Newsletter: Dozens are feared dead after boat fire off the coast of Ventura County

Fire engulfs the 75-foot commercial dive boat Conception off Santa Cruz Island.
Fire on the 75-foot commercial dive boat Conception off Santa Cruz Island.
(Ventura County Fire Department)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Sept. 3, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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A long weekend dive trip turned into a horrific maritime disaster in the hours before dawn on Monday, leaving more than 30 people feared dead.

Shirley Hansen and her husband, Bob, were fast asleep on their fishing boat in Platts Harbor, near Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Ventura, when they heard desperate thumping on the side of their vessel. Five distraught crew members were in a dinghy outside their boat, some injured and clad only in their underwear. The Conception, the 75-foot commercial dive boat those crew members had escaped from, was engulfed in flames.


Shirley Hansen told reporter Dakota Smith that she and her husband gave the crew members blankets and clothes. Some of the men were crying, and one told them that his girlfriend was still below deck on the Conception.

[Read the story: “Final hours on the Conception: Diving, birthday parties, then horrific fire” in the Los Angeles Times]

Much remains unknown about the fire, but the Coast Guard has said that the five crew members who survived were awake and above deck when the fire hit and therefore were able to escape. Most of the people aboard the boat are thought to have been sleeping below deck when flames engulfed the vessel. As of Monday night, at least 15 bodies had been found. Rescue divers were still searching for additional survivors in the sunken vessel near the shore of Santa Cruz Island, but Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said, “I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst possible outcome.”

Full coverage on the California boat fire:

  • “I can’t breathe.... there’s no escape hatch.” A haunting mayday call from the boat. Los Angeles Times
  • “Devastating. Tragic.” Frantic family and friends await answers. Los Angeles Times
  • Dive leader Kristy Finstad was among those unaccounted for. Los Angeles Times
  • Mapping the Conception’s final voyage: Here’s what we know. Los Angeles Times

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


One hiker died and four others suffered from heat exhaustion when their group ran out of water during a hike in the Malibu Hills on Monday. Los Angeles Times

How an L.A. man with cancer got a parking ticket while in the hospital and ended up losing his car. Los Angeles Times

There is a museum of African American art tucked away on the third floor of a Crenshaw mall. LAist

Is “BoJack Horseman” the only show that really gets L.A.? This writer thinks so. Curbed LA

BoJack (right, voiced by Will Arnett) and Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul) in Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman.”
(Netflix and “BoJack Horseman”)

Apparently no one in Hollywood has any friends. Or at least not “real” ones. The Hollywood Reporter

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Fewer people are applying for “U visas,” a special visa designed to protect immigrant crime victims. Advocates attribute the decline to Trump administration policies and deportation fears. San Diego Union-Tribune


AB 5, a bill giving workplace protection to a million Californians, moved one step closer to law on Friday, even as Uber, Lyft and other gig economy companies mounted a fierce lobbying campaign to sidestep its reach. Los Angeles Times

Republicans are rallying to save one of the party’s two remaining San Diego City Council seats. The Republican incumbent has termed out, and the party is throwing its support behind a longtime community leader and small-business owner. Three well-funded Democrats also are vying for the seat. The two candidates who get the most votes in the March 2020 primary, regardless of party, will advance to a November runoff. San Diego Union-Tribune

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has a secret talent: Her colored pencil drawings adorn the walls of her prestigious office space close to the Senate floor. San Francisco Chronicle

How San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, the richest Democratic candidate, spends his money. Recode

Two new “Trump Ville” stores in the high desert sell locally designed Trump merchandise in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. Desert Sun


The water supply in Pico Rivera is now considered tainted under new water quality standards issued by the state. The city will soon be sending notices to all residents about high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, more commonly referred to as PFOA and PFOS. And Pico Rivera is far from alone — communities across Southern California are dealing with similar issues. Los Angeles Daily News


Entry-level teachers in the Los Angeles-Orange counties area will spend 85% of pay to afford a median-priced apartment or home rental this school year, according to a new analysis. (That’s drastically higher than the 30% of earnings that economists say should be spent on rent, though the suggested percentage is sadly far from reality for many Californians.) Long Beach Press-Telegram

(See also: “Where can you afford to rent in California?” an interactive calculator from the Los Angeles Times)

Modesto opened a temporary outdoor shelter with nearly 300 tents housing about 400 people who receive services from a variety of providers. Now other cities are looking at it as a potential model. Modesto Bee

Can a mural in a Costa Mesa church parking lot help sway public opinion on homelessness? Orange County Register


The Bay Area’s oldest black motorcycle club is celebrating 60 years in Oakland. The East Bay Dragons still meet at the same clubhouse in East Oakland. East Bay Times

“The calendar read Sept. 1 but it might as well have been Christmas morning”: A dispatch from the Central Valley during an annual rite of passage: the first day of dove hunting season. Bakersfield Californian

Fresno has a population of 530,093. So why do fewer than 1% of Fresno’s residents live downtown? Fresno Bee

The art of traditional bookmaking lives on at the Book Club of California, a quiet paradise for bibliophiles. Roadtrippers

Field of Light — a massive light art installation in Paso Robles — has sold nearly 40,000 tickets since it opened in May. San Luis Obispo Tribune


Los Angeles: sunny, 90. San Diego: sunny, 83. San Francisco: sunny, 72. San Jose: sunny, 83. Sacramento: sunny, 96. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Susan Ryan:

“When I was a child in the ‘50s, my family would travel between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles quite frequently, visiting my mother’s family. Either on the way there or the way back, we would often stop at the eucalyptus groves which lined the freeway around Camarillo. The purpose was to pick up fallen eucalyptus branches, which we then brought home to install under our beds. Apparently it was ‘common knowledge’ that the scent of eucalyptus would deter mosquitoes from entering our bedrooms. I think it worked! There are still a few eucalyptus trees surviving in the same location.”

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.