Consumer spending rose by 0.8 percent in July, double its pace in June and the best showing since January, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The increase, analysts said, reflected a rebound in auto sales.

In the latest revelation about possible contributing factors to the Comair crash that took 49 lives, an investigator said that the air traffic controller in Lexington, Ky., had worked for almost 15 hours over a 24-hour period during which he slept only two. He barely met federal rules, which call for eight hours off between shifts.

NASA conducted a damage check on the space shuttle Atlantis Thursday after its scheduled launch was delayed twice, first by a lightning strike to the launchpad and then by tropical storm Ernesto. With an A-OK, the launch could occur as early as next Wednesday, a timetable the Russian space agency said would work with its similar mission to the international space station, which has been delayed four days until Sept. 18.

A 80,000-acre wildfire covering about 125 square miles in southern Montana prompted officials to urge hundreds of residents to leave their homes.

UPS Inc. pilots ratified a new contract Thursday with the world's largest shipping carrier, ending a lengthy battle that included threats of a walkout. Terms of the contract include immediate hourly pay raises of 17.7 percent for captains.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California is appears poised to sign a bill, passed earlier this week by state lawmakers, to cede control of 30 low-performing Los Angeles schools to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D). The plan is modeled on mayoral takeovers in New York, Boston, and Chicago would give Villaraigosa shared powers with 26 other mayors in the L.A. Unified District. Opponents, who claim the plan is unconstitutional, may try to stall its implementation.

According to forecasts, as much as seven inches of rain from strengthening tropical storm Ernesto could fall Friday along the Carolina coast, where a hurricane watch has been issued. To prepare for possible flooding and power outages, hundreds of National Guard troops were put on alert.

Actor Glenn Ford, who died Wednesday in Beverly Hills, Calif., was known for his versatility during a Hollywood career that spanned five decades and included starring roles in "Gilda" and "The Blackboard Jungle," among more than 80 movies. Despite his many credits, Ford was never nominated for an Oscar.

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