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CALIFORNIA: Comet getting a close look

A NASA spacecraft is set to meet up Monday with a comet half the size of Manhattan that had an encounter with another spacecraft not long ago. The rendezvous between Stardust and comet Tempel 1 occurs 210 million miles from Earth. Hurtling at 24,000 mph, Stardust will fly within 125 miles of the potato-shaped comet, snapping pictures. If successful, it will be the first time scientists will have before-and-after images of Tempel 1, allowing them to observe any changes on the uneven surface. In 2005, Tempel 1 received a visit from another NASA probe named Deep Impact, which fired a copper bullet into the comet on the Fourth of July that sparked cosmic fireworks and excavated a crater.

Many ill at Playboy event

Health officials were investigating complaints of respiratory illnesses reported to have affected dozens of people at a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles that was part of a larger conference. Some 700 people from 30 countries attended the Feb. 3 Santa Monica conference on Internet businesses, "Domainfest global."

WASHINGTON STATE: Fire destroys 18 homes

Dozens of firefighters battled a blaze fueled by 40-mph winds that destroyed 18 homes on the Yakama Indian Reservation, officials said. The fire apparently started in a house Saturday afternoon in the town of White Swan and spread, raging for most of the day. A Yakima County fire chief, Brian Vogel, told The Associated Press on Sunday that the land fires had been controlled, but thousands of logs at a mill were still burning. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries; no residents were hurt. Some residents took shelter at the town's ceremonial long house and high school.

NORTH CAROLINA: Hostage-taker was unarmed

A man who told hostages and police he had a gun was actually unarmed during a three-hour standoff that ended with officers shooting him dead outside a bank, police said Sunday. Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore said Devon Mitchell, 19, concealed an object inside a red toboggan hat, but it wasn't a gun. Mitchell had held as many as seven hostages during the standoff Thursday.