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Newsletter: The dangers of dry lightning

A rare lightning storm crackles over Mitchell's Cove in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Aug. 16.
(Shmuel Thaler / Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

The next few days could be critical for firefighters in the northern half of California, as more dry lightning and winds are in the forecast.

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The Dangers of Dry Lightning

Two of the three largest wildfires in California history, burning simultaneously in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the wine country north of the San Francisco Bay, are expected to grow in the next few days as a new thunderstorm system moves over the northern half of the state, producing dry lightning and gusty winds.

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While firefighters are already responding to more than two dozen major fires, the storms could ignite even more blazes and cause existing ones to spread more rapidly, pushing crews into a triage situation. Over the decades, dry lightning has caused some of Cailfornia’s worst fires.

The sheer magnitude of the what has burned this year is sobering: about 1.3 million acres this month alone, with four more months of potential fire season to go. Only 2018 saw more land scorched in California — over an entire year.

Now it’s clear that what Californians had feared most during this long, troubled summer has become reality: a terrible fire season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another Unconventional Convention

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The four-day Republican National Convention will get underway today, with most events taking place online, as the Democrats did last week. Among the first day’s order of business: GOP officials are expected to vote to renominate President Trump in a small in-person session in Charlotte, N.C.

It’s no coincidence Republicans chose Charlotte, the biggest city in a state that Trump almost certainly needs to win reelection. North Carolina also could hand Democrats control of the Senate, and thus of both houses in Congress, giving a Democratic president the ability to make major legislative changes. Polls show Joe Biden and Trump locked in a dead heat there, perhaps the closest contest of the battleground states — and one that was once reliably in the GOP column.

Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s most influential and longest-serving advisors, is expected to speak at the convention but announced Sunday that she would be leaving the White House at the end of the month to focus on her children. Her husband, George Conway, also announced that he was taking a leave of absence from Twitter and the anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project.

Biden is preparing for the verbal attacks that will come from the convention and previewed his response by laughing off questions about his mental acuity, saying he does not support defunding the police, and defending his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, against Trump’s jibes. Meanwhile, a series of recordings were released Saturday featuring Trump’s older sister, a former federal judge, sharply criticizing her brother. At one point she says of the president, “He has no principles.”

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A COVID-19 Mystery

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, researchers feared that homeless people would succumb in high numbers to the worst ravages of the disease. Yet so far, there has been little spread of the novel coronavirus in Los Angeles’ street encampments. Some shelters have had outbreaks, but most of those infected had no symptoms.

Of the more than 1,300 recorded cases among homeless people in L.A. County, fatalities at mid-August stood at 31, a mortality rate comparable to or better than that of the overall population. Homeless people in the rest of California and across the nation have had a better-than-expected time of it as well.

One reason might be the environment where nearly three-quarters of L.A.'s homeless people live: outside. Yet even in shelters, COVID-19 has not been the catastrophe that was predicted.

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More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Trump touted a “very historic breakthrough” in treating the coronavirus, announcing that the government had authorized the emergency use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to combat the disease. But scientists said the therapeutic benefits of the treatment, which has already been used on some 70,000 patients, were not yet fully understood, and some public health experts questioned whether political considerations had clouded the decision-making process.

— The Orange County Health Care Agency has announced that state waivers have been approved for in-person classes to begin at about 24 private elementary schools and one public school district serving kindergarten through sixth grade.

— In the rural California town of Weaverville, schools are already trying something extraordinary and risky: classrooms with children.

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— To party or not to party? USC students living off-campus weigh the risk.

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

A Loss of Innocence

On Aug. 29, 1970, more than 20,000 demonstrators marched through East Los Angeles for the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War. But the protest for peace devolved into conflict between demonstrators and sheriff’s deputies. By day’s end, hundreds were arrested and trailblazing Latino journalist Ruben Salazar was dead.

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The events and emotions of that chaotic day still reverberate in L.A.’s Latino community 50 years later.

In a package of stories to mark the anniversary, Times journalists spoke with participants of the peace march, including the women of the Brown Berets, and artists who would be influenced by the movement. They trace how the tumult erupted. And former Times reporter Robert J. Lopez examines the life and death of Salazar.

OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

— Trump vowed an all-out fight against opioid addiction in the U.S. But his administration’s opposition to insurance coverage and a lack of follow-through failed to stop more deaths.

— Since the coronavirus shut down California in mid-March, financial losses, concerns about exposure to the virus and navigating a maze of new safety guidelines have forced some 9,300 licensed child-care providersalmost 1 of every 4 in the state — to close, according to data.

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— Imagine inventing a sport and then being shunned by it. That’s the story of the Haudenosaunee and the sport of lacrosse.

— On Kobe Bryant’s birthday, the Lakers remembered his influence. And in L.A., today is is Kobe Bryant Day; expect fanfare and tributes.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 2014, the Napa earthquake struck at 3:20 a.m. The ground shaking during the magnitude 6.0 quake was the highest level recorded in modern times for downtown Napa, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It would kill one person, injure several hundred and cause more than $500 million in losses throughout wine country.

“Longtime Napa residents described the earthquake as something particularly more violent than what they felt during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 2000 Napa Valley earthquake,” according to a Times story at the time.

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Four years later, a study suggested the quake may have been caused by an expansion of Earth’s crust because of seasonally receding groundwater under the Napa and Sonoma valleys.

A Napa County sheriff's deputy watches over the damaged Alexandria Square in Napa after an earthquake on Aug. 24, 2014.
A Napa County sheriff’s deputy watches over the damaged Alexandria Square at 2nd and Brown streets in downtown Napa after a magnitude 6.0 earthquake shook the heart of California wine country on Aug. 24, 2014.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA

— Authorities in the Northern California fire zone are warning about criminals taking advantage of the fire crisis, including one case in which officials said a firefighter was victimized.

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Lawyers for Los Angeles’ residents in need are trying to ease the burdens of the pandemic.

— The San Diego Housing Commission has applied for state funding to help acquire two hotels that could be converted and ready for use by 340 homeless people by the end of the year.

— UCLA staff stacked sandbags to protect Pauley Pavilion after an underground 30-inch water line broke in Westwood, causing water to gush so powerfully it took down two trees and closed Sunset Boulevard.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Gulf Coast is bracing for a potentially devastating hit from twin hurricanes as two strong storms swirl toward the U.S. from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Officials have feared a history-making onslaught of life-threatening winds and flooding along the coast, stretching from Texas to Alabama.

— Neighbors confronted law enforcement at the scene of a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisc., on Sunday that drew a harsh rebuke from the state’s governor and prompted crowds to march in the streets after a video posted on social media appeared to show officers shoot at a man’s back seven times as he leaned into a vehicle.

— The use of ketamine as a sedative in arrests of combative suspects has become another flash point in the debate over law enforcement policies and brutality against people of color.

— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had accepted a proposal to extend budget negotiations, preventing the government from collapsing and plunging the country into a new election.

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Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus, made a dramatic show of defiance against the massive protests demanding his resignation, toting a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest as he strode off a helicopter.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— The Russell Crowe thriller “Unhinged” shouldered the responsibility of being the first major wide-release film to open theatrically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making its debut in roughly 1,800 theaters, it grossed about $4 million in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday.

Plácido Domingo denied ever abusing his power during his management tenure at Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera in an interview with the Associated Press. Two investigations found credible accusations he had engaged in ‘“inappropriate conduct” with multiple women over a period of decades.

DC FanDome, a virtual event for fans of the DC universe, unveiled trailers for “The Batman,” “Wonder Woman 1984" and the “Snyder Cut” of “Justice League” as well as a featurette for “The Suicide Squad.”

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— The L.A. Philharmonic filmed a series of concerts in an empty Hollywood Bowl over two weeks in July and August. You can stream them for free starting Sept. 25.

BUSINESS

— American Media LLC’s David Pecker, the executive who oversaw the National Enquirer tabloid and was an ally to Trump during the last election, will step down as head of the company as part of a merger deal.

— Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of opening packs of sports cards online is surging, as customers shut out of hobby shops seek out the thrills of collecting — and the profits.

SPORTS

Luka Doncic’s overtime buzzer-beater stunned the Clippers in the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 4 win, tying the series at two games apiece.

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— The Dodgers blasted a season-high seven home runs in their victory over the Colorado Rockies, with Kobe Bryant very much on their minds.

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OPINION

— Trump needs to pivot to a positive message at the Republican National Convention this week, columnist Doyle McManus writes. But he probably won’t.

— The calamitous war in Yemen has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And, columnist Nicholas Goldberg writes, our country’s fingerprints are all over the mess.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

Melania Trump unveiled her overhaul of the White House Rose Garden over the weekend, causing some online outrage. What’s the story behind it? (Vox)

— The mechanical wonder that powered the fountains at Versailles. (National Geographic)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

A spur of land between La Jolla Cove and Boomer Beach is one of a handful of sea lion rookeries, or birthing beaches, on mainland California. That makes it a rare place to view newborn baby sea lions with their mothers. But some people are getting too close to the pups, including trying to take selfies with them. Wildlife advocates say such behavior may be placing the humans and the animals at risk.

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


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