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story.lead_photo.caption Jerry and Joyce McLean search for keepsakes among the ashes of their home Wednesday in Paradise, Calif.

Fire evacuees return to California town

PARADISE, Calif. -- Some residents of a Northern California town devastated by a wildfire nearly a month ago were finally allowed to return home Wednesday to sift the charred remains in search of family heirlooms, photos and other possessions that may have survived.

A long line of cars waited in a cold drizzle at a checkpoint on their way to neighborhoods on the east side of Paradise, where evacuation orders have been lifted.

Beyond the checkpoint, crews in yellow slickers were still clearing debris from burned homes and removing trees from streets littered with melted plastic trash cans and hollowed vehicles sitting on tireless rims.

Access to the neighborhoods was limited to residents on Wednesday, but they will be open today to anyone.

More than 50,000 people in Paradise and two neighboring communities were forced to flee the wind-driven fire that started Nov. 8, killing at least 85 people, destroying about 14,000 homes and blackening 240 square miles.

Authorities said 10 people were still unaccounted for in what was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century.

Texas files death-penalty case for agent

LAREDO, Texas -- A U.S. Border Patrol agent who confessed to killing four women and leaving their bodies on rural Texas roadsides has been charged with capital murder, and a prosecutor said Wednesday that he intends to seek the death penalty.

Juan David Ortiz told investigators that he killed the women -- whom police have identified as prostitutes -- because he wanted "to clean up the streets of Laredo," and that he considered that local agencies weren't doing an inadequate job, Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said at a news conference.

Ortiz, 35, has been held in Webb County jail in lieu of a $2.5 million bond since his Sept. 15 arrest.

Ortiz, a Border Patrol supervisor and Navy veteran, seemed to be living a typical suburban life with his wife and two children when the killings occurred. After the first slaying, he continued going to work as usual.

Authorities have said Ortiz targeted his victims for their vulnerability. Melissa Ramirez, 29, was slain on Sept. 3, and 42-year-old Claudine Luera was killed on Sept. 13.

On Sept. 14, he picked up another woman, Erika Pena, who told investigators that Ortiz acted oddly when she brought up Ramirez's slaying and that he later pointed a gun at her in a gas station. Pena said Ortiz grabbed her shirt as she got out and ran, finding a state trooper who was refueling his vehicle.

Ortiz fled and later told investigators that he then picked up and killed his last two victims -- Alicia Cantu, 35, and Janelle Ortiz, 28, a transgender woman whose birth name was Humberto Ortiz.

N.Y., N.J. seek to join suit on EPA, smog

New York and New Jersey have asked a federal judge to let them join a lawsuit that seeks to force President Donald Trump's administration to cut pollution blowing into the region from upwind states that they say is largely responsible for unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, or smog.

The states, which strictly control air quality, are seeking to intervene in a suit filed earlier by Maryland and Delaware accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of wrongfully refusing to rein in pollution from upwind states, according to a federal appeals court filing in the District of Columbia.

About 9.4 million people in New York, or about half the state's population, are breathing smog-filled, the state said, citing the American Lung Association's 2018 "State of the Air" report. The EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to help New York and other states address pollution blowing in from upwind states, it said.

EPA spokesman Tayler Covington didn't immediately return a call seeking comment on the two states' effort to intervene in the suit.

Attorney says feud started mall gunfire

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Gunshots that wounded two people and sparked the fatal Thanksgiving day police shooting of a black man in a shopping mall were set off by an "ongoing thing" between people who knew each other, the lawyer for a suspect said Wednesday.

Charles Salvagio, an attorney representing Erron Brown, who is charged with attempted murder in the gunfire, said at a news conference that his client did not start the violence, but declined to elaborate. Brown, 20, is charged in a shooting that wounded Brian Xavier Wilson, 18, of Birmingham. A 12-year-old girl also was shot in the back, but no one has been charged with wounding her.

Within seconds of the first shot, an officer fatally wounded Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr. after seeing him at the scene with a weapon. Police at first blamed Bradford for the shooting but then backtracked and arrested Brown near Atlanta last week.

Brown's defense talked about the holiday melee on the same day that a judge ruled prosecutors must turn over evidence, possibly including police video of the fatal shooting. Salvagio predicted the video will show "very clearly" that Brown wasn't the instigator.

Attorney Charles Salvagio (left) says Wednesday at a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., that his client did not start the violence Thanksgiving Day at a mall in the city.

A Section on 12/06/2018

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