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POSTED January 30, 2013 8:31 p.m.

HOTEL EXPLOSION INJURES 3 NEAR SEAWORLD SAN DIEGO: SAN DIEGO (AP) — A powerful explosion on Wednesday ripped through a hotel near SeaWorld San Diego from a room where authorities say a couple was believed to be extracting oil from hashish, sending guests fleeing for safety.

A 22-year-old man in the room suffered life-threatening injuries. Also hurt were a woman in the room and a young man staying next door, authorities said.

Julie Jordan of San Diego was sleeping with a friend's baby in a nearby room at the three-story Heritage Inn Sea World Hotel when she felt the building shake, then heard a loud explosion. She ran outside and saw a shattered window and a badly injured man sitting at the bottom of some stairs moaning.

"People were screaming and running, and a man was burned from head to toe," said Jordan, 30. "His skin was falling off."

Investigators found several boxes containing canisters of butane inside the room where the blast occurred, police Lt. Joseph Ramos said.

The butane apparently was ignited by a cigarette, Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque said. The second-floor room looked like a "war zone," he said.

BELL CITY CLERK SAYS SHE FOLLOWED ORDER TO CONCEAL: LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Bell city clerk says the former city manager ordered her to conceal officials' full salaries from the public and to obtain signatures for doctored salary contracts.

The Los Angeles Times says Rebecca Valdez testified Tuesday in the corruption trial of six former City Council members. Prosecutors claim they illegally gave themselves huge salaries, inflating their pay by serving on boards that sometimes didn't meet and forcing the Los Angeles suburb to the brink of bankruptcy.

Valdez testified that she was micromanaged by former City Manager Robert Rizzo and, among other things, only partially disclosed city salaries to a resident who had filed a public records request.

Defense attorneys have argued their clients are being wrongly blamed for Rizzo's misdeeds.

CALIF. COUNTY ENDS BARK BEETLE EMERGENCY: SAN BERNARDINO  (AP) — A decade ago, bark beetles in San Bernardino County were ravaging forests and turning pine trees into potential Roman candles to fuel devastating wildfires.

But more rain in recent years and better forest management has eased the conditions that killed off perhaps millions of trees, and on Tuesday, county supervisors voted to end the emergency proclamation they had renewed monthly since September 2002.

"The forest is green," Assistant Fire Chief Peter Brierty said Wednesday. "We don't have the bark beetle die-off anymore."

The county was among the hardest-hit when drought stressed trees, allowing the native beetles to thrive.

More than 6 million acres of California forest were threatened by bark beetle infestations at the height of the crisis. In 2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis proclaimed a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

TASK FORCE RESCUES GIRLS FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION: ONTARIO  (AP) — A two-day Southern California task force sweep has led to the rescue of two underage girls forced into prostitution.

The Inland Empire Child Exploitation and Prostitution task force took the girls into custody during a two-day operation last week in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

One girl was rescued in Ontario and another was rescued in Hemet. They are in protective custody.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said on Tuesday that the girls have been working the streets and prostitutes. Their ages are being withheld.

MAJOR LA STREET REOPENS AFTER BUCKLING FIXED: LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 2-mile stretch of a major road near Los Angeles International Airport has reopened after buckling pavement closed it for about 10 hours.

Authorities says a broken water main under La Cienega Boulevard in the Baldwin Hills area undercut the ground about a month ago. The street was repaired but the asphalt buckled and the road was closed Tuesday night.

Crews worked through the night to repair the roadway and it reopened at about 7 a.m. Wednesday.

MAN PLEADS GUILTY IN GANG RAPE OF GIRL, 11: RIVERSIDE  (AP) — One of four defendants has pleaded guilty in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl with the mental capacity of a 5-year-old in Riverside County.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports Wednesday that 21-year-old Michael Devon Bobby Sikes pleaded guilty to rape, sodomy on a minor and lewd acts on a child under 14. Under a plea deal, Sikes will be sentenced to 18 years in prison Feb. 5. Three other felony charges will be dropped.

Sykes said at the Tuesday hearing that he held down the girl in a park bathroom while she was repeatedly raped.

He was the only adult at the time of the attack in Moreno Valley on March 10, 2011, but his three co-defendants are being tried as adults. They're awaiting a Feb. 4 trial.

GOVERNOR MEETING WITH LAWMAKERS AT OLD MANSION : SACRAMENTO   (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown is hosting a series of dinners with small groups of California lawmakers.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran says the governor is "breaking bread with legislators, renewing old friendships and making some new ones."

The first dinner was Wednesday at the residence where his father, Gov. Edmund Brown, once lived. It is now a state park.

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was criticized in 2010 for hosting a lunch to which he invited all lawmakers. That may have violated state law if a quorum of either legislative house attended.

California law requires meetings of the Assembly and Senate to be open if a quorum is present and legislative matters will be discussed.

Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, said Assembly lawmakers planned to attend Wednesday, but "it is our understanding that a quorum will not be present."

CHIPOTLE TO TEST VEGETARIAN MENU ITEM IN BAY AREA: DENVER (AP) — Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing a new burrito filler that it hopes will appeal to vegetarians and vegans.

Sofritas — made with shredded organic tofu braised with chipotle chilis, roasted poblanos and spices — will be tested at seven San Francisco Bay area restaurants starting Feb. 12. It also will be available in tacos, burrito bowls and salads.

Denver-based Chipotle previously tested a "Garden Blend" vegetarian item but wasn't satisfied with it and started developing Sofritas.

 

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