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Essential California: How dead trees could make a fire near Yosemite much worse

Essential California: How dead trees could make a fire near Yosemite much worse
The Ferguson fire burns a hillside on Sunday near Yosemite National Park. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, July 17, and here’s what’s happening across California:



The Ferguson fire burning through Mariposa County has already charred 10,000 acres and killed a firefighter working the front lines. But its true destructiveness might lie ahead, as its burns a path through a tinderbox primed for disaster. On either side of the Merced River, hillsides are filled with trees that have been killed by five years of drought and a bark beetle infestation, according to state maps. The ground is carpeted with bone-dry pine needles, which are high combustible. These conditions, combined with dry, hot weather, have officials fearful that the fire could grow far worse as it heads toward Yosemite National Park. Los Angeles Times

-- Could fires carrying poison oak be the cause of mysterious rashes in California? The Weather Channel

-- California wildfire numbers are keeping pace with 2017 levels, and Mother Nature isn’t helping firefighters one bit. AccuWeather

1st Amendment battle

A federal judge’s order that The Times remove information it had published on its website about a plea deal between prosecutors and a Glendale police detective accused of working with the Mexican Mafia is generating growing scrutiny and alarm from free-speech advocates. Legal scholars said Monday that the news media cannot be lawfully ordered to excise information they have lawfully obtained and published except in exceptional circumstances. Los Angeles Times

-- A legal analysis of the 1st Amendment showdown. The Volokh Conspiracy

Police pursuits

In a closely watched case, the California Supreme Court will soon decide whether a police department can be immune from liability in accidents arising from pursuits if it has a policy governing vehicle chases and provides regular training for officers. The stakes are high: Police pay out millions on cases stemming from the pursuits. Los Angeles Times

An endangered El Segundo blue butterfly pollinates a sea-cliff buckwheat plant at Miramar Park in Redondo Beach.
An endangered El Segundo blue butterfly pollinates a sea-cliff buckwheat plant at Miramar Park in Redondo Beach. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)


Mysterious shots: Twice in the last week, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have responded to reports of shots fired near the Malibu Creek State Park area where there have been at least seven prior shootings, including the killing of a father who was camping with his two young daughters. Los Angeles Times

A test case: Mayor Eric Garcetti has committed at least $20 million for more trailers, tents and other temporary shelters across the city. He’s rolling out the shelter program as he positions himself as a leader in the national Democratic Party, bringing more attention to his handling of the city’s homelessness crisis. Success at one site in downtown L.A. could tamp down the type of neighborhood opposition seen in Koreatown and Venice over proposed homeless shelters. Los Angeles Times

Go blue! The El Segundo blue butterfly, on the endangered species list since 1976, is making a comeback in a few patches of land between LAX and Redondo Beach, thanks to the efforts of local environmentalists who have been ripping out ice plant and restoring the butterfly's native habit. Los Angeles Times

Strange and wonderful: L.A.’s lost amusement parks. Curbed Los Angeles

The force: The inside story of how George Lucas ditched San Francisco and brought his museum to L.A. It had to do with schoolchildren versus vanity. Vanity Fair



Halted: A judge temporarily blocked the federal government from deporting families newly reunified with their children as officials work under court order to match more than 2,500 children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. San Diego Union-Tribune

What a mess: A “side show” car event closed Interstate 5 in Sacramento and locked in drivers. Sacramento Bee

Terrifying: An Orange County woman is in critical condition after being stung by a swarm of bees. Orange County Register


Neck and neck: One of California's hottest congressional races — between incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and his Democratic challenger, Harley Rouda — is starting out in effect tied, according to a new poll. Rouda holds the slimmest of leads, with support from women, minorities and younger voters. Los Angeles Times

$$$$$$: In what has already been a banner year for Democratic fundraising, candidates hoping to flip GOP-held House seats in California just hit another benchmark: Five of them running in competitive races raised more than $1 million in just three months. Los Angeles Times

The purge: Two of California’s most prominent politicians lost a noticeable slice of Twitter followers, as the social media platform began a crackdown on accounts it deemed to be suspicious. Los Angeles Times


Staying quiet: Can California Republicans survive backing President Trump’s Russia comments in Finland? San Francisco Chronicle

Nuts! Tariffs are hitting California pistachio farmers hard. Wall Street Journal


Diversity matters: The news from a recent USC study that the vast majority of film critics are white men surprised exactly no one. But there are also voices working to change the system and offer fresh perspectives. Los Angeles Times

You’ve got to laugh: In Southern California, we feel the seasons, well, differently. “May Gray, June Gloom, No-Sky July, Smogust. Not to mention Pilot Season and Awards Season. The New Yorker

Yum? The Orange County Fair is known for its wild, caloric food. But this year, it seems to be merging with Los Angeles fusion food truck cuisine. Think ramen and orange chicken burritos. Spaghetti doughnuts. Orange County Register

In the courts: In this #MeToo world, the men’s movement finds a foothold in San Diego. New York Times

Newsroom drama: The saga of the East Bay Express, its publisher and accusations of workplace misbehavior. San Francisco Chronicle


Los Angeles area: Partly cloudy, 82, Tuesday. Mostly sunny, 85, Wednesday. San Diego: Partly cloudy, 75, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 76, Wednesday. San Francisco area: Partly cloudy, 69, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 68. Wednesday. Sacramento: Sunny, 102, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 104, Wednesday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Sylvia Courtney:

“My family lived in Gardena since 1951, the year of my birth. I live in Washington state now and think of the great memories. Our family went camping for our vacations before it was cool. I have good memories of passing through the Grapevine through the hills on our way to Kern River for our camping adventures. I remember the Grapevine having the sound of the big wheelers going on their way. The sound of the Grapevine was part of the excitement. At that time in the Kern River campgrounds, campers would call out to find ‘Elmer.’ We thought they were sincerely looking for someone named Elmer until we heard it the next year, the next, etc.”