Midday Update: Some relief fighting Calif. wildfires; panel recommends flu vaccine for children as young as two

Reinforcements set to arrive to fight Calif. wildfires; some allowed to return home

SAN DIEGO — On the fourth day of a vicious firestorm, exhausted firefighters and weary residents looked forward Wednesday to a break — an expected slackening of the fierce wind that has fanned the state’s explosive wildland blazes.

Meanwhile, some of the half-million people chased from their homes by the flames were being allowed to their neighborhoods.

Forecasters said the Santa Ana wind whipping across Southern California will begin to weaken late Wednesday afternoon, followed by cooling sea breezes. The 16 wind-fed wildfires have destroyed nearly 1,300 homes and forced the largest evacuation in the state’s history.

The shift could allow for a greater aerial assault and help firefighters beat back the most destructive blazes, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a tour of an evacuation center at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

‘‘If the weather cooperates, maybe we can turn the tide,’’ he said.

Crews were anticipating an injection of additional firefighters and equipment from other states, mostly throughout the West. Frustration over the firefighting effort began to emerge Tuesday when a fire official said not enough had been done to protect homes.

Orange County Fire Chief Chip Prather told reporters that firefighters’ lives were threatened because too few crews were on the ground. He said a quick deployment of aircraft could have corralled a massive blaze near Irvine.

‘‘It is an absolute fact: Had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire,’’ he said.

The fires have burned 410,000 acres, or about 640 square miles, causing at least $100 million in damage. Twenty-one firefighters and at least 24 others have been injured. One person was killed by the flames, and the San Diego medical examiner’s officer listed four other deaths as connected to the blazes.

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Panel recommends inhaled flu vaccine for children as young as 2

ATLANTA — The inhalable flu vaccine should be given each year to children as young as 2, an advisory vaccine panel said Wednesday.

The government currently recommends the inhalable FluMist for healthy people ages 5 to 49. Only traditional shots have been recommended for children younger than 5.

But recent studies have shown FluMist, made by Maryland-based MedImmune, to be safe and effective in kids as young as 2. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month approved its use for that age group.

On Wednesday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises government health officials, recommended its use for younger children who are healthy. Committee members said children with a history of asthma or wheezing should opt for a shot.

Recommendations by the panel usually are accepted by U.S. health officials, and they influence insurance companies’ decisions on vaccination coverage. The committee also voted that a government program that pays for vaccines extend its FluMist coverage to the younger age group, meaning millions of added children will now be eligible for FluMist doses.

Morris to sell 14 newspapers to GateHouse Media in $115M deal

AUGUSTA — Morris Communication Co. LLC’s publishing arm is planning to sell 14 daily newspapers and other properties, mainly in the Midwest, to GateHouse Media Inc. for $115 million in cash.

Morris Publishing Group LLC said Tuesday it will use proceeds from the sale to pay down debt. The transaction is expected to close before the end of November and is subject to regulatory approval and approval by Morris Publishing’s lenders.

‘‘While it is difficult to say goodbye, this sale is in line with our strategic plan to focus on our larger markets and will enable us to pay down our existing bank debt,’’ William S. Morris IV, Morris Publishing Group’s chief executive officer and president, said in a statement. ‘‘We greatly appreciate the work by the employees of these great newspapers during the time they’ve been a part of Morris.’’

The properties, most of which are daily newspapers in the Midwest that Morris acquired in its 1995 acquisition of Stauffer Communications Inc., include the Dodge City (Kan.) Daily Globe, The Newton (Kan.) Kansan, The (Pittsburg, Kan.) Morning Sun, the Hillsdale (Mich.) Daily News, The Holland (Mich.) Sentinel, the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post, The (Independence, Mo.) Examiner, The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent, the York (Neb.) News-Times, The Daily Ardmoreite (Okla.), The Shawnee (Okla.) News-Star, the Yankton (S.D.) Daily Press & Dakotan, The Oak Ridger (Tenn.) and the News Chief (Winter Haven, Fla.).

Nondaily newspapers included in the sale are La Estrella (Dodge City, Kan.), The Girard (Kan.) City Press and the Vermillion (S.D.) Plain Talk.

The sale also includes a Michigan-based commercial printing operation, Flashes Publishing, which publishes Flashes Shopping Guides and related free nondaily community publications.

Morris Publishing Group LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Augusta,Ga.-based Morris Communications Co. LLC. Morris Publishing owns and operates 27 daily newspapers, including The Augusta Chronicle, in addition to nondaily newspapers, city magazines and free community publications.

- Compiled from Associated Press and wire reports