U.S. briefly shutters border crossing to brace for migrants

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Special Response Team (SRT) officers stand guard at the San Ysidro Port of Entry after the land border crossing was temporarily closed to traffic from Tijuana, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – U.S. officials briefly closed the busiest border crossing from Mexico early on Monday to add concrete barricades and razor wire amid concerns that some of the thousands of Central American migrants at the border could try to rush the crossing.

Northbound lanes at the San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana to San Diego, California, were closed “to position additional port hardening materials,” a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said.

A Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters in a conference call later that U.S. officials had heard reports some migrants were intending to run through border crossings into California.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections earlier this month, President Donald Trump denounced the approach of a caravan of migrants as an “invasion” that threatened American national security. He sent thousands of U.S. troops to the border.

By dawn on Monday, 15 of 26 vehicle lanes had reopened at the San Ysidro crossing, according to the DHS official.

It was a rare closing of the station, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world, with tens of thousands Mexicans heading every day into the United States to work or study.

“Today was a lost day of work. I already called my boss to tell her that everything was closed and I did not know what time I would be able to get in,” said Maria Gomez, a Mexican woman who crosses the border every day for work. “I cannot believe this is happening.”

Trump had remained mostly silent about the caravan since the Nov. 6 vote, but on Monday he posted a photo on Twitter showing a fence that runs from the beach in Tijuana into the ocean now covered with razor wire.

About 6,000 Central Americans have reached the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, according to local officials. More bands of migrants are making their way toward Tijuana, with around 10,000 expected.

Hundreds of local residents on Sunday massed at a monument in a wealthy neighborhood of Tijuana to protest the arrival of the migrants, with some carrying signs that said “Mexico first” and “No more migrants.”

Last month, thousands of Central American migrants began a long journey from Honduras through Mexico toward the United States to seek asylum.

Other bands of mostly Salvadorans followed, with a small group setting off on Sunday from San Salvador.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

California wildfire crews gain edge as last evacuation orders lifted

Firefighters keep watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills and canyons outside Montecito, California, U.S., December 16, 2017.

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling to subdue the remnants of a sprawling Southern California wildfire gained more ground on Thursday after a resurgence of winds proved weaker than expected, allowing officials to lift all remaining evacuation orders and warnings.

The so-called Thomas fire, California’s second-largest on record, has charred 272,600 acres (110,317 hectares) of coastal mountains, foothills and canyons across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties northwest of Los Angeles, fire officials said.

The fire’s spread was largely halted this week as crews extended safety buffer lines around most of its perimeter, hacking away thick chaparral and brush before it could ignite and torching some vegetation in controlled-burning operations.

Containment of the fire grew to 65 percent on Thursday, up from 60 percent a day earlier.

Much of the progress was made during three days in which diminished winds, cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels allowed firefighters to go on the attack against a blaze that had kept them on the defensive for the better part of two weeks.

A new bout of strong winds had been forecast to accelerate to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) on Thursday morning, stoking extreme fire conditions again, but turned out to be less forceful than expected, authorities said.

“We didn’t really see the winds that were predicted,” said Brandon Vaccaro, a spokesman for the firefighting command. Containment lines already carved around populated areas “held really well,” he said.

More than 1,000 homes and other structures were destroyed and well over 100,000 people were forced to flee their dwellings at the height of the fire storm, but abandoned communities were gradually reopened to residents this week.

On Thursday, authorities canceled the last evacuation notices still in effect for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Only one fatality directly related to the fire has been reported, a firefighter who succumbed to burns and smoke inhalation in the line of duty last Thursday.

As the fire threat waned, the number of personnel assigned to fight the blaze has been scaled back to about 4,700, down from 8,500 at the fire’s peak.

In terms of burned landscape, the Thomas fire ranks a close second to California’s largest wildfire on record, the 2003 Cedar blaze in San Diego County, which consumed 273,246 acres (110,579 hectares) and killed 15 people.

The Thomas fire erupted Dec. 4 and was fanned by hot, dry Santa Ana winds blowing with rare hurricane force from the eastern deserts, spreading flames across miles of Southern California’s rugged, drought-parched coastal terrain.

Forecasts called for a return of mild Santa Ana gusts late on Thursday, “but it shouldn’t be anything that really challenges us,” Vaccaro said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has estimated the cost of fighting the blaze at more than $167 million. The cause has not been determined.

The Thomas fire came two months after a spate of wind-driven blazes in Northern California’s wine country incinerated several thousand homes and killed more than 40 people, ranking as the deadliest rash of wildfires, and one of the most destructive, in state history.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)

California wildfire rages toward scenic coastal communities

Firefighters knock down flames as they advance on homes atop Shepherd Mesa Road in Carpinteria, California, U.S. December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire


By Phoenix Tso

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Reuters) – A massive California wildfire that has already destroyed nearly 800 structures scorched another 56,000 acres on Sunday, making it the fifth largest such blaze in recorded state history, as it ran toward picturesque coastal cities.But fire officials said as darkness fell that with the hot, dry Santa Ana winds not as fierce as expected, crews had been successful in building some fire lines between the flames and the towns of Montecito and Carpinteria.

“This is a menacing fire, certainly, but we have a lot of people working very diligently to bring it under control,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told an evening press conference.

Still, some 5,000 residents remained under evacuation orders in the two communities, near Santa Barbara and about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Los Angeles. Some 15,000 homes were considered threatened.

The Thomas Fire, the worst of six major blazes in Southern California in the last week and already the fifth largest in the state since 1932, has blackened 230,000 acres (570,000 hectares), more than the area of New York City. It has destroyed 790 houses, outbuildings and other structures and left 90,000 homes and businesses without power.

The combination of Santa Ana winds and rugged terrain in the mountains that run through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have hampered firefighting efforts, and officials said the Thomas Fire was only 10 percent contained on Sunday evening, down from 15 percent earlier in the day.

But wind gusts recorded at 35-40 miles per hour were less than those predicted by forecasters, giving crews a chance to slow the flames’ progress down slopes above the endangered communities.

The fires burning across Southern California have forced the evacuation of more 200,000 people and destroyed some 1,000 structures.

Among them are residents of Montecito, one of the state’s wealthiest enclave and home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey.

Molly-Ann Leikin, an Emmy-winning songwriter who was ordered to evacuate her Montecito home at 9 a.m. on Sunday, said she fled with only her cell phone, medication, eyeglasses and a few apples.

Leikin, 74, said she doesn’t know the condition of her home and belongings but “none of that means anything when it is your safety.”


The fires that began last Monday night collectively amounted to one of the worst conflagrations across Southern California in the last decade. They have, however, been far less deadly than the blazes in Northern California’s wine country in October that killed over 40.

In the last week, only one death has been reported, a 70-year-old woman who died Wednesday in a car accident as she attempted to flee the flames in Ventura County. Scores of horses have died, including at least 46 at a thoroughbred training facility in San Diego county.

Residents and firefighters alike have been alarmed by the speed with which the fires spread, reaching into the heart of cities like Ventura.

At the Ventura County Fairgrounds, evacuees slept in makeshift beds while rescued horses were sheltered in stables.

Peggy Scissons, 78, arrived at the shelter with her dog last Wednesday, after residents of her mobile home park were forced to leave. She has not yet found out whether her home is standing.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen next or whether I’ll be able to go home,” she said. “It would be one thing if I were 40 or 50, but I’m 78. What the heck do I do?”

James Brown, 57, who retired from Washington State’s forestry service and has lived in Ventura for a year, was forced to leave his house along with his wife last week because both have breathing problems.

“We knew a fire was coming, but we didn’t know it would be this bad,” said Brown, who is in a wheelchair.

Some of the other fires, in San Diego and Los Angeles counties, have been largely controlled by the thousands of firefighters on the ground this week.

Both the Creek and Rye fires in Los Angeles County were 90 percent contained by Sunday morning, officials said, while the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles’ posh Bel Air neighborhood was 75 percent contained.

North of San Diego, the 4,100-acre (1,660 hectare) Lilac Fire was 75 percent contained by Sunday and most evacuation orders had been lifted.

(Reporting by Phoenix Tso; Additional reporting by Mike Blake in San Diego and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Joseph Ax and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Mary Milliken)

Weary firefighters brace for second week battling California wildfire

A fire crew passes a burning home during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura.

By Phoenix Tso

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Reuters) – Crews battling a massive wind-driven California wildfire that has torched nearly 800 buildings and charred 230,000 acres are bracing on Monday to protect communities menaced by flames along the state’s scenic coastline.

The Thomas Fire ignited last week and is burning in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

“Fire will continue to threaten the communities of Carpenteria, Summerland, Montecito and surrounding areas,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)said in a Sunday night update.

Santa Ana winds and the rugged mountainous terrain have hindered firefighters as they battle the blaze, which has destroyed 790 houses, outbuildings and other structures and left 90,000 homes and businesses without power.

“A lot of these guys (firefighters) have fought a lot of fires in the past few months and are fatigued,” said Fire Captain Steve Concialdi, spokesman for the Thomas Fire.

Concialdi said firefighters from 11 Western states are aiding firefighting efforts.

The fire is 10 percent contained, down from 15 percent on Saturday after it blew up on Sunday, growing by 56,000 acres in one day and making a run of 7 miles, Concialdi said.

Nearly 5,800 firefighting personnel are working on the blaze, Cal Fire said. The cost of fighting as of Sunday was nearly $34 million, the agency added. It is already the fifth-largest wildfire on record in California.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, final exams set for this week have been postponed, Chancellor Henry Yang said in a letter to the campus community. Air quality and transportation issues, along with power outages that have affected the school’s information technology department, forced the delay of exams until January.

Some of the other fires burning over the past week in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have been largely controlled by the thousands of firefighters on the ground this week.

Both the Creek and Rye fires in Los Angeles County were 90 percent contained by Sunday morning, officials said, while the Skirball Fire in the posh Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles was 75 percent contained.

North of San Diego, the 4,100-acre (1,660 hectare) Lilac Fire was 75 percent contained by Sunday and most evacuation orders had been lifted.

(Reporting by Phoenix Tso; Additional reporting by Mike Blake in San Diego, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Keith Coffman in Denver; Writing by Joseph Ax and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Graff)

San Diego police say officer fatally shot, another wounded

police sirens

(Reuters) – A San Diego police officer was fatally shot and another was wounded late on Thursday, the police department said on Friday, adding one suspect was taken into custody.

The officers, members of the department’s gang suppression unit, were shot during a traffic stop at about 11 p.m. PDT (0600 GMT) in Southcrest, a neighborhood in southeast San Diego, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The officers were taken to hospitals.

“It is with a very sad heart that we announce the death of one of our officers tonight,” the department said on Friday on its Twitter feed.

The second officer underwent surgery and is expected to survive, it said.

The police department added it was searching for other suspects.

The incident comes after eight officers were shot dead in ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge in July, putting police departments across the United States on high alert.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Editing by Tom Heneghan and W Simon)

Man charged with deadly attacks on homeless in San Diego

Hand cuffed man accused of killing homeless people

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A man with a history of mental illness was charged on Tuesday with attacking five homeless men in San Diego, killing three of his victims, in a violent crime spree this month that terrorized the city’s poorest residents.

Jon David Guerrero, 39, described by the city police chief as “disturbed” and a “predator,” appeared briefly in San Diego County Superior Court and was ordered held without bond on three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

If convicted Guerrero faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, unless prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty.

No plea was entered in the case as yet. Arraignment proceedings were postponed until Aug. 2 at the request of Guerrero’s lawyer, public defender Dan Tandon, who sought additional time to prepare.

Neither police nor prosecutors have furnished details about the nature and circumstances of the attacks, except that all five victims suffered “trauma to the upper torso,” including two slain men who were set on fire.

Guerrero was arrested on Friday. He was stopped on his bicycle 30 minutes after the latest surviving victim was found bleeding from a chest wound and screaming for help at the edge of downtown, police said.

The string of attacks, beginning on July 3, sent fear through a sprawling homeless community estimated at about 9,000 people in and around California’s second-largest city.

According to police, evidence linking Guerrero to the slayings was uncovered at his residence.

He lived in a “supportive-housing” project downtown called Alpha Square, consisting of about 200 studio apartments for former homeless men and women and other individuals with special needs.

A check of the Superior Court case index showed five mental health matters filed under his name since 2008, all of them sealed.

Dameon Ditto, a friend of Guerrero who taught him art at Alpha Square, told Reuters he had not seen the defendant since June 12.

“He had expressed to me that he was taking psychiatric medications he didn’t like,” Ditto recalled of their last encounter.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after Tuesday’s hearing, Tandon appealed to the media and public for patience.

“San Diego deserves to know the truth and the whole story,” he said, adding, “The story begins many years ago.” He did not elaborate.

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Police seeking man in killing of two homeless men in San Diego

Person of interest in three attacks

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Police in San Diego on Tuesday were seeking a man possibly connected to the slaying of two homeless men and the wounding of a third over the holiday weekend, officials said.

Police were calling the man a “person of interest” and not a suspect and they provided few details on what connects him to the attacks on the three men.

Witnesses saw the “person of interest” near where the first attack occurred on Saturday, and he was captured on surveillance video inside a local store wearing a backpack, San Diego police Captain David Nisleit said in a phone interview.

In that first attack, the body of a homeless man was discovered on fire between a highway and train tracks in the Mission Bay area of San Diego, police said.

The victim, a 53-year-old man, was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Monday before dawn, a 61-year-old man was discovered bleeding with trauma to his upper body, less than 4 miles (6 km) south of the first attack, police said.

He was rushed to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, and was still listed in critical condition on Tuesday, Nisleit said.

On Monday morning, just over an hour after the discovery of the badly wounded man, a third victim was discovered near some tennis courts in the Ocean Beach neighborhood about 3 miles (5 km) to the west of the second attack, police said.

He had trauma to his upper torso and was already dead when police arrived, said Nisleit, who declined to provide further details on the victim’s injuries. Investigators have not been able to identify the man or establish his exact age, he said.

The names of the other two men have not been released.

All three homeless men appeared to have been sleeping when they were attacked, Nisleit said. A single person is believed to have carried out the two slayings and the wounding of the third victim, he said.

“Obviously this is somebody we want to locate and get out of the community,” Nisleit said.

San Diego police have been warning homeless people about the attacks and are seeking potential tips from them, he said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Officials find no sign of reported shooting at Naval Medical Center

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A report of an active shooter and shots fired at the U.S. Naval Medical Center in San Diego triggered a heavy law enforcement response on Tuesday but was apparently unfounded, Navy officials said.

A lone witness reported hearing three shots at about 8 a.m. PST in the basement of a building at the sprawling medical center, the officials said.

Police interviewed the witness and continued to clear the building into Tuesday afternoon but there was no sign of foul play.

“We did an initial clearing of the building and found nothing that would indicate any kind of dangerous situation,” Navy Captain Curt Jones, commanding officer of the Naval facility, told a news conference.

California and the United States remain on edge after a married couple inspired by Islamist militants shot and killed 14 people last month in San Bernardino, about 100 miles north of San Diego.

The city is home to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

Seven law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Marshals, SWAT teams and an armored car from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department were involved in the response to the reported shooting.

Police with rifles and dogs searched the building where the shots were reported, as workers filed out with their hands in the air.

“As of right now, we have found absolutely nothing that indicates there were any shots fired,” Jones said.

A post on the medical center’s Facebook page had earlier advised occupants to “run, hide or fight,” the protocol advised by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in response to an active shooter.

All non-emergency response staff were asked to stay away from the compound. The shooter was reported in building #26, which is home to a “wounded warrior” program to help seriously injured and ill Navy sailors and members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The medical center, about two miles north of downtown San Diego, includes a 272-bed hospital and a staff of more than 6,500 military and civilian professionals, the center’s website said.

A local middle school and two high schools in the area were initially placed on lockdown as a precaution.

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown)

California Church Mobilizes $2 Million “Weekend of Service”

A California church mobilized members for a weekend of service that provided the community with over $2 million in billable labor hours and materials.

North Coast Church said their outreach benefitted over 100 locations in six cities in North San Diego County.

Pastor Larry Osborne told the Christian Post ahead of the event what kinds of things the church would be doing for the community.

“We’ll be making improvements at 50+ public schools, ranging from elementary to high school … We’re serving a wide cross section of organizations both secular and faith-based,” said Osborne.  “The other roughly 60 locations include everything from resource centers to homeless shelters, community centers, a hospital, city parks, veteran and senior housing, and other non-profits that serve the community.”

Osborne said the church focuses on small groups which allows them to serve multiple parts of the community at the same time.

“The Bible says that faith without works is dead. This is one way we can put our faith to work and show our community the love of Jesus with no strings attached,” said Osborne.  “We’re always trying to help our congregation understand that church is not something we simply go to. It’s what we are. There’s no better way to do that than to have a ‘Weekend of Service.’”