Newsletter: Fires besiege wine country and beyond

Another series of wildfires stormed California’s wine country overnight as flames destroyed numerous homes and other buildings in Napa and Sonoma counties and forced thousands to flee.

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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Sept. 29. I’m Christopher Goffard, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Fires continued to rage across Northern California on Monday, with thousands of acres ablaze and some 50,000 people facing possible evacuation. Three deaths were reported in Shasta County in the so-called Zogg fire, which ignited Sunday about nine miles from Redding and had grown swiftly to 15,000 acres by Monday afternoon.

The Shady fire, driven by ferocious Diablo winds, rained embers on Santa Rosa, Sonoma County’s most populous city. Homes burned amid what a fire chief called “explosive fire growth,” and officials told residents in large parts of the city to get out. Buses were filled with evacuees from an assisted-living community, and cars jammed the roads as residents heeded evacuation orders. “This isn’t our first rodeo,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm.

The Shady fire burns along CA-12 in Santa Rosa on Monday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

But Sonoma County’s sheriff said some people had to be rescued after refusing to leave, and Gov. Gavin Newsom made a plea: “Please heed local law enforcement... Please listen to them when they raise that alarm bell.” Newsom suggested that “the dynamics of climate change” and “the lack of forest management over the last century” had contributed to the wildfires.

Meanwhile, the Glass fire burned through an area famed for its wineries in Napa Valley, where mandatory evacuations were also in effect. Grouped together, the Shady, Glass and nearby Boysen fires had burned 11,000 acres and were threatening more than 8,000 structures.

To avoid sparking further wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric has preemptively cut power in multiple California counties.

And the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for parts of Southern California, saying that Santa Ana winds and 100-degree temperatures pose an extreme danger of fire. In Santa Clarita, a fire that ignited Monday afternoon engulfed 300 acres within minutes.

Check out the California wildfires map for an overview of the fires. Los Angeles Times

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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San Diego courts aim to restart trials amid massive case backlog: San Diego Superior Court, the state’s second-largest court system, hasn’t seen a jury trial in six months. That has contributed to a backlog of some 20,000 criminal cases, with 54,000 civil cases pending. Trials are supposed to resume next month. San Diego Union-Tribune



These schools want to reopen. A coalition of private schools, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and health officials to start accepting waiver applications to allow the reopening of elementary schools. Los Angeles Times

L.A. Comic Con is happening in December. Unless officials say otherwise, that is. Los Angeles Times

“I never thought I’d say it, but I miss my commute.” And that’s not the only thing columnist Mary McNamara misses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times

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The first presidential debate is today, scheduled for 6 p.m. Pacific time. It’s happening at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Chris Wallace, the anchor of “Fox News Sunday,” will moderate the 90-minute debate. President Trump, 74, who is trailing in most national polls, has promoted the unsubstantiated narrative that 77-year-old Democratic challenger Joe Biden uses performance-enhancing drugs during debates to compensate for cognitive decline. Biden has laughed off the claim, and his campaign characterized Trump’s remarks as a distraction from his failures to protect Americans from COVID-19. Los Angeles Times

Pollsters say debates don’t matter much in deciding presidential races, and this debate will likely “confirm what everybody already thinks” about the candidates, argues columnist Jonah Goldberg. Los Angeles Times

Report of Trump’s tax-dodging bolsters Biden’s “Scranton vs. Park Ave.” campaign: Biden’s campaign has seized on the news that President Trump for years has paid little or no federal income taxes, revelations the Trump camp is deriding it as “fake news” and “a big nothing-burger.” Los Angeles Times

Putting that $750 in perspective. Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik observes that what the billionaire president paid in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017 is about what the average American household owed in taxes per month. Los Angeles Times



Clippers coach Doc Rivers is out. He joined the team before the 2013-14 season and held the job for seven seasons. The team finished in second place in the Western Conference this season. Los Angeles Times

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers is leaving the team.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)


Prioritizing election mail: A federal judge ruled Monday that the U.S. Postal Service must reverse cost-cutting measures that have delayed mail service, during an election season in which mail-in ballots are expected to play a large role. Los Angeles Times


Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet, and this summer was the fourth-hottest in its recorded history. Some tourists rushed to experience 130-degree Fahrenheit, at least long enough to take a picture. Los Angeles Times

“It isn’t just about cars”: The city of Modesto is planning to open the Graffiti USA Classic Car museum, in honor of George Lucas’ 1973 film “American Graffiti,” which celebrated car culture in the Central Valley. Modesto Bee

“My Father in English.” A poem by Richard Blanco. The New Yorker

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Los Angeles: sunny, 97 . San Diego: sunny, 88. San Francisco: mostly sunny, 78. San Jose: partly cloudy, 89. Fresno: sunny, 100. Sacramento: sunny, 97. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Lori Oliwenstein:

It was January of 1994; I’d lived in Los Angeles for just eight months, and was within days of turning 30. I decided it was time to cap off the changes in my life with a haircut ... taking about two feet off my ridiculously long mop of hair. Afterward, I felt like a new person, as silly as that may sound. And that night — well, the following morning — at 4:30 a.m., I was awoken by my first-ever earthquake, the Northridge quake. Something really had shifted ... both within me and without.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (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, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.