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Fire forces evacuations in So. Calif.

A wind-whipped fire grew to 7,500 acres Monday after burning 10 structures and forcing more than 400 people to flee an area south of Sequoia National Park.

Among the evacuees were several hundred Boy Scouts and residents of this hamlet 130 miles north of Los Angeles.

"It's got good potential behind it to grow to be a massive wildfire," said Denise Alonzo, a Sequoia National Forest spokeswoman.

Elsewhere across the West, a fire that threatened 65 homes in southern Oregon grew to 92,000 acres and National Guard troops were sent to help.

"What is at risk here is hundreds of billions of dollars in natural resources," said Gov. John Kitzhaber, who called on Congress to devote more resources to making forests healthy throughout the West.

Missouri nurse faces death

in deaths of 10 patients

COLUMBIA, Mo. _ A former nurse accused of killing patients at a veterans hospital with a paralyzing drug a decade ago pleaded not guilty Monday to 10 counts of first-degree murder.

Also, Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane announced his decision to seek the death penalty if Richard Williams is convicted.

Williams, 36, a former nurse at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital, smiled at his wife and son during the court hearing. His relatives declined to comment.

Defense attorney Kathryn Benson called the case circumstantial and said she was surprised by Crane's decision.

"There is not one shred of direct evidence in this case," Benson said. "It's based on a bunch of statistics that are incomplete."

The patients died between March and July 1992 at the Truman Veterans Administration Hospital in Columbia. Prosecutors and the FBI allege Williams was the nurse on duty when all 10 patients were given doses of succinylcholine, a paralyzing muscle relaxant. None had been prescribed the drug.

Benson said she has seen nothing to indicate the patients were murdered. A VA statistical analysis of patient deaths at the Columbia hospital was incomplete because it did not track all hospital staffers with patient care roles, she added.

In all, 41 patients died in 1992 under Williams' care.

While those deaths were deemed suspicious at the time, usable tissue samples from 1993 exhumations remained from just 10 bodies, authorities said.

New Orleans cracks down

on graft; dozens arrested

NEW ORLEANS _ Police began rounding up more than 80 people in an alleged bribery scheme at the city's auto inspection and taxi-licensing agencies as the new mayor opened a crackdown on graft in the Big Easy.

The auto inspection agency, including its three inspection stations, was shut down by the roundup that began before dawn, and authorities said they expected all 20 of the agency's employees to be implicated. Two city officials were fired, and one of them was arrested.

Eighty-four people in all _ 77 of them taxi drivers _ were named in arrest warrants accusing them of bribery, fraud and malfeasance. By early afternoon, about 30 had been arrested.

Authorities said city employees took bribes to hand out taxi permits to illegal immigrants and to overlook automobile safety violations.

Police said one of the inspectors, a nine-year veteran, told investigators that "she was trained to do it that way."