s history.

“The snow has improved our chances of getting them contained, but we’re still a way off,” said Larry Helmerick, spokesperson for the Rocky Mountain Area Co-ordination Center.

The two blazes combined have so far blackened well over 100,000 hectares.

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China promises prompt action on U.S. trade pact

A Chinese government spokesperson on Thursday said Beijing was "full of confidence" it will strike a trade deal with the United States within the next 90 days, praising the recent meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping as highly successful.

In Argentina last weekend, Trump and Xi agreed to a truce that delayed a planned hike of U.S. of tariffs on $ 200 billion US of Chinese goods while they negotiate a trade deal. The hikes, which were set to come into effect on Jan. 1, would have increased existing American tariffs to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

"We are very confident in reaching an agreement (with the United States) within the next 90 days," China's Commerce Ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said in a weekly briefing, adding both sides have been communicating and co-operating "smoothly" since the leaders met in Argentina.

China's ultimate goal during the 90-day trade talks is to remove all U.S. tariffs imposed on Chinese goods, Gao said.

Huawei arrest threatens new flare-up

His comments come as the arrest of a top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei by Canadian authorities, on Washington's request, threatens to spark a flare-up in tensions between the world's two economic powerhouses once again.

The two countries have hit each other with tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars in sectors from automobiles to agriculture and energy, stymying trade and redrawing global supply chains.

Gao confirmed for the first time since the high-stakes meeting that China had agreed to implement consensus reached by both sides on agriculture, energy and cars, although he did not give details on any specific measures.

"We will start with agricultural products, energy, automobiles to immediately implement the issues that the two sides have reached consensus," Gao said, when asked about what is on the negotiation agenda.

President Donald Trump recently said on Twitter that the U.S. will either have 'a REAL DEAL with China, or no deal at all – at which point we will be charging major Tariffs against Chinese product being shipped into the United States.' (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

"Then, in the next 90 days, we will follow a clear timetable and roadmap to negotiate on issues such as intellectual property right protection, tech cooperation, market access and trade balance," he said, stressing the consultations should be based on meeting the interests of both parties.

The White House has said China had committed to start buying more American products and lifting tariff and non-tariff barriers immediately, while beginning talks on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfers and intellectual property protection.

The United States has levied additional duties of between 10 per cent and 25 per cent on $ 250 billion of Chinese goods this year as punishment for what it calls China's unfair trade practices. China has responded with its own tariffs.

Consensus reached at G20

"China and United States have reached very important consensus as both sides' interests overlap," Gao said. His comments echoed earlier remarks made by senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, who said the meeting was "friendly and candid" and would help to avoid further trade tensions.

"All of these help to safeguard China's legitimate interests, and are also in the interests of the United States, and even more are in line with the expectations of the international community," he added in a statement carried on the foreign ministry's website.

But global markets have been nervous about the prospect of a China-U.S. trade dispute spilling over to growing rivalry 
between both sides in areas such as technology, and many economists have remained cautious about being too optimistic on a temporary truce.

The daughter of Huawei's founder is facing extradition to the United States, dealing a blow to hopes of an easing of Sino-U.S. trade tensions and rocking global stock markets.

Trump also warned this week of more tariffs if the two sides could not resolve their differences.

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West weighs attack on Syria that could prompt confrontation with Russia

British ministers plan to gather Thursday to discuss whether to join the United States and France in a possible military attack on Syria that threatens to bring Western and Russian forces into direct confrontation.

Prime Minister Theresa May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for a special cabinet meeting on how to respond to what she has cast as a barbaric poison gas attack by Syrian government forces on civilians in the formerly rebel-held town of Douma, just east of the capital Damascus.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said his government has proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks. Speaking on TF1 television, Macron said, “We have proof that chemical weapons were used, at least chlorine” in recent days, by Syrian President al-Bashar Assad’s government.

He did not say whether France was planning military action.

There were also signs of a global effort to head off a dangerous conflict that could pit Russia against the West. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the United States, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.

“The situation in Syria is horrific. The use of chemical weapons is something the world has to prevent,” Brexit minister David Davis said on Thursday morning. “But also, it’s a very, very delicate circumstance, and we’ve got to make this judgment on a very careful, very deliberate, very well-thought-through basis.”

Missiles ‘will be coming’

Russia, the Syrian government’s most important ally in its seven-year-old war with rebels, said it had deployed military police in Douma on Thursday after the town was taken over by government forces.

“They are the guarantors of law and order in the town,” RIA news agency quoted Russia’s Defence Ministry as saying.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” in response to the April 7 gas attack, alleged to have killed dozens of people, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Assad.

Attack kills dozens in Douma, but government denies involvement1:11

Two teams of investigators from the global chemical weapons watchdog are due to arrive in Syria on Thursday and Friday to look into the alleged gas attack in Douma, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari told reporters. The OPCW has confirmed that fact-finders are travelling to Syria and will start work on Saturday.

Syria’s military has repositioned some air assets to avoid fallout from possible missile strikes, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Syria’s attempt to shelter aircraft, perhaps by locating them alongside Russian military hardware that Washington might be reluctant to hit, could limit damage that the United States and its allies might be able to inflict on Assad’s military.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, also said pro-Syrian government forces were emptying main airports and military airbases.

World stocks edged down as anxious investors stayed wary of risky assets.

Mattis cautious

U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, striking a cautious tone after Trump’s threat of missile strikes, said on Wednesday the United States was assessing intelligence about the suspected toxic gas attack.

Asked if he had seen enough evidence to blame the Syrian president, Mattis said: “We’re still working on this.”

Both Syria and Russia have said reports of the attack were fabricated by rebels and rescue workers in Douma, and have accused the United States of seeking to use it as a pretext to attack the government.

A medical worker gives a toddler oxygen through a respirator following an alleged poison gas attack in the opposition-held town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, on Sunday.(Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

In Moscow, the head of a Russian parliamentary defence committee, Vladimir Shamanov, said Russia was in direct contact with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation.

The Russian military said it had observed movements of U.S. navy forces in the Gulf. Any U.S. strike would probably involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defences. A U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.

Moscow’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warned on Wednesday that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.

The Syrian conflict has increasingly widened the rifts between Moscow, Washington and European powers, and inflamed the bitter rivalries that run across the Middle East.

Syria, Iran and Russia say Israel was behind an airstrike on a Syrian air base on Monday that killed seven Iranian military personnel, something Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.

Israel-Iran tensions

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday and urged him to do nothing to destabilize Syria.

Netanyahu’s office said: “The prime minister reiterated that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he had spoken to Trump on Wednesday and would speak to Putin on Thursday night about the apparent chemical attack.

May has ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria in readiness for strikes against the Syrian military that could begin as early as Thursday night, London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said on Wednesday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has summoned her cabinet back from vacation to discuss possible military action against Syria.(Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

The BBC reported that May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part in military action. She would not seek approval from Parliament, the BBC said, despite calls from the opposition Labour Party for Parliament to be given a say.

Parliament voted down British military action against Assad’s government in 2013 in an embarrassment for May’s predecessor, David Cameron. That then deterred the U.S. administration of Barack Obama from similar action.

British Minister Davis said his decision then to vote against action was based on a lack of clear evidence and no clear plan.

“Those two things, I’m assured, we will get an answer to today,” he said of Thursday’s cabinet meeting.

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Weinstein abuse allegations prompt U.S. lawmakers to try to ban non-disclosure deals

Sexual harassment and assault allegations against high-profile public figures have raised questions about the ethical implications of non-disclosure agreements and prompted some U.S. lawmakers to attempt to limit or scrap such deals.

These settlements, say some critics like California Democratic State Sen. Connie Leyva, allow perpetrators to buy their way out of trouble and escape justice, thereby jeopardizing the public and other potential victims.

“People continue behaviours that work for them,” Leyva,who will introduce legislation to ban such deals, told CBC News. “If I can harass, assault women and just write a cheque to cover that up, and I’ve done it for years and years, why would I ever change my behaviour?”

But not everyone sees a move to limit such contracts as positive.

“I am not in agreement with restricting the choices that a victim has and requiring her to litigate publicly for many years against a high-profile figure, if that’s not what she wants to do,” women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred told CBC News.

“I think victims have suffered enough.”

Bill Cosby

Lawyer Gloria Allred says banning nondisclosure agreements will only hurt women who claim they’ve been harassed or assaulted. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

​These agreements often offer a payout to an employee who claims they have been sexually harassed or assaulted by another employee or a senior executive.

Many of the agreements contain a non-disclosure or confidentiality clause, meaning that in return for financial compensation, the alleged victim will remain silent about the allegations while the accused is not required to make any admission of guilt or culpability.

Give up right to legal action

Not only do the women give up their right to take further legal action, says New Jersey employment lawyer Nancy Erika Smith, but many agreements include a non-disparagement clause, meaning the alleged victim cannot disparage their alleged harasser or the company.

“When I have to talk to my clients about whether they want to settle, I have to explain that … a part of their life, they can’t discuss any longer,” said Smith, who represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in her lawsuit against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

Indeed, many agreements contain a “liquidated damages” provision.

“If the facts are revealed, the employee automatically owes the employer some astronomical sum,” wrote Brooklyn Law School professor Minna Kotkinin the Washington Post. “This keeps many victims of harassment from making their experiences known to others who might face the same dangers.”

This means that Zelda Perkins, a former assistant for Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein who signed a non-disclosure agreement in 1998, is now vulnerable to possible legal action. Perkins recently broke her agreement and went public with allegations that her former boss tried to sexually assault a colleague 19 years ago.

It was the New York Times that revealed employees of the Weinstein Companysigned contracts that forbade them to criticize the company or its leaders in a way that could harm its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation.” But the Times also reported some women had made claims they were abused by Weinstein and received payouts in return for signing confidentiality clauses and keeping quiet.

Bill O'Reilly

Some women who reached nondisclosure settlements with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly are suing him, claiming he broke the agreements by defaming and disparaging them. (Andy Kropa/Invision/Associated Press)

It’s also been revealed Fox News reached confidentiality settlements with at least six women who made accusations against the network’s former host Bill O’Reilly. Some of those women are now suing O’Reilly, claiming he broke the agreement by defaming and disparaging them.

‘Men in every industry’

And more recently, the Times revealed that Vice Media paid at least four settlements involving allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, including its current president.

“It’s not just famous men, it’s men in every industry,” said Smith, who also represents one of the women suing O’Reilly. [These contracts] has allowed them to continue to be predators on women.”

Daniel Hemel, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, has questioned the enforceability of these agreements. Waivers such as those the Weinstein Company had employees routinely sign — which forbid employees to talk about sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct  — may violate federal labour law, Hemel wrote in a column for Vox.

However, confidentiality clauses between employees and employers seem to have the backing of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.

That’s why, when the California State Senate reconvenes in early January, Leyva said she will introduce legislation to ban these confidentially provisions for public and private employees when it comes to allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace.

“If they cannot enter into any kind of agreement, my hope is that it will just start a different way of behaving in the workplace,” she said.

Women in the World Summit Gretchen Carlson

Attorney Nancy Erika Smith, left, represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, right, who claimed she was harassed by ex-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

New York is considering similar legislation, while New Jersey, says Smith, would seek to allow the alleged victim to break these contracts, meaning the confidentiality provision would not be enforceable.

“I think they’re going to be significantly curtailed,” Smith said. “And that means that we’re really going to make great strides …to allow women to go to work  in safe and respectful environments.”

But Allred said such legislative attempts are misguided. She said women who are victims of assault but have signed a confidentiality agreement can still be subpoenaed to testify in a criminal case if the district attorney wants to charge an alleged perpetrator. 

Years of litigation feared

Instead, these proposed laws, she said, would hurt the victim of harassment and abuse. She said this would require women to go through years of litigation in a case they may not win and force them to make public allegations they may want to keep private.

“They don’t want to be sitting there in the witness stand in a court of law having to relive all of it. It’s not what they want. They want to have the choice of entering into a settlement.”

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Salmonella concerns prompt recall of fish batter mix

A nationwide recall for Shore Lunch brand fish breading/batter mix was issued Friday due to possible salmonella contamination.

The recall applies to the brand’s original recipe and Cajun-style flavours. According to a notice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, anyone who thinks they’ve become sick from eating the product should contact their doctor.

The release says the recalled products have UPC codes of 0 24739 19363 5 and 0 24739 19362 8. The CFIA is advising anyone with recalled products to either throw them out or return them to the store where they were purchased.

The recall was prompted by a recall in another country, according to the CFIA. Industry is removing the product from the marketplace and no illnesses related to consumption of the product have been reported so far.

Food contaminated with salmonella may not look or smell spoiled, according to the recall notice, but it can still make a person sick.

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