Essential California: Why wildfires are getting faster, hotter

Firefighters walk amid smoldering trees
Firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Placerville station battle the Sugar fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex fire, Friday in Doyle.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, July 13. I’m Shelby Grad, filling in for Justin Ray.

What do most of the big fires that have hit California so early in the season have in common? They got out of control quickly due to little rain and snow melt in the winter and spring, followed by unusually hot conditions leading into summer. Then, a historic heat wave baked Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

This left the landscape ready to burn and is giving firefighters little time to mount an offense. That is why California is already seeing record fire destruction so far this year.

Here is the latest:

— Why firefighters are having such trouble containing the fires. Los Angeles Times


— Flames threaten vast areas, including the gateway to Yosemite and swaths of Lassen County. Los Angeles Times

— Outside Yosemite, there is growing concern about the River fire sweeping in. “We’ve just been seeing the smoke, and now we’re just preparing for what could happen next.” Fresno Bee

— Officials are still trying to assess the level of destruction in the town of Doyle, which the Sugar fire hit this weekend. Chico Enterprise-Record

— Death Valley keeps setting new heat records. Washington Post

— And on the power front ... How fires in Oregon could cripple California’s power supply. A warning about the grid and climate change. Los Angeles Times

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


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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was swept into office by convincing progressive voters he was their candidate. Now he’s to gone to war with the liberal forces that played a major hand in electing him. It all has left the county’s Democratic Party machine awash in feelings of betrayal and buyer’s remorse that culminated last month with a demand that the sheriff resign. Los Angeles Times

Seventeen million gallons of sewage were discharged from the Hyperion treatment plant in Playa del Rey after the facility became inundated with “overwhelming quantities of debris,” according to the executive plant manager. Some beaches were closed for swimming. Los Angeles Times

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More bad news for the unvaccinated. For the fourth straight day, L.A. County recorded more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases. Los Angeles Times


Huntington Beach police announced that they had submitted charges against 35 juveniles for their alleged role in “Adrian’s Kickback,” a May 22 beach gathering that was prompted by a post on TikTok and turned unruly. Los Angeles Times

A fireworks blast on a street
Some who gathered May 22 in Huntington Beach blasted fireworks into crowds, jumped on police cars, scaled palm trees and flagpoles and leaped from the pier.

San Luis Obispo County prosecutors are seeking to amend their murder case against Paul Flores in the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart to include two allegations of rape of unconscious women in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles Times

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Some California wineries are losing their fire insurance. San Francisco Chronicle

Fresno broils. More trees would help. Will they come? Fresno Bee

What it’s like to be homeless when it’s 113 degrees outside. Redding Record Searchlight



The Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday morning. Here’s what to expect. Los Angeles Times

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Britney Spears and the looming war over disability rights and conservatorship. “Britney is a figurehead for an untold number of people the world will never hear about [who are] fighting for their civil rights,” one expert says. Los Angeles Times

Cannes in the heat of summer, with the pandemic fading: “An even more chaotic Cannes than usual, braving the masked and unmasked throngs, not to mention the sweltering French Riviera heat.” But where are the big deals? Los Angeles Times

San Francisco has a new music venue with historic roots. San Francisco Chronicle


The battle over how to remember assassinated gay pioneer Harvey Milk. “The community wants gathering space, the community wants something special that is aligned with Harvey’s worldwide significance as a civil rights hero, and the community wants a space that will inspire continued activism around issues of social justice,” said Brian Springfield, director of Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza. San Francisco Chronicle


Desert Center once was a little town with a lot of hope. Now it’s a ghost town. What happens now that it is being sold? Desert Sun

The tiny town of Moss Landing’s big claim to fame. SFGATE

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Los Angeles: Sunny, 84. San Diego: Mostly sunny, 75. San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 74. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 78. Fresno: Sunny, 106. Sacramento: Sunny, 90.


The link in Monday’s newsletter to a 2019 interview with Linda Ronstadt went to the wrong story. The correct link is here.


Today’s California memory is from Boris Roberts:

Growing up in the Monterey Bay during the late ’60s through the ’70s and ’80s was a very good time to be alive. Politics weren’t as divisive, there seemed to be much less hate going around. And my parents, and my friend’s parents, got us racing minibikes, then motorcycles. And we had to have good grades in school to be allowed to go race, so that really focused most of us to do well in school. You could race two, three and sometimes four races a week if you wanted. There were racetracks in several central California locations, something that isn’t there anymore. It was a very good time.


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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