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Today: An unprecedented fire season

California marked the largest fire season on record amid uncontrolled blazes raged and unprecedented national forest closures.

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An Unprecedented Fire Season

As wildfires raged in several national forests in California on a third day of excessive heat, the National Forest Service announced unprecedented closures of eight forests, shutting all trails, campgrounds and roads within them amid the largest fire season on record.

In San Bernardino County, the El Dorado fire was sparked by a pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party. In Angeles National Forest, the Bobcat fire rained ash far and wide, forced the evacuation of the Mt. Wilson Observatory and threatened foothill cities. And in the Sierra, the Creek fire, fueled by millions of dead trees, trapped hundreds of campers and raced through mountain communities and vacation getaways, confounding firefighters with unpredictable and terrifying behavior.

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Through only early September, wildfires this year have already burned more than 2 million acres in the state — surpassing 2018 for the most acres destroyed in a year, according to state figures and Times research.

More on the Fires:

— That falling ash doesn’t just look ominous. It may contain toxic chemicals. Avoid getting it on your skin, don’t clean it up if you have heart or lung problems, and use damp cloths — and definitely not leaf blowers — to clean it.

— A drive through the Mojave Desert that weeks ago was a trip through a magical landscape is now a tour of the world’s biggest Joshua tree graveyard. The Dome fire that tore across more than 40,000 acres last month destroyed the beloved forest.

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— Track the progress of California’s wildfires with our fire map.

Swing States and Suburbs

The presidential race shifted into a more frenzied pace on Labor Day, with both candidates and their running mates out stumping for votes — three of the four parachuting into key swing voting areas.

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The Trump campaign launched an aggressive push to win back voters in the industrial Midwest, asserting — dubiously — that a coronavirus vaccine could be only weeks away. But it struggled to stay on message while the president kept lashing out at the nation’s military leaders.

In Wisconsin, the two running mates offered sharply contrasting visions: Sen. Kamala Harris stressed racial justice as she spent time with the family of Jacob Blake Jr., a Black man shot by police, while Vice President Mike Pence sidestepped the topic in an economic appeal to blue-collar workers and suburbanites.

Suburbs are always a battleground in presidential races. But this year, Trump is targeting their voters with a racially charged “tough on crime” message, suggesting that urban unrest over police shootings of Black people could endanger suburbanites. It’s a message that risks alienating an increasingly diverse 175 million Americans.

Slow Train Coming

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Just last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would need to downsize California’s ambitious bullet train project. Now even that scaled-down plan’s viability is in doubt, leading the California High-Speed Rail Authority to launch a comprehensive reassessment, said Chief Executive Brian Kelly.

Construction costs keep rising. Land acquisition problems keep mounting. Funding has taken hits, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 have meant that recent cap-and-trade greenhouse gas auctions have brought in less than expected. And if the state runs out of financing, the project could be cut back further — which could unravel ridership plans and reduce revenues.

Cumulatively, the increased costs and decreased revenue are saddling Newsom’s plan with a potential fiscal hole of more than $1 billion. At the same time, some Central Valley landowners are getting frustrated by the delays. “I feel that they reneged on their promises,” said one. “The rules are set up against people like us.”

OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

— “A survivor.” “An icon.” Decades after the Chicano Moratorium and the rise of lowrider cruising, Whittier Boulevard is still a crossroads of change and hope for L.A. Latinos.

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— How the racist and wrongful conviction of a 14-year-old Black boy in the stabbing of his favorite teacher was finally overturned, nearly six decades later.

— An illustrator’s graphic account of reading Albert Camus’ “The Plague” while living through a pandemic.

— Fire, smoke, heat, drought — how climate change could spoil your next glass of California Cabernet.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Whither the water truck?

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At the Off Road Vehicle World Championships at Riverside International Raceway in 1975, heat was an inconvenience — not just for the racers but for the fans. The water truck served a dual purpose: controlling the dust and cooling spectators.

Times staff photographer Joe Kennedy, who was covering the race for the Sports section, captured this photo of people chasing after the truck to seek relief in its spray. It was published on page 3 of the Sept. 8, 1975, edition.

Sep. 7, 1975: When the water truck went out to wet down the dust on the track, a crowd of spectators cooled off in the spray.
Sep. 7, 1975: When the water truck went out to wet down the dust on the track at the Riverside raceway, a crowd of spectators raced behind to cool off in the spray.
(Joe Kennedy / Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA

— California is sending an extra $900 to people collecting unemployment benefits — but many won’t get it right away, and nearly 200,000 people won’t get it at all. The lump sum covers three weeks retroactive to the week that ended Aug. 1.

— For months, Keiana Aldrich, a victim of sex trafficking, has struggled to keep herself alive in prison. She’s seeking clemency from Gov. Gavin Newsom in a case her mentor says contains “so many wrongs.”

— Heat records fell in Southern California over the holiday weekend, with Woodland Valley baking to 121 degrees — the hottest temperature ever recorded at an official weather station in Los Angeles County. Here are other records set.

— Frank Gehry has unveiled designs for two concert halls in downtown Los Angeles — but will they get built? Without them, critic Mark Swed writes, the adjacent mixed-use facility the Grand risks becoming a “soulless, high-roller monument to income inequality.”

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NATION-WORLD

— Even amid the pandemic and widespread unemployment, Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. defied predictions and sent record sums of money home to their families.

— It took decades to build Mexico’s middle class. The coronavirus could demolish it.

— Poisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is out of his coma and is responsive, the German hospital treating him said Monday.

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— A film crew member from the U.S. was shot by undercover police in the Dominican Republic in what looked like a case of mistaken identity and a drug bust gone wrong.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— With the Oscars pushed back by two months, do this fall’s remaining film festivals still matter?

— If you’ve watched Charlie Kaufman’s new film “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and are still trying to decode its mysteries (and make sense of its ending), here is some of what you may have missed.

— The directors of “The Vow,” an HBO documentary series about NXIVM, want you to know that the self-help group turned multi-level marketing company was more than just a “sex cult.”

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— How does one film an athletic competition series in a pandemic? In the case of “American Ninja Warrior,” with a complete strategic overhaul: no region-specific rounds, no Las Vegas championship, no $1-million prize.

BUSINESS

— Their employer got a forgivable loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. So why are they still unemployed? Experts say the program created a situation in which employers could take the aid and leave many of their workers jobless.

NBCUniversal is tapping longtime Warner Bros. studio executive Susan Rovner for a top programming job spanning the NBC broadcast network, multiple cable channels and the new Peacock streaming service, people familiar with the matter say.

SPORTS

Serena Williams advanced to her 12th consecutive U.S. Open quarterfinals Monday, a day after top-ranked male player and overwhelming favorite Novak Djokovic was knocked out of the tournament after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball he’d struck in anger.

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— The Clippers grabbed control of the series with a 2-1 lead, thanks to a 113-107 victory Monday night over Denver — and an indelible moment from Kawhi Leonard’s one-fingered block of a dunk attempt with 1:47 remaining.

— After the Rams missed the playoffs last season, coach Sean McVay needs to show he can mold a team with key roster and coaching changes into a winner.

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OPINION

Homeless people were largely spared coronavirus’ first wave. But they need help to stay alive, The Times’ editorial board writes.

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— What’s happening with COVID-19 in schools? We don’t know, because the gathering and dissemination of information on infections is a haphazard mishmash of policies, depending on the state and school district, the editorial board also says.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s rise as a GOP fundraiser was powered by contributions from workers at his company who were later reimbursed, former employees say. (Washington Post)

— Amazon is cracking down on the sale of seeds. But that may not stop the mysterious mailings. (Wall Street Journal)

— In focusing on the threat of foreign election interference, are we overlooking our weaknesses as victims? (The New Yorker)

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ONLY IN L.A.

The sight of coronavirus piñatas in so many Los Angeles party supply stores — portraying the virus as “a menacing, greenish orb with bloodshot eyes” — is macabre and jarringly lighthearted, writes columnist Frank Shyong. “But I’ve come to appreciate it as part of the rasquache magic of L.A.’s party supply industry. There’s something comforting about how this city’s piñata makers can transform any catastrophe into a comical object that we can string up, beat the hell out of and feast on its candy innards.” And although the survival of the stores suggests that plenty of parties are still happening, in defiance of public health guidance, Shyong takes some hope in what he calls “signs that we’re attempting to embrace a new normal.”

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


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