Hunter sparked massive Yosemite fire

Investigators believe a hunter sparked the monster wildfire which spread into America’s world-renowned Yosemite National Park and became California’s fourth biggest blaze ever.

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They dismissed earlier reports that the so-called Rim Fire, which is now 80 per cent contained, was caused by activity on an illegal marijuana farm near the US landmark park.

“Investigators from the US Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations and Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office have determined the Rim Fire began when a hunter allowed an illegal fire to escape,” said a statement by the US Forest Service.

“There is no indication the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands and no marijuana cultivation sites were located near the origin of the fire. No arrests have been made at this time.”

The hunter’s name is being withheld pending further investigation, the statement added.

The fire, which began on the afternoon of August 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest just outside Yosemite, now covers 95,442 hectares, according to the latest update on the Inciweb inter-agency website.

More than 4,300 firefighters are still working to contain the blaze, while aircraft have dropped more than 15.14 million litres of water and fire retardant over the last 17 days.

It is the fourth largest California wildfire since records began 1932, with an area five times that of Washington DC.

The largest in California history remains the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which destroyed 2,820 buildings and left 14 people dead after ripping through 110,000 hectares of land.

Authorities in California have in recent years faced increasing problems with marijuana farms hidden deep in the region’s rugged wilderness.

A 2009 fire that burned 36,420 hectares in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara was triggered by a campfire at a marijuana farm.

7 dead as heavy rains pummel Philippines

Flood-battered residents of Manila are fleeing homes or sitting on rooftops with relentless monsoon rains, which have killed seven people, submerging more than half the Philippine capital.

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Streets turned into rivers with water above two-metres in some parts of the megacity of 12 million people on Tuesday.

More than 130,000 of them have been displaced and countless others have been forced to wait out the storm in or on their homes.

“We have had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. A few people went to houses on higher ground, but most of us had nowhere to go,” Dinah Claire Velasco, 44, a resident of a blue-collar coastal district on the outskirts of Manila told AFP.

“My children and other people were able to seek refuge on the second floor of my house but a lot of others had to just sit on their roofs.

“We’re waiting for rescue, for help, even just food.”

At least 60 per cent of Manila was flooded on Tuesday morning, with some places enduring waters climbing as high as 2.1 metres, an official with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said.

In one part of the capital, 47.5 centimetres of rain fell in the 24 hours to Monday morning, according to Esperanza Cayanan, a meteorologist in charge of Manila for the state weather forecaster.

She said this was the same amount that normally falls for all of August, already one of the wettest months of the year.

In a potentially serious escalation the Marikina River, a key waterway cutting through eastern Manila, began to overflow on Tuesday afternoon, and 20,000 people close by were ordered to evacuate, the local mayor, Del de Guzman, said.

These people were additional to the 131,000 people across the main island of Luzon, including Manila, that the government said were in evacuation centres or seeking shelter with relatives and friends.

Groups involved in the rescue effort said they were being overwhelmed.

“We are getting a lot of calls for rescue … we would really be hard pressed to rescue all of them,” a Philippine Red Cross official told a government briefing broadcast on national television.

While no-one has been reported killed in Manila, four more people have drowned in flooded farming provinces to the north.

This brings the confirmed toll from two days of flooding across Luzon to seven.

The economic cost has also started to grow, with the stock exchange, government offices and schools in Manila closed for a second consecutive day.

Many domestic and some international flights at Manila’s airport have been cancelled. Flooded roads to the airport are impassable.

The state weather agency says the rain will ease on Wednesday.

Manly still seeking big-name NRL scalp

Without a win over a fellow top four side all year, Manly host a Melbourne side on Saturday night which hasn’t lost to a NRL premiership heavyweight in 2013.

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The meeting of the bitter rivals is a clash of the have and have-nots of the NRL season, with the Sea Eagles still looking for the big-name scalp to prove their title credentials.

A draw against the Storm in round 10 is the Sea Eagles’ best result against a fellow top four side, Manly have lost four other games against South Sydney and ladder-leaders Sydney Roosters.

The Storm have won their three matches against the top two sides – with all of those victories being by more than a converted try.

Coach Geoff Toovey claimed not to be fazed by the lack of success against fellow top four sides, pleading ignorance to the alarming run of outs.

“I wouldn’t even know what it is,” Toovey said when asked about that record.

“I haven’t looked at that. I think in every game though we’ve been in the match this year, no matter who it is.

“We just need to find that bit extra.

“We don’t want to show our cards too early, we think we can show that bit extra come semi-final time.”

The Storm have proven their ability to rise to the occasion, the premiers boasting plenty of big-match experience in the form of key trio Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

After a dip in form post-Origin, the Storm have won four in a row – a run that has including two 60-plus scorelines.

Five-eighth Kieran Foran said a win over a side like the Storm would be a massive boost on the eve of the finals.

“We see them as the benchmark and I know we get up for these games,” Foran said.

“This time of year you want that confidence going into the finals and if we could get that win up against the Storm who are travelling really well it’d be a big boost.”

“We’re just focusing on trying to win this game, to wrap up a top-four berth and hopefully build some momentum heading into finals.”

The Sea Eagles need to win one of their last two games – the other being at home to Penrith – to claim a top four finish, while they could still finish third with a pair of victories to close out the regular season.

Federer is highest paid tennis player

Switzerland’s Roger Federer is the world’s highest paid tennis player even though he has slipped to No.

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7 in the ATP rankings, while Spain’s Rafael Nadal is No.4 on a new list published by Forbes magazine.

The list, which takes into account tennis players’ earnings between June 2012 and June 2013, was published to coincide with the start of the US Open, the year’s last grand slam event, which is taking place in New York.

The 32-year-old Federer, who many consider the best tennis player of all time, earned $US71.5 million ($A79.63 million) during the 12-month period, thanks to a December 2012 tour of South America that netted him $US14 million ($A15.59 million) for playing six matches.

“Federer has the most impressive endorsement portfolio in sports, with ten sponsors that collectively pay him more than $US40 million ($A44.55 million) annually, including long-term deals with Nike, Rolex, Wilson and Credit Suisse. The newest addition is champagne brand Moet & Chandon, which signed Federer to a five-year deal at the end of 2012,” Forbes said.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova is in the No.2 spot on the list, with $US29 million ($A32.30 million) in earnings, Forbes said.

“Sharapova completed the career grand slam when she won the 2012 French Open. The win triggered lucrative bonuses with sponsors Nike and Head. She launched her own candy line, Sugarpova, last year and plans to sell accessories under the brand starting this fall,” Forbes said.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, is in third place on the list, pulling in $US26.9 million ($A29.96 million), with about half of that sum coming from prize money.

The 26-year-old Djokovic has reached the finals of nine of the last 12 grand slams.

“Most top players have a apparel/shoe deal with one brand, but Djokovic added Adidas as a sponsor in April to go with his clothing sponsor Uniqlo,” Forbes said.

The 27-year-old Nadal, for his part, earned $US26.4 million ($A29.40 million) despite sustaining a knee injury that kept him off the ATP Tour for seven months.

White-coated PM in science heaven

Clad in a white lab coat, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in science heaven, extolling the many benefits of advanced medical research.

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He warned it would all be at risk under an Abbott government.

Holding aloft a 3D printed section of plastic DNA for the cameras, the prime minister explained it could be used as a scaffold for the eventual construction of new body organs such as kidneys.

“It’s complex and it’s hard work,” he told researchers at the University of Queensland Translational Research Institute at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

He was launching a $250 million Medical Research Innovation Fund plus $70 million in additional funding for medical research centres.

Returning to a standard campaign theme, Mr Rudd told his audience Mr Abbott believed he had already won the election.

Mr Rudd says if Mr Abbott was upfront about planned spending cuts to medical research and much more under the coalition government, people wouldn’t vote for him.

He says he worries about the possible fallout if a Liberal government is elected.

“I worry about people’s jobs, I worry about health workers, I worry about researchers, I worry about teachers, I worry about the real human beings who are affected by all of this.”

Polling has not gone Labor’s way since the campaign started but Mr Rudd says the campaign hasn’t even reached the half time hooter.

“I am determined to fight and fight hard,” he said.

Earlier in Brisbane, the prime minister received an enthusiastic response from party members, parents and students at Nyanda State High School in the electorate of Moreton, held for Labor by Graham Perrett on a margin of just over one per cent.

Nyanda, with some 300 students, is having to justify its existence as the LNP state government of Campbell Newman undergoes a process of rationalisation, Mr Rudd claimed.

Mr Rudd said the Newman government was planning to abolish 50 schools while the Liberal government in Victoria shut 300 schools and sacked 900 teachers.

“That’s what Mr Abbott is offering right across the country,” he said.

That prompted a speedy response from coalition campaign spokesman Christopher Pyne who said there were no such plans.

Mr Perrett, once a supporter of former prime minister Julia Gillard and now right behind Mr Rudd, said the mood in his electorate was buoyant and positive.

“And much of that is the Kevin factor,” he said.

Brooks’ phone hacking trial delayed in UK

The trial of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks over allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World has been delayed for legal reasons.

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The trial of Brooks and seven other defendants, including Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson, was due to start at the Old Bailey on September 9 but is now expected to begin on October 28.

Brooks, 45, denies a total of five charges, including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to pay public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide evidence.

Former Sun and NotW editor Brooks, former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, 73, and former news editor Ian Edmondson, 44, also deny conspiracy to intercept mobile phone voicemails between October 3, 2000, and August 9, 2006.

Coulson, 45, who previously edited the now-defunct NotW, denies the same charge.

He and NotW former royal editor Clive Goodman, 55, are also accused of two charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

Brooks denies two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

In the same trial, she and former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, 49, are charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice by allegedly trying to hide material from the News International archive between July 6 and 9, 2011.

Brooks’ racehorse trainer husband, Charlie Brooks, 50, and News International head of security Mark Hanna, 50, will also appear in the same trial over a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by allegedly hiding documents and computer equipment from police between July 15 and 19 2011, a charge also faced by Brooks.

Bowen will not run for Labor leadership

Former treasurer Chris Bowen says he will not seek the Labor leadership.

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“I have decided I will not be a candidate for the leadership of the Labor party,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Mr Bowen said it was his decision not to run.

“There’s an obligation on each of us to make ourselves available for positions of leadership if we feel genuinely that we are the best possible candidate at any particular time,” he said.

“Equally, there’s an obligation not to put our names forward if we don’t feel that.

“The conclusion I’ve reached will be obvious to you.”

Mr Bowen said he would fill any role the new leader wanted him to carry out, including that of shadow treasurer.

Mr Bowen said Labor in opposition needed to be united and focused, to hold the new Abbott government to account and to heed the message from Saturday’s federal election.

“We need a period of reflection to determine how best to determine that united and stable opposition but we need to provide it from today,” he said.

Labor also needed to build on its “successes and achievements” in government over the past six years.

“We need to acknowledge and build on our strong record of economic growth in difficult circumstances,” Mr Bowen said.

“Our ability to introduce landmark reforms like DisabilityCare and better school funding.”

Mr Bowen said the deputy Labor leadership was a separate matter.

“We’ll see how the leadership pans out,” he said.

“Again, there will be a number of very good people interested in the deputy leadership if that should be vacant.”

The Kevin Rudd supporter also said the former prime minister could make an “ongoing contribution” to Labor and Australia, although it was up to him to decide what that might be.

“He should be given all the time he needs to make that decision and those announcements and it’s entirely a matter for him,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen said Labor had a talented team and noted some names had already been mentioned as possible leadership contenders.

“I think all of those potential candidates are people of great talent and ability,” he said.

“They, I know, are going through the process that I have gone through over the last 24 hours to consider their options and they’ll make their own plans in their own good time.”

Those touted as future Labor leaders include Anthony Albanese, from the Left, and Bill Shorten, from the Right.

If they both decided to stand, the matter would go to the grass roots membership for a vote.

If only one stood, Mr Bowen said that person would automatically be declared the leader.

“If there is only one candidate that doesn’t indicate anything other than the fact that there is a consensus emerged, and that is not a bad thing necessarily,” Mr Bowen said.

He said his own decision not to stand was made after he reflected on the qualities he thought he could bring to the job, the qualities of other possible candidates and the point in the electoral cycle.

He also considered what he might be able to contribute as shadow treasurer.

“I decided the best fit for me was that role going forward,” he said.

Mr Bowen declined to endorse another Labor MP for leader, saying he’d wait to see who nominated.

Cats to host AFL final in Geelong

Fremantle will be confronted with the toughest task in the AFL when Geelong host a playoff match at their home ground for the first time in 116 years next Saturday.

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With all four finals in week one to take place in Victoria, the qualifying final between the second-placed Cats and the third-ranked Dockers has been scheduled at Simonds Stadium, rather than Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, despite the latter venue being far bigger.

Simonds Stadium has a capacity of 33,000 – which the AFL has estimated is sufficient to accommodate the expected crowd for a clash between Geelong and Fremantle.

The Cats have won 43 of their past 44 matches at their fortress.

Big-drawing Melbourne clubs Hawthorn, Richmond and Collingwood will host the other three finals in week one at the MCG.

Under coach Ross Lyon, Fremantle have made “play anywhere, anytime” their mantra – one sure to be severely tested on Saturday.

“With our members and fans, we haven’t experienced that many top-four double chances,” said Lyon.

“We have members and fans who couldn’t get a seat or a ticket down there. What’s it seat, 30,000?

“Outside of that, we’re an anywhere, anytime team. We’ll go and play.

“At the start of the year, you thought if you finished third you wouldn’t be playing in a regional centre.

“You’d be playing in a metropolis at world-class venues.

“But it’s out of my control.

“It’s not a problem for me. We’ll go down and play.”

The only other final to have been played in the city of Geelong was way back in 1897 – the first year of the VFL – when Essendon beat Geelong by six points in a semi-final at Corio Oval.

Cats chief executive Brian Cook said the final against Fremantle would be the “biggest national sporting event ever in Geelong”.

That may well be true, but the biggest crowd of the weekend will be for the elimination final between traditional rivals Richmond and Carlton at the MCG on Sunday.

The Tigers will be involved in the September action for the first time in 12 years, while the Blues sneaked into the playoffs at Essendon’s expense after edging Port Adelaide by a point at AAMI Stadium on Saturday.

Collingwood are almost certain to play Port Adelaide in the other elimination final on Saturday night, unless they beat North Melbourne by an improbably large margin on Sunday, in which case the Magpies could move to fifth and take on the Blues.

The opening match of the finals pits Hawthorn against Sydney at the MCG on Friday night in a qualifying final.

Blues rally for superb AFL finals win

There are few more dangerous AFL beasts than a Mick Malthouse-coached side with the odds against it.

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Carlton will go into Saturday night’s ANZ Stadium semi-final against Sydney with the underdog status and growing confidence after making another comeback on Sunday to beat Richmond.

It was the third upset result in an absorbing opening weekend of the finals series.

On Saturday, Fremantle were superb in Geelong against the Cats and Port Adelaide’s fairytale season continued with their stunning boilover win over Collingwood.

Sydney’s ongoing injury woes and their bad qualifying final loss to Hawthorn on Friday night suggest they might be vulnerable.

But the reigning premiers also have become legendary for defying the odds and they will be a tough nut for Malthouse’s surging Blues to crack.

Certainly Carlton cannot afford the starts they have been giving to their opponents in the last few weeks.

On Sunday, the Blues rallied from 32 points behind early in the third term to beat Richmond by 20 points in an epic elimination final.

It is arguably Carlton’s biggest win since the 1999 preliminary final upset against Essendon.

They won 18.8 (116) to 14.12 (96) in front of a record elimination final crowd of 94,690, which was very pro-Richmond.

Carlton also rallied from 39 points down last week to beat Port Adelaide by one point and secure their finals berth.

The Blues finished ninth, but reached the finals, because of Essendon’s AFL penalty.

In round 21, Carlton were 30 points down against Richmond and won by 10 points.

“I’ve never, ever got past Tuesday and thought we couldn’t win a game,” Malthouse said.

“There’s been times on Monday I’ve been a bit shaky, but by Tuesday – I’ve got great belief in my team.

“If I don’t believe, how can I expect my players to believe?

“Right now, on those performances of the last month … that we will give ourselves a real chance of winning.

“They still owe their supporters and still owe it to their teammates who aren’t playing, to have a red-hot crack.”

On Friday, Sydney faded badly in the second half to lose to Hawthorn by 56 points and they will be desperate for Adam Goodes to prove his fitness this week.

Fremantle joined Hawthorn in earning next weekend off with a 15-point win over Geelong in Saturday’s qualifying final at Simonds Stadium.

It was a physical clash and several incidents will attract match review panel scrutiny.

On Saturday night, Port kicked the last four goals of the match to beat the Magpies by 24 points in their elimination final.

The Power will now play the Cats on Friday night at the MCG in the other semi-final.

The AFL have scheduled Fremantle to play a preliminary final in two weekends’ time against either Carlton or Sydney.

When Malthouse heard an AFL official say it would be a day game in Perth, he jumped in with the wish that it start as late as possible.

“Not that I’m jumping ahead – but the poor bastards who have to go over there … I’m just worried about the weather, whoever is in it,” he said.

Skin-eating fungus is killing salamanders

A new kind of skin-eating fungus has been killing fire salamanders in the Netherlands at an alarming rate.

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European researchers found the boldly-coloured yellow and black salamanders have dwindled rapidly since 2010, with just four per cent of their original population left.

Based on an analysis of the dead salamanders, scientists reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal, that they have identified the cause as a fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans.

This salamander-eating fungus appears to be related to another kind – Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd – that is blamed for killing more than 40 per cent of amphibian species in parts of Central America, Austria, Europe and North America, or decimating about 200 species worldwide.

This fungus – which may live in water or soil, or may be a parasite – causes a disease called chytridiomycosis, which has been lethal to some frogs but not others.

“In several regions, including northern Europe, amphibians appeared to be able to co-exist with Bd,” said study author An Martel from the University of Ghent in Belgium.

“It is therefore extremely worrying that a new fungus has emerged that causes mass mortalities in regions where amphibian populations were previously healthy.”

Scientists are probing whether the new fungus came in to the country from another part of the world.

“We need to know if this is the case, why it is so virulent, and what its impact on amphibian communities will be on a local and global scale,” said co-author Matthew Fisher of Imperial College London.

“Our experience with Bd has shown that fungal diseases can spread between amphibian populations across the world very quickly. We need to act urgently to determine what populations are in danger and how best to protect them.”

Scientists said the fungus appears to pass among salamanders in direct contact, but found that it did not infect midwife toads, which can be vulnerable to chytridiomycosis.

Scientists took 39 fire salamanders into captivity for protection and to start a breeding program, but then half of them died between November and December last year. Only around 10 remain.

So far, the fungus appears to be isolated to the Netherlands.

But the emergence of the fungus “is worrying and warrants close monitoring, urgent risk analysis, and its inclusion in any monitoring program assessing amphibian population health,” the study concluded.