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Newsletter: A Bay Area firestorm

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VIDEO | 01:18
Thousands evacuate as more than 30 major fires burn across California

The LNU Lighting Complex fire has burned more than 46,000 acres in Northern California.

Fires are raging in the San Francisco Bay Area, causing tens of thousands to evacuate.

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A Bay Area Firestorm

Already reeling from a pandemic and a record heat wave that has millions sweltering indoors, the San Francisco Bay Area is now besieged by fire, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate and leaving others inhaling air so smoky that experts warn of serious health risks.

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Many residents say they’ve never seen such wildfire conditions, a product of high temperatures, strong winds and thousands of lightning strikes from unusual thunderstorms that started Sunday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Bay Area was home to several of the 23 major fires statewide, a subset of the 367 blazes across California, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The largest blaze, a series of fires raging through five North Bay counties, grew to more than 124,000 acres by Wednesday night, destroying more than 100 structures and threatening 25,000 others.

Such conflagrations would challenge emergency responders even in normal times, but these come as a deadly virus complicates the job of running evacuation centers and camps for firefighters.

State officials also acknowledged they had asked for equipment and assistance from other states. A Cal Fire public information officer said the state had requested 375 additional fire engines as well as hand crews from out-of-state agencies, and hired “nearly all available private firefighting ‘call-when-needed’ aircraft in the western United States.”

A Place in History

Sen. Kamala Harris accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president Wednesday night and offered her life story as a model of what America could become if it chooses diversity over division and unshackles itself from pessimism and prejudice.

In a stroke, California’s junior U.S. senator — the daughter of a mother from India and father from Jamaica — became the first woman of color on a major-party ticket. She became the first Black woman and the first South Asian woman ever nominated. She became the first politician from west of the Rockies to run nationally on the Democratic ticket.

Without a vast cheering audience on hand to celebrate, it was a moment at once muted yet powerful as Harris framed the election between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in stark terms.

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And she wasn’t the only one to do so. Former President Obama, who has largely avoided directly criticizing his successor, said in his speech that Trump never grew into the presidency or put in the work required. Hillary Clinton warned not to let 2020 become another “woulda, coulda, shoulda election” in which too many Democratic voters stay home.

Here are five takeaways from Day 3, as the convention wraps up tonight.

A Glimmer of Hope Amid Tragedy

Los Angeles County health officials are reporting some promising metrics in the fight against the novel coronavirus, including an overall decline in death rates across all demographics and a “narrowing of the gap” among victims of varying racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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Black and Latino residents and those living in lower-income neighborhoods have been among those hit hardest by the virus in the county, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. But the numbers are starting to show some progress, attributed to the expansion of countywide testing and protective equipment now being mandated in workplaces.

Of course, the coronavirus’ toll is much more than statistics. California’s Latino communities are being ravaged in relentless ways, overwhelming families and upending the grieving process, including at an East L.A. funeral home.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— California is asking the federal government for a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit for jobless Californians, Newsom said. The move comes after the Trump administration said states would not have to put up billions of new matching dollars.

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Sacramento, like other counties across the state and nation, has been plagued by key choke points in its testing system since the pandemic began. During the summer surge, bottlenecks dramatically reduced testing capacity and slowed results.

— Reopening elementary schools is risky — but so is keeping them closed as students fall behind and lose access to the support of school communities.

Iran has surpassed 20,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, its health ministry says — a number that would give it the worst death toll for any Middle Eastern country, even as international experts question its official case counts.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

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A Quest to Save Lives

Before the pandemic, L.A. was facing a big enough challenge addressing the needs of a growing population of homeless people. “It did not need the coronavirus on top of that, nor did it need this wretched, blistering heat wave,” writes columnist Steve Lopez, who recently checked in on the situation at the Center at Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood.

“On nearby streets, the center’s outreach workers delivered water and food to increasingly desperate people whose lives have been turned upside down by pandemic shutdowns. They can’t go to a library to take a breather, they can’t go to restaurants to use the restrooms.”

Indeed, on many fronts, the coronavirus has hindered progress on helping homeless people in L.A.

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A Defense Argument in the Floyd Case

The public quickly reached its verdict: Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. Video seen around the world shows him on the pavement, his neck pinned beneath the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin, pleading for his life — “I can’t breathe” — until his body goes limp. Two autopsies concluded the death was a homicide.

Chauvin was charged with murder and three other officers — Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng, who both helped hold down Floyd, and Tou Thao, who kept onlookers at bay — were charged as accomplices.

In an interview with The Times, a lawyer for Lane said he plans to argue that Floyd died from an overdose of the powerful opioid fentanyl and an underlying heart condition. “None of these guys — even Chauvin — actually killed him,” said the attorney. “He killed himself.”

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

In 1974, David Rehmann, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, ran for Congress in California’s 38th District. But as the campaign progressed, the staff grew too large for its headquarters in Garden Grove. Luckily, a vacant property behind the building offered an overflow option: an underground bomb shelter.

According to an Aug. 24, 1974, Times story, it had been built 11 years prior as a display for a shelter sales firm. When the campaign took it over, a ladder had “decayed over the years, a false ceiling was disintegrating and two feet of water from years of rain covered the floor,” but the shelter was otherwise considered to be in “excellent condition.” The campaign converted it into a space for their youth staffers to work in.

Grant Ostapeck at an abandoned Garden Grove bomb shelter being converted into youth headquarters
Aug. 23, 1974: Grant Ostapeck watches cleanup crew Hollye Draves and Mark Kehke climb the steps of an abandoned Garden Grove bomb shelter being converted into youth headquarters for congressional candidate David Rehmann.
(Cliff Otto / Los Angeles Times)

Want more of the Los Angeles Times archives? We’re on Instagram.

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CALIFORNIA

— As the Los Angeles Unified School District started the school year with online classes this week, there were computer glitches, pleas for patience, worried parents and giddy kids.

— When the pandemic hit, L.A. opened 26 new city homeless shelters. Now only seven are left, sparking questions about the city’s strategy as a heat wave drags on.

— Los Angeles police are calling the robbery and assault of three transgender women on Hollywood Boulevard a hate crime and have launched an investigation into the attack.

— The Golden State Killer’s former fiancee joined a long line of victims confronting him in court.

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NATION-WORLD

— Trump said that the United States will demand that all United Nations sanctions be reimposed against Iran, a move that follows America’s embarrassing failure to extend an arms embargo against Tehran.

— Facebook Inc. says it will restrict the right-wing conspiracy movement QAnon and no longer recommend that users join groups supporting it, although the social media giant isn’t banning it outright. On Wednesday, Trump praised the supporters of QAnon and suggested he appreciates their support of his candidacy.

— European Union leaders rejected election results in Belarus but stopped short of calling for a new election — suggesting they’re loath to provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene on behalf of its autocratic ruler Alexander Lukashenko.

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— The Justice Department has notified the British government that it will not pursue the death penalty against two Islamic State militants suspected in the beheadings of Western hostages, removing a hurdle in the potential prosecution of the men in the United States.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— To re-create its “Star Wars” origins, down to the cantina, “The Mandalorian” had to build sets that could exist both in the physical world — from a downtown L.A. warehouse to locations in Iceland — and in a virtual one.

— One day after Britney Spears asked a court to remove her father as the sole person tasked with decision-making in both her personal and professional life, the judge has sealed her conservatorship hearing from the public again. Spears, who is 38, has not had full control over her life or business affairs since her mental health problems in 2008.

— The Huntington has created a one-year research grant to study science-fiction pioneer Octavia E. Butler working with its archives of her work, including 386 boxes of drafts, notes, essays, letters and more.

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— Kamala Harris couldn’t ask for a better impersonator than Maya Rudolph on “Saturday Night Live.”

BUSINESS

— If you’re wondering why you’ve suddenly got a few extra bucks in your bank account courtesy of the IRS, thank the pandemic. It’s an interest payment the agency paid you for pushing back its filing deadline.

— Why are stocks so strong when employment is so weak? The Fed’s bond-buying and low interest rates are key, reporter Russ Mitchell explains, as part of our series answering readers’ questions about life in the pandemic.

— Have you tried to renegotiate your rent in Southern California? If you have, we’d like to hear from you.

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SPORTS

— The Clippers let the Dallas Mavericks slip away in Game 2 to tie up their first-round NBA playoff series at one game apiece.

Taylor Fritz is hoping to make a big leap in the abbreviated 2020 tennis season.

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OPINION

— No, California’s shift to renewable power sources isn’t responsible for its rolling blackouts, The Times’ editorial board writes. The outages underscore the importance of building a sustainable grid and doing a better job of making the transition.

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China is desperate to stop Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Now it’s even blaming foreign groups, writes Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch who was sanctioned by Beijing.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— What happens when transgender patients are failed by their surgeons? With no institutional body tasked with regulating trans-affirmative care, patients who seek gender confirmation surgery face a devil’s bargain, reporter Katelyn Burns writes. (Jezebel)

— ICYMI: Thousands of incarcerated people fight California’s wildfires every year on prison crews. But even after they’re released, they usually can’t get jobs as firefighters. (Sacramento Bee)

ONLY IN L.A.

When Ken Sparks moved into his East L.A. home, his backyard was a concrete hardscape. He’d also grown up gardening with his grandmother. So to turn a stone patio into a luscious garden of edible plants, fruit trees, butterflies and chickens, he had to get creative. When the pandemic left him out of work, he once again turned to his yard for inspiration and found an audience on social media.

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Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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