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In brief: Two men charged in Texas church fire

TYLER, Texas – Two men who once attended church together were charged Sunday with intentionally burning down a church in east Texas and are suspected in a string of similar blazes, authorities said.

Jason Robert Bourque, 19, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, face one count of felony arson for a church fire in rural Smith County near Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas, said Tom Crowley, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Bond is set at $10 million apiece.

Crowley said Bourque and McAllister used to attend First Baptist Church in McAllister’s hometown of Ben Wheeler.

The arrests were triggered by a telephone tip, although the suspects had been on the radar for several weeks, Crowley said.

One of the men was linked to the fire with DNA evidence, Crowley said. He said he had no other details on the DNA.

The outbreak started with a blaze at a church in Athens, and Crowley said another New Year’s Day fire not far away has been added to the list of 10 suspected arsons in east Texas. A fire in the central Texas town of Temple, brings to 11 the statewide total of fires authorities believe are attributable to arson.

Fish, Wildlife Service boss dies after skiing

WASHINGTON – The director of the Fish and Wildlife Service died Saturday after suffering chest pains while skiing in Colorado. Sam Hamilton was 54.

The 30-year veteran of the agency, who assumed its top post in September, died in the afternoon after being transported off the Keystone Ski Area, said Joanne Richardson, Summit County coroner. She said his death was consistent with an underlying heart problem.

Hamilton helped lead restoration work in the Everglades, the largest ecosystem restoration project in the country. He oversaw the extensive recovery and restoration efforts required following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which devastated coastal wetlands, wildlife refuges and other wildlife habitat along the Gulf of Mexico.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called Hamilton a friend, visionary and leader who left an indelible mark. “His forward-thinking approach to conservation … will continue to shape our nation’s stewardship for years to come,” Salazar said. “My heart goes out to Sam’s family, friends, and colleagues as we remember a remarkable leader and a compassionate, wise, and eternally optimistic man.”

Prior to his appointment as director, Hamilton served as regional director of the agency’s southeast region in Atlanta. He was in charge of an agency with 8,700 workers responsible for protecting more than 150 million acres and hundreds of threatened and endangered species. The service operates about 550 national wildlife refuges.


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Northern California wildfires prompt thousands to flee homes

UPDATED: 12:48 p.m.

updated  Hundreds of Northern California homes and businesses were threatened Monday after wind-driven wildfires broke out over the weekend, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes throughout rural regions north of San Francisco.