Newsletter: Essential California: Fire, heartbreak and a need to get out the news

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Nov. 15, and here’s what’s happening across California:


For this newsletter, Shelby and I sample the offerings of newspapers from across the state. This week, we both noticed the exemplary work of the Chico Enterprise-Record. Their editor, David Little, described to me how difficult this week has been and how proud he is of his small staff of 10 full-timers.

The week began with an iconic if horrifying shot of the Camp fire pulverizing Paradise — a large ball of grayish black smoke with fire radiating on the right. This photo ran on the websites of the New York Times, Washington Post and Time Magazine, but it was taken on an iPhone from the roof of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s office by Little.


A massive plume from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., wafts over the Sacramento Valley as seen from Chico.
(David Little/Chico Enterprise-Record via AP)

The responsibility fell to the Chico native because the newspaper’s only photographer is on medical leave. “It was just the first photo we posted on our website that morning and stayed there till [the] afternoon,” Little said. “[Until] we got some real photographers in town.” Little has run the small paper and several others, which are all part of the Digital First Media Group, for almost 20 years. The Enterprise-Record’s staff was 45 people when he started — now it’s 10, with four part-timers pitching in. Journalists from their sister papers in the Bay Area had to be dispatched to assist with coverage.

The last week has been like almost nothing else the 40-year newspaper veteran has ever experienced. Like the community they’re trying to keep informed, members of Little’s staff have been displaced and are worried about missing friends and lost loved ones. Los Angeles Times

More from the fires


The students at Paradise High School didn’t have it easy even before the fire. Poverty was high, and almost three-quarters qualified for free lunches. But at least some things were looking up: The Bobcats were headed to the playoffs, and the football team was set to play Nov. 9. But now the Camp fire has left most of them homeless. Los Angeles Times

As a third body was discovered among the ashes of a home in Agoura Hills, residents in nearby Malibu questioned fire officials about the division of resources and rushed evacuation notices during the Woolsey fire’s devastating march through Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Los Angeles Times

— The Camp fire death toll has risen to 56. These are the victims of the California wildfires. Los Angeles Times

Inside California’s worst wildfire: The unprecedented devastation of the Camp fire. San Francisco Chronicle

Lifesaving evacuation alerts failed to reach many residents during the catastrophic Camp fire early Thursday morning. Chico Enterprise-Record

Plus: Officials in Paradise limited evacuation alerts as the fire moved in, then issued a full-scale evacuation order at 9:17 a.m. But by then the fire was already consuming the town. Los Angeles Times

Fire investigators hoped to wrap up their probe of the Camp fire ignition point near Pulga on Wednesday, but it was not clear when a cause could be determined or if any criminal liability could arise. Chico Enterprise-Record

— In a grim sign for the Northern California utility giant, Pacific Gas & Electric said that if it is deemed responsible for the fire that destroyed much of Paradise, the liability would exceed its insurance coverage. Los Angeles Times


— Revisiting Mike Davis’ case for letting Malibu burn. Los Angeles Times

A week after the Thousand Oaks shooting

One wore a black cowboy hat; another wore his No. 70 jersey, “Coffman” printed on the back. The mourners packed a funeral home in Camarillo on Wednesday evening to remember Cody Coffman, who was one of a dozen killed last week when a gunman sprayed bullets into the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks during college night at the country-themed bar. Los Angeles Times

Plus: The Borderline Bar and Grill’s owner isn’t sure if he’ll reopen the bar. CNN

Related: Shot in the neck at 17, this trauma surgeon is now leading doctors against gun violence and the NRA. Washington Post

Get the Essential California newsletter »


Arrested: Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, has been arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of domestic violence, police said. He’s called the allegations baseless. Los Angeles Times


No game in CDMX: The Rams won’t be playing in Mexico City on Monday as scheduled because of field conditions. But that won’t stop the NFL or other pro leagues from trying to capitalize on the market south of the border. Los Angeles Times

Impact: LoanMe, a high-interest lending company in Anaheim, has stopped making personal loans in Wisconsin after a Times report that drew connections between the company and a legally troubled firm that was not permitted to make loans there. Los Angeles Times


In D.C.: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is scrambling to shore up the support she needs to become speaker again when Democrats take control of the chamber, but a prominent defector said he has the votes to prevent her from regaining the gavel. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times

Meanwhile: Rep. Kevin McCarthy will lead Republicans in the House minority in the next Congress, defeating a challenge from his right for the job. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Pelosi and McCarthy are as different as the two Californias they represent. Los Angeles Times

Staying up to date: The races still too close to call. Los Angeles Times

Come January: Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank wants “comity” for the House Intelligence Committee he’ll be leading. After all the partisan rancor, it won’t be easy. Los Angeles Times

$$$: “Gov. Jerry Brown’s parting gift to Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is a state budget so flush with unrestricted tax revenue that top fiscal analysts struggled to find the right words to describe it.” Sacramento Bee


New to the court: Brown on Wednesday appointed Joshua Groban, a senior advisor who has helped him vet judicial candidates, to the California Supreme Court. Los Angeles Times

He’ll spend at least 20 years in prison: A Los Angeles man accused of making a hoax phone call that led to a fatal police shooting in Kansas pleaded guilty to placing dozens of similar “swatting” calls, including one to FBI headquarters in Washington and another that may have delayed a hearing on net neutrality last year, authorities said. Los Angeles Times


Oops: Researchers with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University have walked back scientific findings published last month that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change. Los Angeles Times


El Doctor del Valle: A food truck with Sinaloan seafood on the side of Reseda Boulevard. Los Angeles Times

The inside story: “Delay, deny and deflect: How Facebook’s leaders fought through crisis.” New York Times

The hottest In-N-Out take: “The beloved but overrated fast-food chain represents Southern California at its absolute worst.” Alta Online


Los Angeles area: partly cloudy, 79, Thursday; partly cloudy, 74, Friday. San Diego: partly cloudy, 76, Thursday; sunny, 72, Friday. San Francisco area: sunny, 66, Thursday; sunny, 63, Friday. San Jose: sunny, 70, Thursday and Friday. Sacramento: sunny, 68, Thursday; sunny, 70, Friday. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Robert Pelzmann:

“I first arrived in California in the early ’50s, a military brat returning from one of Dad’s overseas assignments. Occasionally, my dad and I would decide to go fishing on a warm Thursday summer evening. We’d load up the station wagon with our tent and stuff, fill the cooler with food and ice, and head out Friday morning for Yosemite. We’d drive into the valley, pick a camping site and set up, then spend the weekend fly-fishing in the Merced River. We’d enjoy the famous ‘fire falls’ every evening, and visit Angel Falls to enjoy the cool spray on a hot summer day. These are some of my favorite memories of being with my dad.

“Today you can still do the same thing; decide to go to Yosemite on Thursday and arrive Friday morning, three years after that decision! (Reservations are needed now.) California’s entire population was less than that of Los Angeles today. Two-lane highways were common; we even had a three-lane highway, called ‘suicide passing’ in the shared middle lane.

“It seems that times were simpler then, but my grandpa reminded me to remember when ‘the good old days’ were called ‘these trying times.’ ”

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.