Newsletter: Scenes from the edge of the Kincade fire


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 30, and I’m writing from San Francisco International Airport (and Santa Rosa, Calistoga and Petaluma, earlier in the day).

Time collapses in the long shadow of the Kincade fire. Days have passed since the first scream of hi-lo sirens herded entire neighborhoods out.

For the evacuated and maybe soon-to-be evacuated, the emergency is still sharp, but it’s also gone elastic. Seemingly everyone has been wearing the same clothes and sleeping with one eye open. And, as they wait with go-bags and no power, there’s no end in sight.

Sitting in a rocking chair on a Santa Rosa porch, Barbara wasn’t sure if her duplex in Windsor was still standing, or what day it had been when police had shown up at 4 a.m. to evacuate the neighborhood. The 76-year-old, who didn’t want to give her last name, had her red cane propped up behind her. The other side of the porch was crammed with hampers of clothes and belongings-stuffed black garbage bags. “It’s all too wild for me,” she said with a slight European accent and a shake of the head. Who could know how many days it had been?


Sister Marie Callas wore an N95 smoke mask over a dark brown nun’s habit outside the Holy Assumption Monastery bookstore in Calistoga. The sleepy Napa Valley town known for its hot springs and mud baths was currently east of Kincade’s wrath, but a shift in the winds could bring the fire this way. The sisters had gassed up their cars the day the advisory was issued, so they’d be able to quickly evacuate to another monastery three hours north if the order came. Was that first advisory day Saturday or Sunday? Who could remember? But either way, they were ready.

In an office park in Petaluma, dozens of volunteers darted around an industrial kitchen. With their own restaurants closed for blackouts, renowned chefs had carted the gourmet contents of their powerless walk-in fridges here to prepare meals for the displaced. Sonoma Family Meal, a nonprofit that began during the Tubbs fire, had once again kicked into high gear last week.

Most of the meals were going to evacuation centers, but Oswaldo Jimenez, a chef with deep roots in the Latinx community, was coordinating deliveries to those who might not feel safe interacting with officials. Jimenez said that Sonoma Family Meal founder Heather Irwin had called him a few days ago about outreach to the Spanish-speaking community. But Irwin insisted it was only a single day prior.

One could forgive Jimenez for thinking it had to be longer — so much had happened since then, including a flood of logistics and a police escort to retrieve 3,000 tortillas from a factory in the evacuation zone. That night they planned to serve hundreds of meals to a group of largely immigrant farmworkers who had been sleeping in their cars.

[Read more: “Kincade fire: More evacuations, power shut-offs loom as winds threaten to fuel massive blaze” in the Los Angeles Times]

The latest on the fires and winds hitting California:


As of Tuesday night, the Kincade fire was at 76,138 acres and remained 15% contained. The Getty fire in Los Angeles, which is at 656 acres, had also reached 15% containment.

Because of Santa Ana winds expected to continue late Tuesday evening through Thursday, Southern California could experience “an extreme fire weather threat, with conditions as dangerous for fire growth and behavior as we have seen in recent memory.” Los Angeles Times

The Getty fire was started by a tree branch that fell on power lines, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. Los Angeles Times

The Kincade fire has left 200,000 evacuees. Who’s going to take them in? Los Angeles Times

Volunteer Barbara Wood gives a hug to a Kincade fire evacuee at a Red Cross shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif.
(John Burgess / Press Democrat)

California needs a stable electric grid to fight climate change. But blackouts are throwing the grid’s reliability into doubt. Los Angeles Times

Which California state parks are affected by wildfires, smoke and power cuts? The California Department of Parks and Recreation has shut down 17 state parks, mostly in the Bay Area. Sacramento Bee

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


Three people were killed and nine were hurt Tuesday night during a mass shooting at a home in Long Beach, authorities said. Los Angeles Times

Homeless deaths in L.A. County have nearly doubled in the last six years. Even when adjusting for the increase in the number of homeless people in Los Angeles, the mortality rate has increased each year. LAist

WarnerMedia unveiled its long-awaited HBO Max, which will cost consumers $14.99 a month when it launches in May, making it the most expensive gladiator in the streaming wars. Los Angeles Times

H&M employees protested at a Pasadena store, alleging workplace intimidation. Pasadena Star-News

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Former Trump aide George Papadopoulos to seek former California Rep. Katie Hill’s House seat. The Republican was a key figure in the FBI’s Russia probe and spent 14 days in prison. Los Angeles Times


Protesters want a federal investigation of the fatal Fresno police shooting of a teen. A video of the 2017 incident was released earlier this month. Fresno Bee


Breaking with some of their biggest rivals, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota said they were siding with the Trump administration in an escalating battle with California over fuel economy standards for automobiles. Their decision pits them against leading competitors, including Honda and Ford, who this year reached a deal to follow California’s stricter rules. New York Times


On the much-needed lighter side, a pressing question out of Ontario: Could this 965-pound pumpkin be a San Bernardino County record? Inland Daily Bulletin

The Amgen Tour of California won’t be happening in 2020. The nation’s premier cycling race will be on hiatus amid concerns over “business fundamentals.” Sacramento Bee

How Oakland teen Mxmtoon built a pop empire out of her bedroom. San Francisco Chronicle

Irvine was ranked as the safest U.S. city, at least according to to one analysis. Nine other Southern California cities made the top 50 ranking. Orange County Register

Here’s where to celebrate Halloween in the Coachella Valley, from horror mazes to a family-friendly carnival. Desert Sun


Los Angeles: sunny, 77. San Diego: sunny, 75. San Francisco: sunny, 69. San Jose: sunny, 73. Sacramento: sunny, 69. More weather is here.


“Whatever starts in California unfortunately has a tendency to spread.”

— - Jimmy Carter, 1977

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.