On Nov. 9, firefighters brought under control the last of a chain of devastating wildfires that raged through southern California beginning on Oct. 20. At least half a million residents fled their homes in the face of 21 separate fires that spread across seven counties, killing 14 people. In hardest-hit San Diego County, flames chewed through more than 375,000 acres and destroyed 1,200 homes, bringing total damages in the county to at least $1 billion.
With California firefighting resources already stressed, another massive fire broke out on Nov. 24, torching 5,000 acres and 53 homes in the seaside enclave of Malibu.
In the San Diego fires, the county's "reverse 911" system likely saved thousands of lives, warning residents by telephone to evacuate. But a state legislative review panel on Dec. 12 found that the system sometimes broke down. The panel also found that aging backcountry brush should have been cleared sooner, and that a larger firefighting force might have been able to save more homes. Victims and public officials testifying before the panel noted that California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection policy prevented some aircraft from getting into the fight sooner: State fire spotters, required by the department to direct military firefighting aircraft where to drop water and retardant, did not become available until several hours into the firestorm.
On Dec. 13, the Los Angeles County sheriff's office announced arson as the cause of the Malibu fire. Officials say five men, ranging in age from 18 to 27, were drinking at a local party spot-a cave in a public park-when they started the fire. Fire investigators traced the blaze to the cave, where they recovered receipts from a nearby store. Using surveillance camera footage, authorities then tracked the men down. As of Dec. 14, three were in custody. All five are charged with three felonies each and face a maximum of 12 years in prison.
Also in November ...
Major League Baseball (MLB) outfielder Barry Bonds was indicted on Nov. 15 for lying under oath about his alleged use of anabolic steroids. The indictment casts a cloud over several Bonds records, including all-time career home runs (762); single-season home runs (73); and a league-high tally of Most Valuable Player awards (7). Were those records chemically enabled? About a month later, a 409-page MLB-sanctioned report cast another cloud over the entire sport.
Those who live by the blog die by the blog. In November, Sarah Wells, a Virginia mother outraged over the suicide of a Missouri teen, used her blog to publish the name of the woman allegedly responsible for the girl's death. In October 2006, despondent over a MySpace hoax in which a fake love interest told Megan Meier, 13, that the world would be better off without her, Megan hung herself in her bedroom closet. Authorities traced the web exchanges to one of Megan's female friends-and to Lori Drew, the friend's mother.
Until November, Drew's name had not been made public. But Wells-outraged over both the idea that a grown woman would torment a child and Drew's subsequent interactions with Megan's family-made herself an instrument in the law of sowing and reaping. After some sleuthing, Wells learned Drew's name and published it on her blog. "It was like, OK, it's coming back to you," Wells told Wired.com. Since then, Drew's neighbors have shunned her. Also, in an ironic twist, a new blog-Megan Had It Coming-has appeared on the internet. The blogger? A person impersonating Lori Drew.
- Turkish believers have reported an increase in attacks and threats since two Turkish converts to Christianity and a German Christian were tortured and killed in Malatya on April 18. The confessed murderers-five men ages 19 and 20-presented themselves as Muslim "seekers" to the three Christian men. In a rare incident of due process in the Muslim world, the case went to trial in November, but the court adjourned the trial until Jan. 14 after lawyers for the defendants said they didn't have enough time to prepare.
- In China, the growing Christian population endured arrests, torture, and an apparent shortage of Bibles as China exerted further control over its population on the eve of the Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing. According to a leaked internal document obtained by the Texas-based China Aid Association, the Chinese Communist party launched a six-month secret campaign to suppress Christian house churches. The crackdown culminated in the arrests of 40 church leaders from China Gospel Fellowship on Nov. 18.
- In Pakistan, the growth of radical Islam cost Christians their lives, including an American couple. Pastor Arif Khan and his wife Kathleen led a church in Islamabad for 11 years before they were shot dead in their home on Aug. 29. In mid-December a search continued for the general secretary of the Churches of Pakistan, Reginald Humayun, who reportedly was kidnapped by gunmen Dec. 8. He and his wife have for over 20 years worked in mission hospitals in North-West Frontier Province, where Islamic militants linked to the Taliban have clashed with government troops, resulting in the deaths of at least three Christians.