Newsletter: Fires and political fury

VIDEO | 01:26
Trump, California officials clash over climate change during president’s visit to check on wildfires

At Sacramento McClellan Airport in McClellan Park on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and President Trump were briefed on the wildfires burning in California.

With wildfires burning up and down the West Coast, climate change has moved front and center in the presidential campaign.


Fires and Political Fury

As the death toll in California’s wildfires climbed to 24, authorities are continuing to search for missing people — and firefighters are working to keep multiple blazes from reaching populated communities ahead of an expected increase in winds.

In California, more than 3.2 million acres have burned this year, the largest amount on record, and fires have destroyed at least 4,100 structures and forced more than 60,000 people from their homes. Fires are also wreaking havoc in Oregon — where at least 10 people have died and more than 1 million acres have burned — and Washington.


The devastation prompted a visit from President Trump to Northern California on Monday. The briefing was held mostly in private and was overshadowed by Trump’s antagonism toward the state and the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

That helped put the issue of climate change front and center in the presidential campaign. Trump continued to express his skepticism about climate science, at one point saying, “It will start getting cooler, you just watch” and, when challenged by a state official, replying, “I don’t think science knows.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden denounced Trump as a “climate arsonist” and laid out how different policies would be under a new administration. Biden has proposed a $2-trillion plan for climate action that has received little voter attention in a race dominated by concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, protests over racial injustice and disputes over the integrity of America’s election systems.

More About the Fires

— More than a week after the Bobcat fire ignited the rugged terrain of the Angeles National Forest, it has emerged as an unusual menace that has evaded fire crews and terrorized local communities, despite burning no homes and causing no injuries.

— Extraordinary heat on the West Coast and rare summer snow in Colorado combined to create the epic firestorm hopscotching from the Mexican to Canadian borders.

— How to read and understand air quality numbers and maps.

A Lesson in Disparity

The Capistrano Unified School District is ready to go, preparing to welcome students back to class Sept. 28, soon after Orange County is expected to meet the state’s COVID-19 requirements for reopening schools. But 25 miles northwest, Santa Ana Unified School District officials have laid out a more sobering timetable. Elementary school children probably won’t be back to class until at least November. High school students? Possibly not until early 2021.

The recent decline of new coronavirus cases in California has freed 25 counties to reopen schools in the weeks ahead. But state and county clearance are only the first steps. School district leaders face disparate situations and complicated decisions that must take into account neighborhood COVID-19 rates, the size of the district, parents’ opinions and negotiations with employee unions.

Districts serving low-income, majority Latino neighborhoods hard hit by the coronavirus say conditions in their communities haven’t improved enough to reopen, yet another blow to the disproportionate hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color. But in wealthier ones? COVID rates are lower, and school leaders feel confident in their planning.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Although students and parents will not be returning to Los Angeles public schools anytime soon, when campuses do reopen, L.A. Unified plans to operate a website that will provide detailed information about coronavirus outbreaks at each campus and even each classroom.

— Over the last seven days, just 3.5% of COVID-19 tests in California came back positive, the lowest rate since the state began reporting the data in late March. A month ago, the positive test rate was nearly twice as high.

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

The 100-Letter Challenge

How long does it take for a first-class letter to reach its destination after the Trump administration made deep cuts to the U.S. Postal Service?

The Times decided to put the system to the test. From Aug. 21, when Postmaster Gen. Louis DeJoy was grilled by a Senate committee, to Aug. 24, when he testified before the House, we mailed 100 letters from 20 post offices around Los Angeles County to five destinations in the U.S., including two in California.

Overall, 75% of the letters sent by The Times that should have arrived within two business days arrived on time. This rate is substantially lower than the most recent Postal Service performance metric, which shows a 92.4% on-time delivery rate in April, May and June. For more results, read on.

Second Rock From the Sun

Scientists say they have found possible signs of extraterrestrial life in a place where few had thought to look: high in the thick, toxic clouds of Venus.

In that noxious environment, they discovered a gas called phosphine that is associated with life on Earth.

“There are two possibilities for how it got there, and they are equally crazy,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrobiologist Sara Seager, a member of the team that reported the discovery in the journal Nature Astronomy. “One scenario is it is some planetary process that we don’t know about. The other is there is some life form living in the atmosphere of Venus.”


Singer and actor Bing Crosby had seven children, six of them boys. His fifth child and only daughter was born Sept. 14, 1959, in Los Angeles. A Times photographer captured Crosby with Mary at Queen of Angels Hospital the next day.

Growing up, Mary Crosby performed with her siblings on their father’s famous TV specials. She later played Kristin Shepard in the TV series “Dallas.” And while much has been written and disputed about Bing Crosby’s life as a father, Mary has long defended him.

Singer Bing Crosby smiles for his first and only daughter, Mary Frances
Sept. 15, 1959: Singer Bing Crosby smiles for his only daughter, Mary Frances, held by nurse Sadie Neal at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles.
(Bruce H. Cox / Los Angeles Times)

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— After Saturday night’s shooting of two L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies in Compton, several activists have come forward to denounce the violence and urge the department to engage in more dialogue with the community.

— The Los Angeles Fire Department has no record of ever inspecting a downtown building where an explosion severely burned 11 firefighters earlier this year. The city’s top fire official acknowledged that an inspection might have led to the seizure of some of the chemicals that fueled the blast.

— A draft report on L.A.'s response to summer protests notes flaws in coordination among various city agencies.

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— A federal appeals court decided 2 to 1 that the Trump administration may deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants who previously received temporary protected status for humanitarian reasons.

— Sen. Dianne Feinstein could potentially lead the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. But some progressive activists worry she wouldn’t be aggressive enough in handling judicial nominees.

— Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko had his first face-to-face encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the start of a mass protest movement now in its sixth week.

Yoshihide Suga has been elected as the head of Japan’s ruling party, virtually guaranteeing him parliamentary election as the next prime minister.


— The Emmy Awards are Sunday. Our experts recommend seven TV shows that are worthy but didn’t even get a nomination.

— How does “Dancing With the Stars” stay relevant? By casting celebs from of-the-moment reality TV, from the Kardashians to “Tiger King’s” Carole Baskin.

Creative Artists Agency said it has reached a deal with the Writers Guild of America, potentially ending a standoff that has lasted more than a year. But the WGA said it has not yet reached a deal with CAA and called the agency’s statement “not accurate.”

— HBO’s “We Are Who We Are” is the perfect TV show to mark the end of a lost summer, Times TV editor Matt Brennan writes.


— The latest sell-out pandemic item? Holiday decorations. Stores say they can’t keep enough faux pumpkins and Christmas trees in stock as customers embrace decorating as one of the few safe ways to celebrate.

— It’s hard to copyright a recipe, but writing them for books and developing them for restaurants is real, personal work for chefs. Columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson explores what we mean when we talk about recipe ownership.


— The Dodgers’ late miscues allowed the Padres to not only take the game Monday but to cut the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West to 1½ games.

— First-year football coaches usually have all spring and summer to play catch-up. But COVID-19 has changed that, testing college coaches.

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— It’s up to us — and especially our politicians — to save our planet, writes the Dalai Lama.

— From fires to pollution, smog has been California’s dark companion for centuries, writes reporter Maria L. La Ganga.


— Emails show that the meat industry’s trade group drafted an executive order that bears striking similarities to the one Trump signed to keep meatpacking plants open. (ProPublica)

South Dakota’s attorney general reported hitting a deer while driving but actually struck a pedestrian whose body wasn’t discovered until the next morning, authorities said. (Rapid City Journal)


The California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program has been measuring changes in the California Current for 71 years. But it wasn’t until this year that every scientist sailing on the summer research cruise was a woman. This happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. And it took place aboard the naval research vessel the Sally Ride, named in honor of the first female American astronaut.

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