Newsletter: Essential California: Firefighters have never seen a wildfire like this one

The Thomas fire rages near Ojai this month.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 19, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Thomas fire enters its third week

The scope of the Thomas fire continues to inspire awe and generate horror. The wildfire has scorched 271,000 acres across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and damaged 250 more. An additional 18,000 structures remain threatened and thousands of residents still can’t go home. Some 8,450 firefighters are on the lines, the largest mobilization of fire crews to fight any wildfire in California history. The Thomas is now the state’s third-largest fire on record but is likely to become the second within the next day or two. “Usually Santa Ana winds last two days,” said Ventura County firefighter Antonio Negrete. “We’ve been firefighters for decades and have never seen anything like this.”Los Angeles Times


Plus: Congress is set to consider an $81-billion disaster aid package that includes wildfire recovery money for California and other Western states as well as hurricane relief with a price tag reflecting a year of record-setting natural calamities. Exactly how much of that could headed for the Golden State wasn’t immediately clear. Los Angeles Times

Chinatown’s only hospital closes

For decades, the Pacific Alliance Medical Center, better known as the French Hospital, was Chinatown’s only hospital, serving a large population of seniors and recent immigrants and giving generations of “French babies,” as they came to be known, a reason to call Chinatown home. On Dec. 11, the hospital’s lease expired, and all 638 of the facility’s employees were laid off. After 157 years, like many Chinatown institutions in recent years, it closed quietly and without fanfare. Los Angeles Times

Kozinski steps aside

Judge Alex Kozinski, a prominent voice on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, retired abruptly Monday in the face of more than a dozen reports of sexual misconduct. Kozinski, who served more than three decades on the appeals court, faced allegations that he showed clerks pornography, improperly touched women and kept a list of his sexual partners he’d had in college. Los Angeles Times



Up in lights: The Lakers retired two jerseys — No. 8 and No. 24 — Monday night, both bearing Kobe Bryant’s last name. “I think legacy is really important in the sense of what we’ve done is awesome, but I think what’s more important for a legacy is how that affects the next generation,” Bryant said before the ceremony. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Here’s every shot Bryant ever took. All 30,699 of them. Los Angeles Times

Yum: “I’m wondering whether there has ever been a dining year quite like 2017 here in Los Angeles,” writes Times food critic Jonathan Gold in his introduction to his 10 best dishes of 2017. Los Angeles Times

See you in court: Several Westside families and school employees are suing to prevent construction that they say will harm students at Palms Elementary School. Los Angeles Times

Get ready: Is Elon Musk really going to save Los Angeles from traffic? KPCC



More legal moves: Trump administration officials must allow two pregnant teenage immigrants being held in a detention facility to see a doctor about having abortions, a federal judge ruled Monday. Los Angeles Times


Not too pleased: California’s new rules allowing marijuana cultivation favor large corporate farms despite a promise in Proposition 64 that small growers would be protected, according to a group of state lawmakers and marijuana industry leaders who called Monday for the policy to be changed. Los Angeles Times

Life on the streets: Bay Area cities are facing a growing crisis as RVs become homes of last resort. The Mercury News

Pushed out: Complaints about allegedly improper evictions and discharges from nursing homes are on the rise in California, Illinois and other states, according to government data.” Kaiser Health News



Looking for a way out: From his small cell on California’s death row, Scott Pinholster swears he could prove his innocence. The only problem is that the evidence he says will exonerate him was mistakenly destroyed by the Los Angeles County courts. Los Angeles Times

An arrest is made: The ex-wife of slain former NBA player Lorenzen Wright was arrested on a fugitive warrant in the Norco area. She has been charged in Wright’s 2010 slaying. Associated Press

The fight against human trafficking: Los Angeles County is employing a unique approach to get women out of the sex trade. The county is the nation’s most populous with more than 10 million residents and it’s widely regarded as the U.S. epicenter for human trafficking, mostly women forced into prostitution.” Associated Press


Steep price tag: To build a bridge for mountain lions near the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, wildlife activists say they need $60 million. Los Angeles Times



Major media move: ESPN President John Skipper resigned Monday, citing a substance addiction problem, in a move that stunned the sports media business. Los Angeles Times

Cheap(er) eats: The new winter Dine L.A. season launches Jan. 12 with nearly 400 restaurants, up from 143 when the event started in 2008. That translates to almost 400 prix-fixe menus around the city, most offering special items for lunch and dinner. Los Angeles Times

The Force abides: The Force dominated at the box office as Disney-Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opened with a stellar $220-million weekend at 4,232 North American sites — the second-highest opening weekend of all time. Variety

Who knew? California’s first Cracker Barrel confirms its opening date will be Feb. 5. Eater LA


Los Angeles area: Sunny, 69, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 60, Wednesday. San Diego: Sunny, 67, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 61, Wednesday. San Francisco area: Partly cloudy, 57, Tuesday. Sunny, 54, Wednesday. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 60, Tuesday. Sunny, 55, Wednesday. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Tonja Hernandez-Powell:

“I have lived all over California, but my fondest memories would have to be being a kid in the ’70s in Ojai. I can recall walking among the orange, lemon and avocado groves and being intoxicated with the most wonderful scents from these trees. Also, all of us kids in the neighborhood would climb and run through this small arroyo near Libbey Park and we would treat it like our own private, jungle domain. We could come home with our hair and clothes covered with the smell of sage. Finally, we would pass through the main shopping arcade each day on our way to and from school in the clearest, brightest sunny days. We had no idea at the time that we were basically living in paradise. I moved out of CA when I turned 40 and I long to return to CA, especially to Ojai.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. Send us an email to let us know what you love or fondly remember about our state. (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 and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.