Newsletter: Essential California: Nightmarish stories from the state’s deadliest wildfire

Smoke fills the sky as the Camp fire burns along the North Fork of the Feather River.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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


The big picture

How a tiny brush fire became the state’s deadliest wildfire: Driven by fierce winds, the Camp fire quickly laid waste to Paradise and other mountain communities, where many residents received no warnings and gridlocked evacuation routes became firetraps. Residents watched helplessly as neighbors and loved ones died. Others tried to outrun the flames, their shoes melting as cars burned around them. A gripping timeline of a tragedy. Los Angeles Times


The missing

They are as young as 8. As old as 101. The list stretches on for 26 pages, offering nearly 1,000 names. Most are linked to towns where they may have lived, only about a third have ages. It appears to include whole families. Seven people from Paradise with the same last name, the oldest 72. A couple in their 80s, another in their 60s and possibly their mother. But the data are far from perfect. Los Angeles Times


-- Residents of the tiny mountain community of Concow hope their losses are not forgotten after the Camp fire. Los Angeles Times

-- Jeff Evans and his elderly parents have become unofficial keepers of Concow because they stayed inside the evacuation zone. Los Angeles Times

Jeff Evans is surrounded by some of the dogs he rescued.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

-- A newborn baby, California’s worst fire and an epic struggle to survive. San Francisco Chronicle

-- This man was handcuffed for trying to go back to Paradise. Then he found only ash. Sacramento Bee


-- Amid the devastation, a wedding that had to happen. Los Angeles Times

-- The garbage truck driver who saved a 93-year-old woman from the flames. CNN

-- The bulletin board no one wants to read. Chico Enterprise-Record



-- PG&E canceled a planned power shut-off in the Paradise area just before the Camp fire broke out. Would it have made a difference? Los Angeles Times

-- The mystery over the start of the fire deepens. Mercury News

-- This graphic charts the first 12 hours of the fire. New York Times

-- Despite what President Trump says, Finland’s fires have little in common with California fires. And rakes are not the answer. Los Angeles Times


-- From eroding coasts to burning mountains, climate change has California trapped. The New Yorker

-- Steve Lopez on one couple’s quest to rebuild their house after a fire, but smarter. Los Angeles Times

-- Ecologists say the Santa Monica Mountains may need two decades or more to recover from the Woolsey fire. Los Angeles Times

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The orange turns blue: Democrats made a clean sweep of the state’s six most fiercely fought congressional contests and marked an epochal shift in a region long synonymous with political conservatism. How Orange County went from deep red to blue. Los Angeles Times

-- The results tell us something big about suburban politics and how they’re changing in the Trump era. Orange County Register

-- It’s bigger than just Orange County. Washington Post


Why they’re still counting votes: The section of California election law governing absentee ballots lays out a principle that grows more important every year: The rules “shall be liberally construed” in favor of the voter. And that’s why the vote count in California probably will extend into December. Los Angeles Times

Crisis in the pews: Revelations about sex abuse are roiling Catholic parishioners in San Diego again. San Diego Union-Tribune


A tragedy too soon forgotten? The fires that broke out less than 24 hours after the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks seem to have eclipsed the tragedy, all but making it vanish from the spotlight. What happens when the world turns away too soon? Los Angeles Times


Love letter to Thousand Oaks: A place where people built it to be a cocoon of safety in a tough world. Until they found there are no cocoons. Ventura County Star


History lesson: The 10 days of death that changed San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

Minding the gap: Even in Silicon Valley, there are deep inequalities in wages, which are down for everyone but the very rich. Mercury News


So, what will you have, hon? For all the inventiveness and pretentiousness of the Los Angeles food scene, the aging coffee shop still has much of the city’s culinary and architectural DNA. Los Angeles Magazine

An appreciation: The storytelling style of William Goldman, the screenwriter who changed Hollywood. Los Angeles Times

It was … memorable: Looking back on the bizarre “Star Wars” Hollywood special. Los Angeles Times

Toon town: Amazon and Netflix are battling for Hollywood’s top animators in their battle for the most binge-worthy shows. Los Angeles Times



Los Angeles: Mostly cloudy, 72, Monday. Sunny, 69, Tuesday. San Diego: Mostly cloudy, 69, Monday. Partly cloudy, 68, Tuesday. San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 64, Monday. Mostly sunny, 60, Tuesday. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 67, Monday. Mostly sunny, 68, Tuesday. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 65, Monday and Tuesday. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:


Talk-show host Larry King (Nov. 19, 1933), actor-director Jodie Foster (Nov. 19, 1962), Nobel chemistry laureate and USC professor Arieh Warshel (Nov. 20, 1940), tennis legend and Dodgers part-owner Billie Jean King (Nov. 22, 1943) and UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford (Nov. 23, 1964).

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.