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Thirty-four firefighters died in the line of duty this year. The unusually high number is sparking a larger conversation about the dangers firefighters face as more homes are built in and around drought-stricken forests.

As the vice president enters his sixth year as President Obama's second-in-command, there comes the natural question: What's next? A long-time senator, Biden has run for president before, and is making some moves that suggest he may do so one last time.

Is that a cross? A ship with a figurehead? It's only human to wonder what the future will hold, especially on the threshold of a new year. In one German tradition, fortune-seekers drop molten lead into cold water — then it's anyone's guess what the strange shapes portend.

Mountain lions are slowly making a comeback, but they live at constant risk of getting hit by cars or shot. In Santa Cruz, Calif., one project tracks how the lions live — and it's already helping to protect the big cats nationwide.

NPR's Jason Beaubien and David Gilkey have covered calamities all over the globe. But the recent aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was particularly daunting. Jason describes the extreme challenges they faced.

The government says the former vice president is mobilizing an army of youth to seize key cities in the newly independent nation. The United Nations is not sure it can protect the thousands of people staying at its compound who have been displaced by recent ethnic fighting.

Scientists and growers are in a bitter fight against citrus greening, a disease that has devastated Florida's orange and grapefruit crops. They fear that unless scientists find a cure for greening soon, it's just a matter of time before economic realities and the disease force growers out of business.

Over the past year, a roaring debate has erupted among physicists about what exactly would happen if you fell into a black hole. Would it be "spaghettification," or a quantum firestorm and oblivion where space ceases to exist? The answer has big implications for fundamental physics.

North Dakota and western Canada are producing crude oil faster than rail cars and pipelines can take it to refineries. Now, one company wants to ship it by barge across the Great Lakes. That worries environmentalists, who say a 2010 tar sands oil spill near Lake Michigan has yet to be fully cleaned up.

As baby boomers retire and drilling increases, energy companies are hiring, adding 23 percent more workers between 2009 and 2012. But the hiring spree has come with a terrible price: Last year, 138 workers were killed on the job, twice as many as in 2009.

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