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Essential California: Work on the Thomas fire doesn't stop for Christmas

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 26, and here’s what’s happening across California:

TOP STORIES

The latest from the Thomas fire

Kelley Whitelens is the only female firefighter in a 19-person team from South Dakota fighting the fierce Thomas fire. It’s unclear how many female firefighters have been on the front lines, but with more than 8,000 firefighters battling the blaze at its peak, many were women, who faced the same challenges as their male colleagues with one major addition — navigating the heat and treacherous terrain in gear made for men. “My uniform hangs on me and is baggy,” Whitelens said as she sat down, exhausted, on a wooden bench. “It’s uncomfortable, but I’ve learned to get used to it.” Los Angeles Times

Plus: As the sun rose Monday morning, Pedro Barba had to settle for imagining what his family was doing without him. In their Riverside home, Barba’s wife would be fixing hot cocoa and pan dulce for their two children. The three would be readying to open their gifts. A hundred miles away, the firefighter was gearing up for another day attacking the Thomas fire, California’s largest wildfire on record. He was one of 1,500 firefighters and crew members working around the clock on Christmas Day to douse hot spots, maintain containment lines and mop up parts of the more than 280,000 acres charred by the massive blaze. Los Angeles Times

A novel way to fight deportations

Immigration is a federal, not state, responsibility, but attorneys hope pardons will eliminate the rationale for deportations. Across the country, immigration attorneys are doing the same: seeking gubernatorial pardons in last-ditch attempts to forestall deportations or allow the deported to return to the U.S. Targeting convicted criminals for deportation isn’t a new idea; it was a priority under President Obama, who deported more people than any of his predecessors. But during the Obama administration, only those with serious crimes on their records were targeted for removal. President Trump has cast a much wider net. Los Angeles Times

BEST OF 2017

Over the next week, Essential California will reboot some of the stories that moved us most this year. Have a nomination? Let us know:

-- A college education is for some people more essential than ever to gaining a footing in today’s economy. But for those without means, it can be an epic struggle. Ashley Powers’ harrowing profile of what some students must do to get ahead. California Sunday Magazine

-- Deep in California’s coastal woods near the Oregon border, the Yurok Reservation straddles the mighty Klamath River, the tribe’s lifeblood for centuries. But over the last 50 years, the yearly migration of salmon from the Pacific dwindled, and poverty, addiction and lawlessness gripped the reservation. Joe Mozingo on the suicide epidemic that followed. Los Angeles Times

-- Residents in the Coachella Valley accused of minor infractions — overgrown weeds, a junk-filled yard, selling Popsicles without a business license — ended up being held up for thousands of dollars by a law firm that critics say made huge profits at the public’s expense. Brett Kelman’s expose sparked outrage and change. Desert Sun

-- The story of Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and his treatment of women sparked a cultural revolution in the entertainment industry and well beyond. It all started with this story by Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey. New York Times

L.A. STORIES

The winter weather outlook: California’s dismally dry autumn paints a bleak outlook for the state’s rainy season, unless the weather this winter makes a big about-face. The situation is a major turnaround from last year, when Northern California was battered by a series of “atmospheric river” storms that helped end the state’s five-year drought. When it was over, California’s northern Sierra Nevada experienced the wettest winter on record, with some ski resorts staying open through the summer. Los Angeles Times

Seasons greetings: Christmas Day in Los Angeles County included efforts in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Pasadena to help the growing homeless population, along with traditional church services. Los Angeles Times

Plus: The homeless struggle to find Christmastime joy on the streets of San Diego. San Diego Union Tribune

Great! There will be no more late fees at Los Angeles County public libraries for patrons who are younger than 21. Los Angeles Times

IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Mystery in West Texas: How did a border patrol agent die? New York Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

In need of a fix: Santa can't fix these problems with California's state government, writes columnist George Skelton. Los Angeles Times

On the horizon: California's legal pot market opens for business on Jan. 1. The day will be a milestone, but what exactly will happen then and, especially, in the weeks and months to come is unclear. Associated Press

Plus: Unions have caught a whiff of a rare opportunity to organize a whole new set of workers as recreational marijuana becomes legal in California. Associated Press

A fine mess: The honeymoon could soon be over between Los Angeles and the trash companies picked to carry out the city’s huge new recycling program. Los Angeles Times

Allegations’ effect: “A national reckoning on sexual harassment that got its start in Hollywood is now upending Democratic politics throughout the nation's most populous state.Politico

CRIME AND COURTS

Stepping in: The U.S. Secret Service has taken over the investigation of a gift-wrapped package of manure sent to the Bel-Air home of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. Los Angeles Times

Plus: The man who apparently left the manure speaks out. The Birmingham News

Sad story: A California Highway Patrol officer was killed on Christmas Eve when a suspected drunk driver crashed his car into the officer’s patrol vehicle, which was parked on the side of Interstate 880 in Hayward, CHP officials said. Los Angeles Times

Very interesting: Of the six major-party candidates for governor, five — all four Democrats and one of two Republicans — say they are against the death penalty, a position in line with just under half the state’s voters, based on recent election results, and current Gov. Jerry Brown.” San Francisco Chronicle

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Starting today: Santa Anita faces a season of change that may make or break the 83-year-old track. Los Angeles Times

Resourceful: Here’s what to do with your old Christmas tree in L.A. County. KPCC

If you drink … : A new law that takes effect Jan. 1 may not only let everyone join in on the fun, but it’ll also mean more money for the bubbly: Under Assembly Bill 711, alcohol manufacturers and licensed sellers can offer free or discounted rides to transport drinkers home safely through ride-sharing services, taxicabs or other ride providers. Sacramento Bee

A resurgence: The Roxie Theater in San Francisco, once fading to black, is now thriving. San Francisco Chronicle

#TBT: Read here about the last time it snowed in Los Angeles. Curbed LA

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles area: Partly cloudy, 68, Tuesday. Sunny, 72, Wednesday. San Diego: Partly cloudy, 63, Tuesday. Sunny, 68, Wednesday. San Francisco area: Sunny, 56, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 57, Wednesday. Sacramento: Sunny, 62, Tuesday. Sunny, 61, Wednesday. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Merlin Dorfman:

“In the summer of 1960, between my junior and senior years of college in Massachusetts, my father was planning to go to an electronics conference in Los Angeles. It was decided that my mother, the older of my sisters, and I would go on a three-week tour of the West with my father, while the other sister would go to camp. We flew from Boston to Chicago in a brand-new 707 jet, then to Denver in a propellor-driven DC-7. We rented a car and drove to Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone National Parks, to Salt Lake City, the Grand Canyon, and Phoenix. At that point my parents drove to Los Angeles while my sister and I flew to San Francisco, to be met and hosted by old family friends. They took us to the usual San Francisco tourist spots as well as other Bay Area sights like Stanford. After the conference in Los Angeles was over, we flew there to join up with our parents for a few days of sightseeing. Friends in L.A. took me to see ‘Psycho,’ and I had nightmares for weeks. Those three weeks convinced me that the West was for me. After graduation I got a job in the Bay Area and have been there ever since except for seven years in Denver in the ’70s, and I have no intention of leaving.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. Send us an email to let us know what you love or fondly remember about our state. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.

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