Newsletter: As fires rage, the season’s strongest winds may come

Aerial view of homes shrouded in smoke from the Getty fire.

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 29, and I’m writing from Santa Rosa.

Sometime a few hours before dawn yesterday morning, I was driving back toward the Kincade fire while on the phone with my sister, who’d been scrambled awake by the howl of mobile evacuation alerts in Los Angeles. You run to cover one fire across the state and wake up to find your city back in danger, 400 miles to the south.

So, this is what it’s like to be a Californian in 2019, I thought, as I maneuvered a rental car down a country road in the inky, blackouts darkness. You can’t run toward or away from danger, because it’s all around. There is the distinct feeling that nowhere is immune.

And we were the lucky ones. The screeching cellphone alert system had been overzealous, and my sister was fortunate enough to live outside the Getty fire evacuation zone. My press pass grants me the dark privilege of crossing evacuation lines and humbly recording the worst moments of people’s lives. But then I drive back out.


As of last night, almost 200,000 Californians had been evacuated from their homes as the Getty and Kincade fires rage. But nearly 40 million people live in the state. The great majority of us occupy a kind of liminal zone, with the toggle switch from normalcy to chaos still firmly planted on business as usual. We know in our bones that all that could change in an instant.

Here’s the latest on the Getty fire in Los Angeles:

  • The Getty fire was at 618 acres and 5% containment, as of Monday night. Eight residences have been destroyed and six have been damaged.
  • “The streets were mostly empty throughout the neighborhood — except for the workers who tend the gardens, clean the hilltop homes and care for the children in one of the city’s most affluent communities.” If you read one dispatch from the Getty fire, read my colleague Brittny Mejia’s painful, sensitively reported account of the domestic workers and gardeners arriving to work in one of the most affluent areas of L.A., despite the flames. (And here’s a little more insight into her reporting process.) Los Angeles Times
  • Westside residents grabbed their “apocalypse bags” and raced to outrun the flames. Los Angeles Times
  • Fire licked the edges of Getty Center, but the art is safe. “The Getty is an incredibly safe place for the art,” a museum representative said. “It’s sealed and it’s secure.” Los Angeles Times
  • The fire has rained smoke and ash on the Los Angeles Basin, creating hazardous air. Here are some tips for dealing with wildfire smoke from the Environmental Protection Agency. Los Angeles Times

And the Kincade fire in Northern California:

  • The Kincade fire had grown to 74,324 acres and was 15% contained as of Monday night. One hundred and twenty-three structures have been destroyed, and 20 have been damaged.
  • These Santa Rosa residents just rebuilt their homes. Then came the Kincade fire. Los Angeles Times
  • Cell service failed in parts of Bay Area during this weekend’s PG&E outages. San Francisco Chronicle
  • PG&E Corp. stock fell 24% on Monday as the unrelenting Kincade fire continued to cast doubt over the perpetually embattled utility’s future. San Francisco Chronicle

And what’s to come:

  • Here’s why Santa Ana winds later this week may be the strongest of the season thus far. After a brief pause on Tuesday morning, strong, cold offshore winds are expected to return to California through Thursday. Los Angeles Times
  • PG&E plans another major power outage this week as Diablo winds return. The next blackout would cover more than two dozen Northern California counties and come just days after a much larger power cut that covered nearly 1 million customers over the weekend. Los Angeles Times
  • Here’s how you can prepare for wildfires. It’s a good idea to put aside supplies, make plans with loved ones and think through arrangements for pets even if there’s no emergency threatening you. Los Angeles Times

Here’s a map of where fires are burning in California.

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


Former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon said Monday that he will challenge Jackie Lacey to become Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor next year. The race may test the political mood for criminal justice reform in one of the nation’s most progressive and diverse cities. Los Angeles Times

LAX’s ban on Uber, Lyft and taxi pickups at the curb goes into effect today. Here’s how the new system works. Los Angeles Times

“Chinatown” producer Robert Evans has died at 89. As the chief of Paramount Pictures, Evans presided over a remarkable run of film classics, but his flamboyantly over-the-top lifestyle was nearly as cinematic as any of them. Los Angeles Times

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The Trump administration on Monday extended temporary protected status for thousands of Salvadorans in the United States, granting them a reprieve from removal to El Salvador. An estimated 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. have TPS, making them the largest single group under the program. Many live in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times

Religious leaders and activists arrested for getting too close to the border during a pro-immigration protest last year have been found not guilty of“failure to comply with lawful orders.” San Diego Union-Tribune


The fall of a rising Democratic star: Katie Hill’s meteoric congressional career is coming to an abrupt end after she announced Sunday she would resign amid publication of nude photos of her and allegations that she had romantic relationships with congressional and campaign subordinates. Here are answers to all of your questions. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Is President Trump an obstacle to Republicans winning back Hill’s congressional seat? Her decision to resign from Congress has given Republicans an unexpected chance to recapture her House district on the northern edge of the Los Angeles suburbs, but Trump’s unpopularity in California will make it a steep challenge for the GOP. Los Angeles Times


Smoke from wildfires may pose a greater risk to children and seniors than we thought, at least according to these scientists. Sacramento Bee

What, exactly, is a “red flag warning”? They’re some of the most dreaded words in fire-prone California. Here’s what they mean. LAist

Former Gov. Jerry Brown will testify before Congress today about the damage the Trump administration’s plans to roll back auto emission standards could do to California, setting up another confrontation between the state’s political leadership and the president. Los Angeles Times


The remains of 81 South Vietnamese soldiers who were killed during the Vietnam War were laid to rest in Westminster on Oct. 26 after being held in a U.S. Army facility for 33 years. Daily Pilot

An effort to name a park in Bakersfield after a Sikh civil rights leader has been indefinitely tabled by the Bakersfield City Council. Bakersfield Californian


Los Angeles: sunny, 74. San Diego: sunny, 71. San Francisco: sunny, 69. San Jose: sunny, 73. Sacramento: windy, 71. More weather is here.


“For this is the real nature of California and the secret of its fascination; this untamed, undomesticated, aloof, prehistoric landscape which relentlessly reminds the traveller of his human condition and the circumstances of his tenure upon the earth.”

— -Christopher Isherwood

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.