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REGION UPDATES: Missile silo fire ... Minot bomber crews ... Heroin bust ...etc.

Missile silo fire: A fire caused $1 million worth of damage at an unmanned underground nuclear launch site last spring, but the Air Force didn't find out about it until five days later, an Air Force official said Thursday.

Missile silo fire: A fire caused $1 million worth of damage at an unmanned underground nuclear launch site last spring, but the Air Force didn't find out about it until five days later, an Air Force official said Thursday.

The May 23 fire burned itself out after an hour or two, and multiple safety systems prevented any threat of an accidental launch of the Minuteman III missile, Maj. Laurie Arellano said. She said she was not allowed to say whether the missile was armed with a nuclear warhead at the time of the fire.

Arellano said the Air Force didn't know a fire had occurred until May 28, when a repair crew went to the launch site -- about 40 miles east of Cheyenne, Wyo., and 100 miles northeast of Denver -- because a trouble signal indicated a wiring problem.

She said the flames never entered the launch tube where the missile stood and there was no danger of a radiation release.

The fire, blamed on a faulty battery charger, burned a box of shotgun shells, a shotgun and a shotgun case that were kept in the room, Arellano said. A shotgun is a standard security weapon at missile silos.


Arellano said the battery chargers at all U.S. missile launch site have been replaced.

She said the incident wasn't reported sooner because of the complexity of the investigation.

The damage from the fire was estimated at $1 million, including the cost of replacing damaged equipment and cleanup.

An Air Force report of the incident released Thursday found flaws in the technical orders for assembling battery charger parts, inspection procedures and modifications of the launch complex ventilation system. It was also critical of the presence of flammable materials.

Cheyenne Mayor Jack Spiker, who said he learned of the incident when contacted by a reporter Thursday, said the fire doesn't undermine his confidence in the safety of the missile operations.

"It's rare that they have an accident, and the accidents have never really, that I know of, amounted to much because of the safety devices that are built into the system," he said.

The revelation was the latest in a string of embarrassing missteps involving the nation's nuclear arsenal. In 2006, four electrical fuses for ballistic missile warheads were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan, and in 2007, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped missiles when it flew between Air Force bases in North Dakota and Louisiana.

The Air Force announced last week it was setting up a new Global Strike Command to better manage its nuclear-capable bombers and missiles.


Minot bomber crews: The Air Force says B-52 crews from the Minot Air Force Base have been part of a 10-day training exercise from Guam to Alaska.

Officials say the B-52s flew nonstop from Guam and Louisiana to the Pacific Alaska Range Complex, where they simulated dropping their payloads.

About 300 airmen from Minot base's 5th Bomb Wing currently are deployed to Guam as part of a four-month rotation.

Col. Parker Northrup III is the commander of the 5th Operations Group at the Minot base. He says crews from the base are involved in missions all the way from Alaska to Australia and throughout the Pacific Rim.

Northrop says the crews face different maintenance challenges because of the different climates. He says they're not used to "86 degrees every day for five months."

Suspect's medical bills: Officials estimate medical bills are close to $1 million for a man who was shot by police after he allegedly abducted a Fargo woman in April.

Officials in Moorhead and Clay County, Minn., breathed a sigh of relief when federal authorities assumed responsibility for Vincent Degidio Jr.'s hospital bills.

The cost of treatment provided to Degidio in Fargo before he was transferred to a federal prison hospital in South Carolina is estimated at $63,000.


Moorhead and Clay County plan to split it evenly.

The county has already paid the entire bill out of its unanticipated expenses fund, said Michelle Winkis, an assistant Clay County attorney. Moorhead city officials will reimburse the county, she said.

Authorities say Degidio kidnapped a Fargo woman at gunpoint and forced her to drive to Moorhead. She got away and he was wounded in a shootout with police.

Degidio remains in a medical facility. Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger estimates those costs are reaching as much as $1 million.

Degidio is charged in federal court with kidnapping, being a felon in possession of a firearm and using a firearm to commit a violent crime.

"Federal intervention saved the taxpayers from significantly higher bills that would have been associated with this case," said Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger. "It was very expensive medical care, so it was important to keep the cost as limited as possible."

Heroin operation: Burleigh County (N.D.) authorities say they've charged four people in an alleged heroin operation in which the drug was packaged in latex balloons.

Sheriff's Lt. Nick Sevart said the four were arrested Tuesday at a traffic stop. They're identified as Ted Pierce, Nathan Vanous, Kevin Tormey and Angela Burmhagen.


Pierce faces the bulk of the charges. They include delivery and possession of heroin and tampering with evidence.

Prosecutor Julie Lawyer said Pierce is hospitalized after allegedly swallowing heroin to conceal it from authorities.

The other suspects face charges ranging from delivery of heroin to possession of drug paraphernalia, including the latex balloons.

NCLB to affect Minnesota: The state Department of Education says Minnesota's official graduation rate could fall by more than 10 percent under the new federal rules.

The Bush administration issued new rules for the No Child Left Behind school law on Wednesday. The rules raise the bar for two key measures of school performance, including graduation rates.

A nationwide way to define high school graduation will make it easier to compare how schools are doing from one state to another, but Minnesota has been using a different method.

Christy Hovanetz Lassila is assistant Minnesota education commissioner. She says under the new rules, only students earning a standard high school diploma four years after they were in ninth grade are considered graduates in state.

She says the official graduation rate will fall, not because fewer students are getting their diplomas, but because of the way the rules look at what happens to students.


Corrosion-causing bacteria: An iron-oxidizing bacteria found in the Twin Ports could be eating away at docks and other steel structures, a University of Minnesota, Duluth, professor has found in new research.

Randall Hicks discovered the bacteria in samples collected by a diver.

The bacteria form a biofilm that can develop a positive electrical charge, Hicks said. Iron is pulled from the steel surfaces by a kind of "electroplating in reverse," he said.

"These types of bacteria are notoriously hard to isolate and grow," said Hicks, adding that they seem to thrive only in particular conditions. The organisms can prosper only in a low-oxygen -- but not oxygen-free -- environment, he said.

A scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Mississippi's Stennis Space Center has been using an electron microscope to study samples and has found bacteria that appear to match the ones Hicks isolated.

Researchers are encouraged by the work, but Hicks says he can't yet conclude that the bacteria is the root cause of the corrosion problem.

"It may be a group of micro-organisms working together as a consortium that are responsible," Hicks said.

The steel in the Twin Ports has been shown to corrode up to 10 times faster than experts would expect in a freshwater environment.


Diver and engineer Chad Scott of AMI Consulting Engineers said the accelerated corrosion in the Twin Ports started in the mid-1970s.

Government officials have spent more than $500,000 in the past two years to study the corrosion issue and look at solutions.

Hicks said there's more research to be done on the corrosion issue, but he remains hopeful that officials can come up with a solution.

"I'm hopeful that through gaining a better understanding of the problem, it will lead us to better means of remediation," Hicks said.

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