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Newsletter: Today: Smoke and ash ‘everywhere’

Dozens of wildfires forced thousands of Californians from their homes, killed at least three people and are leaving millions breathing unhealthy air.

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Smoke and Ash ‘Everywhere’

A record-setting fire season worsened as more than two dozen fires forced thousands of Californians from their homes. At least three people were killed and more than 250,000 acres consumed by a new monster blaze in Northern California that’s also also threatening the town of Paradise, just two years after it was destroyed in what was then the worst fire in California history. In Southern California, San Gabriel Mountain foothill communities were spared the worst from the Bobcat fire, which rained ash but moved away from the cities.

Yet with so many fires burning, millions of people in the Bay Area, Central Valley and parts of Southern California face dangerous levels of particle pollution. The skies have taken an apocalyptic turn, and rarely have so many Californians breathed such unhealthy air. “What’s notable is that it’s everywhere,” said Anthony Wexler, director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis. “So no matter which way the wind blows you’re getting hit by smoke and ash.”

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More About the Fires

Bay Area skies glowed orange from smoky air.

— “Utter devastation”: In areas of the Sierra ravaged by the Creek fire, residents returned to burned homes and shattered dreams.

— The science behind how a Pacific storm fueled lightning that sparked California’s biggest fire season.

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

— Ready for an evacuation? Here’s what to pack.

‘I Wanted to Always Play It Down’

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President Trump said in a taped interview that he deliberately downplayed the danger of the coronavirus early this year even though he knew it posed a deadly threat to Americans. And he admitted back in February, before the pandemic had reached the U.S., that he knew the coronavirus was “more deadly” than the flu, though he was claiming otherwise in public.

Those revelations — which came from recorded interviews with Bob Woodward for a book set to publish next week — sent shock waves through a presidential campaign entering the homestretch, just as the confirmed U.S. death toll from COVID-19 exceeded 190,000. The tapes are certain to be featured in Democratic campaign ads. Whether they will meaningfully alter the race, four years after Trump won despite tapes of him bragging that his celebrity let him assault women, is another question.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of COVID-19 tax cuts intended to bolster struggling small businesses in California and encourage their owners to hire more workers. The bills got bipartisan support but only light scrutiny from lawmakers.

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— Los Angeles County banned trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities, citing the risk of the virus’ spread — then walked back its ban.

— State and local health officials said Tuesday they were troubled to learn that the California Highway Patrol allowed thousands of people to attend a worship event over the weekend outside the state Capitol without following social distancing or mask guidelines.

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

One Pastor’s Voter Outreach in a Pandemic

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Rev. Greg Lewis, who leads Milwaukee’s Souls to the Polls operation, is alarmed by what he sees as a growing threat that many Black voters could be disenfranchised in Wisconsin, a battleground state that could decide the presidential race.

To Lewis, it’s no accident that many of Republicans’ voting restrictions disproportionately affect Black people. And with the pandemic taking a greater toll on people of color — including Lewis, who was hospitalized, barely able to breathe, in March — he worries that it will dissuade millions of people from voting in person. He also worries some Black voters will conclude from Trump’s attacks on voting by mail that dropping a ballot in a mailbox means it won’t be counted.

So with door-knocking off the table, he and other pastors are reaching out by Zoom and by phone to parishioners and their loved ones. Their credibility is powerful, given many Black voters’ distrust of the political system, said Lena Taylor, a Democratic state senator in Milwaukee: “They come from a perspective that makes people listen.”

A Lifeline Over the Airwaves

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On a good day, cell reception in Point Reyes Station is spotty. On a bad day, when wildfire smoke and thick fog blanket hang low and information is scarce, KWMR, the local public radio station, is among the only trusted sources of information.

Across California, stations like KWMR fill a vital vacuum during crises, especially fast-moving wildfires. With their local knowledge — from where exactly back roads are located to quick access to the fire chief — these broadcasters are crucial authorities in the worst moments, when power is out, danger is high and a radio wavelength is a lifeline.

It’s grown more challenging this year, as severe wildfires collide with the realities of pandemic life. KWMR is down to just two staffers. Despite the challenges, they have kept up a full slate of programming, helping their volunteers MacGyver in-home studios. Those shows run the gamut from locals reading books on air for an hour solid to talks about dreamcatchers.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

The Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional, was the easy part. District by district, school desegregation efforts would take decades.

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Integration in the Monrovia Unified School District began in September 1970. Starting on Sept. 10, the district bused dozens of Black children to elementary schools that had previously been all white. The Times reported at the time that the first day of integration had gone “without incident” and that white people “calmly” accepted the change.

Sep. 10, 1970: First Black students arrive by bus to attend Plymouth Elementary School in Monrovia
Sep. 10, 1970: The first Black students arrive by bus to attend Plymouth Elementary School in Monrovia during first day of integration. This photo appeared in the Sep. 11, 1970, Los Angeles Times. This image is from the Los Angeles Times Archive at UCLA.
(Fitzgerald Whitney / Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA

— Two months before California voters decide whether to again allow affirmative action, debate is heating up anew over how the 24-year state ban on it has affected Black and Latino students at the University of California.

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— The average cost of building one unit of housing for the homeless in Los Angeles is $531,000, according to an audit from the city controller. It also recommends rehabbing motels and opening dormitory-style buildings to save money and get people off the streets quickly.

— The L.A. City Council voted to allocate tens of millions in federal funds for a “rapid rehousing” program that includes rent assistance for homeless people — but handing all of it over is contingent on progress in housing people with the funds.

— The city of Vallejo has agreed to pay $5.7 million to the family of a Black man who was shot and killed by a Vallejo police officer in 2018.

— For the first time, California correctional officers will be required to use body cameras while interacting with inmates inside a state prison, a federal judge ordered Tuesday.

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NATION-WORLD

— A large fire broke out in Beirut’s port, barely a month after a massive blast at the site killed nearly 200 people.

— A whistleblower says he was pressured by Department of Homeland Security leaders to suppress details in his intelligence reports that Trump might find objectionable, including the threat posed by white supremacists, and to exaggerate the number of detained migrants with links to terrorism.

Earth’s warming is closing in on a crucial temperature limit set by global leaders five years ago and may exceed it in the next decade or so, a new United Nations report says.

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— Far fewer American teens say they’re vaping this year, a new report says — a steep drop experts attribute in part to much-publicized illnesses and restrictions on sales.

— A former New York gynecologist accused of sexually abusing more than two dozen patients, including the wife of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, now faces federal charges.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— The Oscars’ new diversity standards for best-picture nominees won’t go into effect until 2024, but the reaction to them has already been swift and intense.

— In Hulu’s new TV show, a Black cartoonist gets “Woke.” But don’t expect a sermon, writes Times television critic Robert Lloyd.

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— Love it or hate it, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” was a ratings-generating, attention-grabbing stalwart, a cornerstone of modern reality TV. Its planned 2021 end says a lot about how the industry is changing.

— Mishandled by Netflix and maligned online, the French film “Cuties” has arrived. And it’s so much more complex, thoughtful and intelligent than internet moralists assumed, writes critic Justin Chang.

— AMC has killed “The Walking Dead.” After more than a decade on TV, the cable network announced the hit zombie drama will finally wrap in late 2022.

BUSINESS

— Longtime TV executive Pearlena Igbokwe will take over leadership of NBCUniversal’s global television studio business in the latest shake-up at the studio. The promotion will make her one of the most senior Black women in the entertainment business.

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— In a new book, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings says the streaming giant nearly failed 20 years ago. He credits a “culture of candor” with bringing it back to life.

SPORTS

Serena Williams is on to the U.S. Open semifinals, after she dug deep into her reserves to beat Tsvetana Pirankova in the quarters and clinched a shot at a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.

— Kneeling is not enough. NFL players can show the way by voting, columnist LZ Granderson writes.

The Rams have made Jalen Ramsey the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history. The team announced it had agreed to terms on a five-year deal that will pay Ramsey about $21 million per season.

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OPINION

— The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, which is separate from its newsroom, has endorsed Joe Biden for president, calling him “an ideal fit for our polarized time.”

— This summer’s raging wildfires to soaring temperatures tell us the climate hellscape that scientists warned us about is here, writes The Times’ editorial board.

— Exploiting white fear and resentment is the great American political trick. No wonder Trump doesn’t want kids taught that this country was built on the backs of enslaved Black people, writes columnist Robin Abcarian.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Two intrepid spacecraft — the first human-made objects to leave our solar system — are finally revealing the mysterious dark vacuum of interstellar space. (BBC)

— America is trapped in a pandemic death spiral, searching for short-term, silver-bullet solutions. Nine recurring mistakes of intuition and strategy keep us from breaking out of it. (The Atlantic)

ONLY IN L.A.

Joe Kelly won’t be on the mound this weekend to torment the Houston Astros. But the Dodgers relief pitcher still might be able to get under the Astros’ skin, depending on where they stay and what route they take to Dodger Stadium. Local mural artist Jonas Never has immortalized the now-legendary pouty face Kelly used to mock the Astros’ Carlos Correa in a mural on the side of the Floyd’s 99 Barbershop in Silver Lake, less than two miles from the ballpark.

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


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