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Fire crews save several groves of ancient trees

The wildfire raging near some of the nation's ancient sequoias grew to 57,000 acres Thursday as fire crews said they had been able to save several groves of the majestic trees.

"This is good day for firefighters," said Jim Paxon, a spokesman for the fire management team.

However, the fire was just 5 percent contained and blustery, hot weather was forecast again in the parched region. Another 500 firefighters were deployed alongside 1,000 already battling flames in and near the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

So far, none of the area's sequoia stands have burned. Flames have come within a mile of the Packsaddle Grove and within 2 miles of the Trail of 100 Giants, a grove that includes some of the Earth's largest and oldest trees.

Individual sequoias can live more than 3,000 years and their thick trunks are resistant to fire. But the towering trees are vulnerable when flames reach the crowns of smaller trees and leap from there into the limbs of the sequoias, high above the ground.

Peri Van Brunt, 45, remained in custody Thursday on suspicion of starting the fire and her arraignment wasn't expected until at least today. Paxon said Van Brunt was cooperating with authorities.

"They are looking at the case being accidental rather than arson," he said.

Van Brunt, from nearby Bakersfield, went into the Roads End Lodge in Johnsondale on Sunday saying she had been cooking hot dogs when she lost control over her campfire, Forest Service officer Brian Adams said.

Two suspects arrested in kidnapping of 7-year-old

PHILADELPHIA _ Acting on a tip, police Thursday arrested two men wanted in the kidnapping-for-ransom of Erica Pratt, the 7-year-old girl who authorities say escaped from her captors by gnawing through duct tape.

Both men have long criminal records, and police said they were investigating whether the kidnapping was the work of a violent drug gang.

James Burns, 29, and Edward Johnson, 23, were captured before dawn just blocks from where Erica was abducted Monday night while playing with her 5-year-old sister in front of their grandmother's rowhouse.

The alleged kidnappers apparently knew the Pratt family. The connection was unclear, but court records show that the family had at least one violent run-in with one of the suspects.

Investigators continued to hunt for other suspects.

In December, Burns was charged with trying to shoot Erica's uncle Derrick Pratt by spraying his West Philadelphia home with bullets. Burns was released on bail and failed to show up for a court appearance. He was still wanted in that case at the time of the kidnapping.

Sex-abuse settlement talks break down

BOSTON _ More than a month after settlement talks began between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and lawyers representing 240 people who claim they were sexually abused by priests, the plaintiffs' lawyers said Thursday that negotiations had broken down and no settlement could be reached.

The four plaintiffs' lawyers, who together represent most of the current abuse claims against the archdiocese, said they would take the cases back to court, and they filed a motion Thursday seeking to depose the archbishop, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, on Aug. 5.

"There are a variety of financial and nonfinancial issues that we just weren't able to get done," said one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Roderick MacLeish Jr.

The lawyers would not say how much money they were seeking.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, insisted that settlement talks would continue.

Judge sets bail for

crematory operator

LAFAYETTE, Ga. _ Bail was set Thursday for jailed crematory operator Brent Marsh, who made his first public comments since investigators found hundreds of discarded corpses on his property five months ago.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge James G. Bodiford set bail at $159,200 for Marsh, who said he was aware of the hostility he would have to face if he were returned to the community while awaiting a trial.

"We live in the South and I'm a black man," Marsh said. "A lot of people don't like me because I am me."

In February, more than 340 human remains were found on the grounds of the Marsh family's Tri-State Crematory at Noble, a small, northern Georgia town near the Tennessee border.

Marsh, who has been held since mid February, was denied bail three times previously.