Essential California Week in Review: California burns

Thomas Henney and Charles Chavira watch a plume spread over Healdsburg, Calif., as the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn
Thomas Henney, right, and Charles Chavira watch a plume spread over Healdsburg, Calif., as the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of blazes sparked by lightning strikes.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Aug. 22.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

In flames. Massive wildfires across Central and Northern California, many of them sparked by lightning, have consumed more than 700,000 acres and killed at least five people. Firefighters have struggled to keep up, facing not only the flames but wild weather conditions. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and evacuation orders continued to expand as fires moved closer to Santa Cruz. But with the risk of the coronavirus spread still high, those evacuating haven’t been sure where they can find safety.

Low power, high heat. A heat wave combined with a power shortage brought the threat of rolling blackouts. The coronavirus posed new challenge to relief efforts like cooling centers, and though temperatures have broken, it’s not the end: Climate change and the wild weather it’s brought are just getting started.

Postal service meltdown. Ahead of a congressional hearing, Postmaster Gen. Louis DeJoy said he would postpone controversial changes to the U.S. Postal Service. But California postal workers say major damage has already been done, leaving massive backlogs, rotting food and dead animals. Voter advocates worry the system can’t handle the election. Do you work for the USPS? We want to hear from you.

Nominations accepted. At a Democratic National Convention reimagined for life in a pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden formally became the Democratic candidate for president. Sen. Kamala Harris joined him as his running mate.

Signs of progress. After weeks of grim predictions, California saw a batch of positive pandemic-related developments. Death rates are down, especially in hard-hit Black and Latino communities. Cases in L.A. County are dropping and may soon fall lower enough for officials to seek to reopen schools with the help of an ambitious testing and tracing program.

A long road still ahead. Despite the declining numbers, the pandemic continues to create chaos. In Sacramento, talks stalled over relief for California renters while Newsom sought federal help to offer more unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, a Times survey found Southern Californians aren’t wearing masks as they should.

College admissions scandal. Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, the fashion designer J. Mossimo Giannulli, two of the highest-profile names in the scandal, were sentenced Friday to two months and five months in federal prison, respectively, after pleading guilty to paying bribes and falsifying their daughters’ credentials to get them into USC.


The Golden State Killer’s fate. A Sacramento County judge on Friday sentenced 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. to life without parole for killing 13 people and raping 50 in a series of break-ins that terrorized a state.

Who’s in charge of Britney Spears? The pop star wants to remove her father as sole conservator of her personal and professional life, a role he’s held for the last 12 years, and he wants to bring back a lawyer to manage the conservatorship, a move that appears to go against her wishes. A Los Angeles judge also sealed the hearing and transcripts from public view.

Hollywood shakeup. NBCUniversal ousted longtime Universal studio executive Ron Meyer on Tuesday after learning he made hush-money payments to a woman to cover up an old affair. Charlotte Kirk, the woman linked to his downfall, also played a role in the resignation of former Warner Bros. studio head Kevin Tsujihara.

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1. Ready for an evacuation? Here’s what to pack. Los Angeles Times

2. Here’s where California’s wildfires are burning. Los Angeles Times

3. How an unknown British actress played a role in the downfall of two Hollywood moguls. Los Angeles Times


4. How do you keep wildfire smoke out of your house and car? Here are some tips. Sacramento Bee

5. How “Raiders of the Lost Ark” beat “Jaws” — and won the Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown. Los Angeles Times

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

The surprising story of the salesman who became L.A.’s first known COVID-19 patient. Qian Lang, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, remained the sole patient diagnosed with the virus here for five weeks, passing most of that time in top-secret isolation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Los Angeles Times

The race to investigate a coronavirus outbreak at Lovett, an elite Atlanta prep school. Its name soon became a kind of “code word among Georgia epidemiologists to refer to very tough cases.” New Yorker

The New California Curriculum: What literature represents the Golden State? Alta Magazine

Poem of the week: “Salvage” by Kay Ryan. Poetry Foundation

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Laura Blasey for all her help on the Saturday edition.)