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Newsletter: Fires continue to rage in the North Bay

Two people in front of a vineyard, with a burning mountainside in the background.
The Glass fire in Napa County burns on a mountainside with the Beckstoffer Vinyeards in the foreground on Monday in St. Helena, Calif.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Sept. 30, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

California’s worst fire season in modern history continued to wreak havoc Tuesday, with the Glass fire raging in Sonoma and Napa counties and the Zogg fire swelling in the rugged terrain near Redding.

In a new story, my colleagues Joseph Serna and Paige St. John wrote about how wine country became an epicenter of California fires in recent years. More than 9,000 structures were lost and dozens of people were killed in 2017, when fires swept through Santa Rosa and surrounding communities. And last year, the Kincade fire menaced the region for weeks. Fires once again exploded in the region Sunday and have continued to rage.

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[Read the story: “How wine country became the epicenter for fires in California” in the Los Angeles Times]

Paige and Joe cited a number of factors for the nightmarish increase in fires in the region, which have left some residents fleeing their homes on an annual basis. Those factors include increased development from the suburbs to the wildlands, which has carried the fire risks of utility infrastructure along with it, as well as our changing climate.

[Read more: “California’s wine country faces a triple threat: COVID-19, smoke and now raging fires” in the Los Angeles Times]

In recent days, I have thought often of a tweet from Eric Wittmershaus, the deputy managing editor of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He wrote a few weeks ago that when people ask him about climate change, he tells them that he doesn’t recall covering any major wildfires during his first 14 years at the Press-Democrat. “Now, it’s every year. Sometimes more than once.”

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[See also: “Fleeing the Glass fire? Here’s how to get help” from the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat]

Further north, the fast-moving Zogg fire continued to cut a destructive path through Shasta County. The fire, which started Sunday afternoon about nine miles southwest of Redding, has killed three and destroyed at least 146 structures.

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

As if America had not already suffered enough: Chaos reigned supreme as President Trump and Joe Biden clashed Tuesday night in their first face-to-face debate. Fox News host Chris Wallace was panned for his inability to prevent the presidential debate from going out of control. Shouting over each other, the candidates repeatedly accused the other of lying and incompetence.

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Personal attacks flew fast and furious, with Trump repeating false claims about Biden’s son, and Biden at one point calling Trump “the worst president America has ever had.”

When asked whether he would condemn white supremacists, Trump refused to categorically do so, and told the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, to “stand back and stand by.”

And as for the California of it all, the president again harped on the state’s need to improve forest management to prevent California fires, even though only 3% of California forestland is managed by the state. The entity responsible for most of California’s forestland is actually the federal government, which manages more than half of it. Trump also called Gov. Gavin Newsom’s long-term plan to phase out gas-powered vehicles in California “crazy.” Los Angeles Times

L.A.'s poorest patients endure long delays to see medical specialists. Some die waiting. Thousands of patients in L.A. County’s public hospital system face long, sometimes deadly waits to see specialists, a major Times investigation has found. The system serves primarily the region’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. Los Angeles Times

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Southern California is held back from reopening as other regions get the green light. Ten more counties — Amador, Calaveras, San Francisco, Butte, Contra Costa, Fresno, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara and Yolo — progressed through the state’s reopening blueprint Tuesday, but no place in Southern California was allowed to change tiers. Still, L.A. County will reopen breweries, wineries and card rooms outdoors. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

A limited number of L.A. County elementary schools will be allowed to open if waivers are approved. The County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to begin allowing schools to apply for waivers to open campuses to students in grades TK-2. Los Angeles Times

A teacher raising her arms in an empty classroom
Diana Torres teaches kindergarten students from her empty classroom at St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in La Puente.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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L.A. Taco’s Javier Cabral on scouting for tacos in Mexico and reporting during the pandemic. Cabral just celebrated his first-year anniversary as editor of the news and culture website. Los Angeles Times

What Palantir and the LAPD know about you: Newly revealed documents show how Los Angeles police were trained to use the flagship product of the most secretive company in law enforcement. BuzzFeed

Police in Los Angeles responded to almost twice as many landlord-tenant disputes on Sept. 1 as they had on the day rent was due just one month before. Crosstown LA

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Detainees at California’s for-profit ICE detention centers will soon be able to sue over abuse and harm. Newsom signed a bill Sunday backed by immigrant-rights advocates that mandates greater accountability by the companies that operate federal detention facilities in California. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

A new poll shows Californians give Newsom high marks on COVID-19 and low marks on addressing homelessness. Newsom’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic helped put him in such good graces with California voters that his approval rating is among the highest of any governor in the past 50 years at the same point in their first term. Los Angeles Times

On Tuesday, Newsom vetoed a bill that would have authorized California to give low-income immigrants $600 to buy groceries. The bill was aimed at helping people, including those living in the country illegally, who have been affected by the coronavirus but are not eligible for other state and federal assistance programs. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

California’s attorney general sued the Trump administration in an effort to crack down on so-called “ghost guns” that can be built from parts with little ability to track or regulate the owners. Associated Press

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Playgrounds can reopen in California with some COVID-19 restrictions: The California Department of Public Health announced new guidance Monday to allow outdoor playground spaces to reopen in all counties, regardless of tier status. Los Angeles Times

Coronavirus infections among school-age kids rose in September after classes resumed. In the last 6½ months, at least 277,285 schoolchildren in 38 states tested positive for the coronavirus, the CDC reported. Cases rose as school resumed. Los Angeles Times

All-time bad air quality in the San Joaquin Valley: “This has been really exceptional, and I would say this is the worst air quality wildfire period that we’ve ever had,” an official said. Fresno Bee

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Hobbled by the coronavirus, Disney will lay off 28,000 employees at its domestic parks division, which includes Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. California has not yet allowed theme parks including Disneyland to resume business, while Disney has been operating with strict capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Los Angeles Times

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Latinos find a piece of the Old West dream in “Bonanza” country, fires be damned. A growing number of Latinos are moving to the back country of the Antelope Valley, drawn by the rugged terrain and individualistic ethos that American society long cast as the Old West spirit and reserved mostly for Anglos. Los Angeles Times

How the Great Highway became San Francisco’s most unexpected promenade. When the pandemic shut down most of the city, much of the 3.5-mile road closed to car traffic. SF Gate

A poem to start your Wednesday: “Prospects” by Anthony Hecht. Poetry Foundation

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 98. San Diego: sunny, 91. San Francisco: partly sunny, 76. San Jose: sunny, 89. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 100. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Eric Jay Sonnenschein:

It was 1984, the year of the L.A. Olympics, when America won nearly everything. I’d lost patience with New Mexico. So my girlfriend and I sped west for L.A. We crashed for the night at a motel in Hollywood where loud curses, crashing furniture, gunshots or engine backfire kept us up all night. We prayed the lock would keep out predators but the door shook with every violent sound effect and we knew nothing would save us. When morning came, we were still alive, so we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, where the sun blinded us on every hairpin turn.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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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.


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