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Newsletter: Today: Lessons from the fire-weary

As wildfire smoke chokes the skies from Southern California to Oregon, one Northern California county has learned to cope.

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Lessons From the Fire-Weary

At least 10 people have died from the massive North Complex fire, sweeping through mountain communities of Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties — one of the blazes that exploded this week as record heat and ferocious winds seized California. Meanwhile, the August Complex fire north of Sacramento is now officially the largest blaze in California history, and the Creek fire’s ferocious run through the Sierra has slowed to a crawl, giving officials hope they can begin containing it.

It’s not just California. Oregon is also experiencing its worst fires in memory, fanned by roaring, Santa Ana-like winds — gales unfamiliar to the Pacific Northwest rainforests, but almost certainly due to climate change, researchers say. At least three people have died, swaths of two small cities have burned to the ground and the western part of the state, including Portland, is experiencing some of the worst air quality ever recorded.

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If the West wants to know how to cope with the apocalypse, they might do well to ask people in Butte County, Calif., writes columnist Erika D. Smith. Few communities have endured so many years of wildfire emergencies, culminating with the Camp fire two years ago, California’s deadliest ever. “It’s pretty darn devastating,” says the principal of an elementary school there. “Unfortunately, everyone in Butte County has been down this road before.”

More About the Fires

— A La Niña climate pattern forming in the Pacific Ocean could worsen drought conditions and make next year’s fire season worse.

— The Bobcat fire burning in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles doubled in size Thursday as it moved away from foothill cities.

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— During the long weekend’s heat wave, lung-damaging ozone pollution in L.A. reached its highest levels in a generation.

— Here’s how to stay safe from smoke and poor air quality.

Can Biden Rebuild the ‘Blue Wall?’

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This year, nobody can accuse Joe Biden of taking Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania for granted. His campaign is showering money, staff and time over those three crucial states — the “blue wall” that crumbled when Trump’s victories by tiny margins in all three propelled him to the White House in 2016. But for all that, Biden has yet to lock down those crucial states. He has held a consistent polling lead over Trump in each of them, but not enough to feel confident.

And if Trump wins? The notion of a U.S. president turning the nation to authoritarianism could be easily dismissed as breathless hyperbole. But critics of the Trump administration — including former officials who served Republican presidents and historians who’ve tracked the rise of dictatorships in other countries — see an increasingly bleak future for America if voters don’t come to terms with the president’s recent behavior. One worries if he’s reelected, “our democracy will be gone.”

The Trouble with ‘Government Cheese’

Tens of thousands of low-income California seniors stopped getting home deliveries of free food just as COVID-19 cases and deaths were peaking, thanks to a century-old federal policy to include surplus cheese in government aid packages.

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As the governor called on them to stay home when the pandemic began, these seniors were able to have the boxes of food delivered to them at home every month because federal regulators granted a three-month reprieve from certain rules — including the usual requirement to include cheese, the only perishable item. But since that waiver ended in July and officials wouldn’t extend it, in went the cheese — making refrigeration a must, and at-home delivery a no-go.

Meanwhile, don’t expect another coronavirus relief package before the election. The congressional stalemate has deepened, as Senate Democrats blocked a slimmed-down Republican proposal they deemed “emaciated” because it did not include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, help for states and other economic aid. Talks between House Democrats and the White House are still stalled, and now prospects for a bipartisan deal before November look bleak.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— A new analysis of medical records from UCLA hospitals and clinics suggests the coronavirus may have reached Los Angeles even before China announced its outbreak.

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— No L.A. County schools will be allowed to reopen fully until at least November. And California’s top court has rejected lawsuits that aimed to reopen schools, refusing to overturn the governor’s limits.

Cal State universities will stay online all year.

— California’s COVID-19 death toll has topped 14,000, but new cases are still ebbing statewide. Keep tabs on the latest with our tracker.

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

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Post Office History, in a Nutshell

The U.S. Postal Service is having a moment: Prescriptions are missing. Concerns are mounting about the integrity of mail-in voting. Postmaster Louis DeJoy was served a congressional subpoena.

But for generations, local postmasters, and the now-besieged Postal Service, had many. They held a lot of sway — and respect — especially in rural places that wanted to come up in the world. Many assume it was telegraphs and the telephone that connected communities to the rest of the world. But often, it was the post office, where people could order seeds and supplies and receive letters from across the country.

Towns like Peanut, Calif., were so desperate for service, they’d even change their name. The area was once rugged Northern California mountain hamlet called Salt Creek. The U.S. Postal Service officials insisted on a single-word name. Legend claims “Peanut” came from a snacking local postmaster or a group of men with a postal directory full of nut-themed towns. Like a lot of local lore, it changes a bit depending on who’s telling it. One thing is certain: a post office was involved.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, some Californians commemorated them in a very California manner — with vanity plates.

In a Dec. 29, 2001, story, The Times wrote that more than two dozen people and counting had claimed plates with messages that included RMBRWTC, 911O1NY and 9FDNY11. Michael Lever, a 39-year-old television syndication worker who registered for the plate number SEP11TH, told The Times, “I wanted to do something special, and I was in a reflective mood.”

California later introduced a special themed tag, now called the “Memorial” plate, in the summer of 2002 — a red, white and blue design with the phrase “We Will Never Forget.” Nearly 11,000 were sold within six months, and it became the state’s most popular specialty plate by 2003, according to The Times.

Los Angeles County firefighter Robert Yellen is among drivers who ordered custom license plates after the terrorist attacks.
(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
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YOUR WEEKEND

— Our weekend culture watch list includes a dance program commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a benefit featuring cast members from “Hamilton” and “Hairspray,” plus 16 other recommendations.

— California might be smoky outside, but you can replicate a taste of the state fair at home by making this rainbow funnel cake.

— Maybe haunted houses and trick-or-treating are out for Halloween, but you can still visit a pumpkin patch.

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— Looking for love? Try the dating app where conversation is first and appearances come second.

House plants get hot, too. Here’s how to care for them on scorching days.

CALIFORNIA

— L.A.'s civic leaders are turning their focus toward the future with conversations about how a post-2020, post-COVID-19 city will look. Whatever the answer, they say “there’s no going back” to a racist past.

— A lawsuit accusing the LAPD of a brutal and unconstitutional crackdown during protests this summer — potentially the largest and most expensive case of its kind in city history — is expected to take years to resolve, even if it settles.

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— Detectives shot and killed a man in Compton as they served a search warrant on him Thursday. Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said he had opened fire on them.

— Deformities linked to inbreeding have been found among cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains — the first documented physical evidence of extremely low genetic diversity in an isolated population.

— A judge is letting the criminal case against Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s husband proceed, after he pointed a gun at protesters outside their home in March.

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NATION-WORLD

— “I don’t believe it.” “He’s always made ignorant comments.” Military service members and veterans are split about what to think about a report that Trump called soldiers killed in action “suckers” and “losers.”

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— Raging flames engulfed a warehouse in Beirut’s port Thursday, filling the skies of the Lebanese capital with thick black smoke and raising fears of a repeat of the cataclysmic explosion that devastated much of the city last month.

Mexican feminists have seized control of a federal building in downtown Mexico City and turned it into a shelter for women who are victims of violence — the latest in a series of increasingly bold actions by feminist collectives.

— Five years ago, Syrian migrant Rodin Saouan snapped a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that would transform both their lives, and help shape Germany’s relationship with both its past and its immigrant future.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— For the great British actress Diana Rigg, who died Thursday, playing the smartest person in the room was second nature, our critic says — whether she was playing Emma Peel in the iconic 1960s spy series “The Avengers” or the Queen of Thorns in “Game of Thrones.”

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— The L.A.-based production company behind a Ben Affleck heist movie sued its insurer in a dispute over coverage of losses linked to COVID-19.

— Puerto Rican teen Madison Reyes is about to be a Netflix star, fronting the music-filled series “Julie and the Phantoms.” Yes, she’s “scared.”

“Saturday Night Live” is returning to its rightful home in New York’s Rockefeller Center when it launches Season 46 next month. The show has not filmed in-studio since March 7.

BUSINESS

Cal/OSHA has issued its largest fine for coronavirus health violations to Vernon frozen food manufacturer Overhill Farms and its temporary employment agency for failing to protect hundreds of workers.

San Diego has maintained low COVID-19 rates, attracting Southern California tourists desperate for a vacation. But can the city keep up?

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SPORTS

— The Clippers are one more win from making history. But they’re taking on more than the Nuggets tonight; they also have to contend with their own wretched history, columnist Dylan Hernández writes.

— Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has returned from his injury to a Galaxy riding its second-longest winning streak in six seasons. But will he play?

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OPINION

— The Los Angeles Times editorial board’s endorsement of Joe Biden continues a streak of backing Democrats. But for 90 years, from its founding in 1881 until Richard M. Nixon’s reelection in 1972, The Times was unwavering in backing Republicans for president. So what changed?

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— Forget a special session. California lawmakers first need to get their act together, writes columnist George Skelton.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

“Really diabolical”: Inside the virus that outsmarted science. (Wall Street Journal)

— When Rick Perry accidentally helped lead Trump into impeachment, he was also trying to help his friends cash in on a big gas deal. (ProPublica / TIME / WNYC)

ONLY IN L.A.

Burbank deli Moore’s Delicatessen shuttered on Aug. 31. But it wasn’t just the beer and the menu that had made it a favorite spot: For nearly a decade, Hollywood’s animators left their mark on the walls. A two-minute walk from Cartoon Network studios, it was about to turn 10 — but a lack of business during the pandemic has forced owner Robert Moore to close it. The question now: What to do with all the art on the walls?

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“SpongeBob SquarePants” character designer Robert Ryan Cory drew the deli’s first piece: SpongeBob holding a spatula.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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