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State news briefs
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SYPHILIS AND OTHER STD CASES ON RISE IN CALIFORNIA: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Rises in syphilis and other sexually transmitted disease cases in California have state health officials concerned.

The California Department of Public Health has released new figures showing syphilis cases jumped 18 percent last year compared to 2010.

There was also a 5 percent rise in chlamydia cases and a 1.5 percent hike in gonorrhea cases.

Health officials are concerned because the sexually transmitted diseases can lead to more serious health problems, like infertility and an increased risk of HIV.

There were about 164,000 chlamydia cases, 27,000 gonorrhea cases and about 2,500 syphilis cases reported last year in California.

The agency's sexually transmitted disease chief Heidi Bauer says people may be engaging in more risky behaviors and becoming more complacent about practicing safe sex.

WILDFIRE ARSONIST GUILTY OF 5 HEART ATTACK DEATHS: SAN BERNARDINO  (AP) — A jury on Wednesday found a California man guilty of murdering five people who had heart attacks after he deliberately started a blaze that ballooned into a massive wildfire.

Jurors in San Bernardino found 30-year-old Rickie Fowler guilty of setting the Old Fire in the foothills above San Bernardino in October 2003 that burned 91,000 acres and torched 1,000 buildings over nine days.

Prosecutors charged Fowler with the murders of five men, ranging in age from 54 to 93, who died from heart attacks after their homes burned to the ground or as they rushed to evacuate. Fowler also was convicted of two counts of arson, along with special circumstances that make him eligible for the death penalty.

That phase of the proceedings is scheduled to begin Monday.

Fowler became a suspect when witnesses reported seeing a passenger in a white van tossing burning objects into dry brush. Investigators acting on a tip interviewed Fowler several months later but didn't have enough evidence to file charges until six years after the fire when Fowler was in jail on a burglary conviction.

MICHAEL J. FOX RETURNING TO SERIES TV: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael J. Fox is planning a return to series TV.

According to people with knowledge of the project, he'll star in a sitcom that's in development at Sony Pictures Television for a 2013 debut. The people lacked authority to publicly discuss the matter and spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Fox starred in the hit TV comedies "Family Ties" and "Spin City." He's working on the new project with Will Gluck, director of the film "Easy A," and writer Sam Laybourne, whose credits include "Cougar Town" and "Arrested Development."

The people with knowledge of the project say it has drawn strong interest from the major networks.

A publicist for Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sony declined comment.

The project was first reported by the entertainment website Vulture.

So. Cal man held after allegedly torching home

SAN MARCOS, Calif. (AP) — Authorities say a man beat his sister with a baseball bat, then set fire to his San Diego County home before surrendering to authorities.

Forty-nine-year-old Ed Nichols was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and arson.

Neighbors told the North County Times ( that they saw Nichols' sister running down the street, screaming and bleeding from cuts on her arms. She told them that her brother attacked her during a dispute over a missing TV remote.

Sheriff's deputies sent to the home say Nichols went in and out, brandished a knife at one point and later set fire to the home.

Neighbors were evacuated for several hours before Nichols surrendered and firefighters put out the blaze.

The house was destroyed.