Estimating the cost of southern California's wildfires at $2 billion, Gov. Gray Davis (D) said the disaster may prove the most expensive in state history, at a time of record deficits. Seventeen blazes have incinerated an estimated 600,000 acres, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, and destroyed 2,000 homes. Firefighters were struggling to protect the resort town and more than a dozen others in the San Bernardino Mountains as 40,000 residents fled. In San Diego County, meanwhile, officials pulled back exhausted crews after three nonstop days on fire lines.

Top military and CIA officials were debating whether to shift intelligence agents in Iraq from the search for weapons of mass destruction to security efforts, the Associated Press reported, citing three unidentified sources. The reassignment could affect 1,400 personnel, the AP said. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the CIA is worried a shift could undermine the hunt for banned weapons. Failure to find those has fueled criticism that the Bush administration overstated Iraq's capabilities in making the case for war.

A powerful storm battered much of Washington State with winds up to 70 m.p.h., knocking out power to 80,000 homes, damaging buildings, and disrupting ferry service in the Seattle area Tuesday. One motorist was reported killed by a falling tree. Forecasters said as much as four inches of snow could fall in western parts of the state Wednesday, and up to two inches in neighboring Idaho and Montana.

The Food and Drug Administration banned THG, a steroid at the heart of a doping scandal affecting a wide range of sports. Although sold as a dietary supplement, THG (tetrahydrogestrinone), is a drug that lacks federal approval for sale in the US, the agency said Tuesday. An unidentified coach alerted federal authorities to the existence of the previously undetectable substance earlier this year. A federal grand jury in San Francisco is looking into a California lab that allegedly distributed it, ordering testimony from dozens of top Olympic and professional athletes.

A geomagnetic storm from the biggest solar flare in 30 years may disrupt TV, satellite, and cellphone transmissions and cause power blackouts, scientists warned. The third storm in the past five days was expected to reach Earth by noon Wednesday, with effects lasting from 18 to 24 hours, scientists said. On a positive note, they added it may create colorful aurora displays visible in night skies as far south as Texas and Florida.

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