Newsletter: The worst fire season ever, again

A crew heads out to create a fire line as the Bobcat fire burns above Arcadia.
A crew heads out to create a fire line as the Bobcat fire burns above Arcadia.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

If the wildfires in California seem worse every year, it’s not your imagination.


The Worst Fire Season Ever, Again

Hotter temperatures. Bigger fires. Atrocious air quality.

Fire season in California looks different these days. In recent years, it feels worse than anything many can remember.


To see whether that’s true, The Times analyzed decades of data tracking California wildfires and the destruction they’ve wrought. The analysis found that wildfires and their compounding effects have intensified in recent years — and there’s little sign things will improve on their own.

Record-breaking wildfires are occurring more often. Eight of the 10 largest fires in California history have burned in the past decade. On Sept. 9, the massive August Complex became the largest fire in the state’s history.

As this deep dive into the data shows, this year has shattered records for millions of acres burned.

More About the Fires

— After crossing containment lines, the Bobcat fire moved within striking distance of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday, with firefighters mounting an aggressive defense from the air and on the ground.

— Plumes of smoke from the deadly and record-breaking fires are being caught in the atmospheric jet stream and carried across the United States to the East Coast and Europe, according to the National Weather Service.

— The North Complex fire last week destroyed the Village Market in the town of Berry Creek, Calif. Now, the immigrant family originally from Syria that owns it is confronted with what’s next.

Seven Weeks to Go

New data from a USC Dornsife poll show former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump face contrasting challenges as the presidential race moves into its final seven weeks.

Biden, who holds a lead that remains steady but not conclusive, has largely succeeded in uniting his fellow Democrats. But as he tries to build a broad coalition that would include a significant number of independents and moderate Republicans — a step that could lock down key states — he faces resistance on ideology. Independents and voters who lean Republican, groups that make up a large share of the remaining swing voters, judge Biden to be considerably more liberal than themselves, the poll finds.

The data show Trump faces a different challenge: Not only is he behind, but a slice of his potential supporters are iffy about voting as well. At the same time, the main issue he has pushed in recent weeks — law and order — appears to have salience mostly with people who already strongly support him.

Meanwhile, Trump has opened a sordid new chapter in America’s history of ugly political rhetoric.

Proceeding With Caution

California’s COVID-19 case count and hospitalizations are declining, but L.A. County’s top public health official isn’t ready to ease up on restrictions.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned that lifting restrictions before getting an accurate picture on infection rates after the Labor Day holiday weekend could prove detrimental.

“It would be foolish to start reopenings now, only to have to close down because our numbers are moving in the wrong direction,” said Ferrer at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting. She was addressing questions from supervisors and the public regarding the ongoing closures of indoor malls and other businesses that, under state guidelines, are allowed to reopen with restrictions.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— California fitness centers have filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus unfairly target the industry and are demanding they be allowed to reopen.

— The Los Angeles Community College District, the largest in the nation, will remain online-only for the rest of the academic year amid the region’s ongoing coronavirus public health crisis, the system’s chancellor has announced.

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


On this date in 1976, The Times published a front-page article about an explosion that ripped through a spillgate and gatehouse on the Owens Valley aqueduct, “forcing a temporary shutdown of the system that brings Los Angeles 80% of its water.”

In the immediate aftermath, authorities said they had no clues or suspects in the explosion near Lone Pine, Calif. But they eventually built a case against Mark Berry and his friend Robert Howe based on physical evidence and information provided by confidential informants. Howe was sentenced to 90 days in Inyo County jail and three years probation. Berry, who was 17 at the time of the incident, was sentenced to 30 days in juvenile detention.

In 2013, Berry spoke with The Times and revealed the story of how he and and his friend had stolen some dynamite and blew apart a gate that regulated the flow of water to the aqueduct — and what had happened to them since.

The interior of the Los Angeles Aqueduct's Alabama Hills gatehouse in 1976
The interior of the Los Angeles Aqueduct’s Alabama Hills gatehouse after an explosion buckled the floor and blew out the windows and door on Sept. 15, 1976.
(Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times)

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— Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that the COVID-19 pandemic has helped drive gun violence and increase killings in the city this year, including by spurring economic despair and interpersonal dramas while undercutting efforts to interrupt cycles of retaliation.

Heat exposure contributed to the deaths of at least three people who perished in Los Angeles County as a heat wave hit the region over the Labor Day weekend, according to the county coroner.

— Is California serious about environmental justice? A proposed desalination plant along Monterey Bay is one of the most fraught issues to come before the California Coastal Commission and a test of the state’s commitment.

— As candidates face off this fall for two seats on the Los Angeles City Council, a debate has entered both campaigns: What’s the best way to root out corruption at City Hall?

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Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Ala., as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water and torrential rain onto the coast.

— A House committee issued a scathing report Wednesday questioning whether Boeing and government regulators have recognized the “horrific culmination” of problems that caused two deadly 737 Max jet crashes and whether either will be willing to fix them.

— Hoping to bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of November’s election, Trump oversaw the formal recognition of Israel by two Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, during a White House South Lawn ceremony.

— The city of Louisville will pay several million dollars to the mother of Breonna Taylor and install police reforms as part of a settlement of a lawsuit from Taylor’s family.

— Japan’s Parliament elected Yoshihide Suga as prime minister, replacing long-serving leader Shinzo Abe with his right-hand man.

— Reindeer herders in a Russian Arctic archipelago have found an immaculately preserved carcass of an Ice Age cave bear, researchers said.


Paris Hilton’s new YouTube documentary wasn’t originally supposed to center her high school days. But the experience of filming it brought her and her former classmates together to share stories of abuse at Provo Canyon School.

— Theater critic Charles McNulty is lost without live theater. He has a wish list for a digital show season that might come close, like a solo musical about the apocalypse.

— With a pandemic and a history-making producer, there’s a lot that’s changed about the Emmys this year. Executive producer Reginald Hudlin offers a sneak peek of his plans.

— It’s not often you see a novel with two authors, but that’s just one of the many ways “Make Them Cry” is a distinctive work. Here’s how two Texas drinking buddies wound up writing one crackling cartel thriller together.


— More than two months after its launch, the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program isn’t living up to expectations, as few banks are willing to provide the loans.

Zoom says obscene “Zoombombings” aren’t its problem, legally speaking.


— The Clippers blew their 3-1 series lead and lost Game 7 to the Denver Nuggets — the latest, disastrous chapter to the franchise’s 50-year history of playoff misery.

Major League Baseball and its players union have agreed to a playoff bubble plan that includes L.A. and San Diego.

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— The Los Angeles Times used to endorse only Republicans for president. What changed?

— The World Trade Organization just bared its toothless gums in ruling for China.


— A memo from a whistle blower says Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence that fake accounts on its platform have been undermining elections and political affairs around the world. (BuzzFeed News)

— How climate-driven migration will change America. (New York Times Magazine)


Airbnb just landed its most famous host yet: a kid from West Philadelphia, born and raised. Actor Will Smith, in collaboration with the property owner, has listed the mansion from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” on the rental website. The home — which is actually in Brentwood, not Bel-Air — will be available to rent for five one-night stays in early October. The rate: $30. Why so low? The promo arrives shortly after Smith teased a “Fresh Prince” reunion on HBO Max to celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary.

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