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'Lake Fire' Near Lake Hughes Explodes To 10,000 Acres In 'Extreme' Fire Conditions

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A brush fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon grew to 6,000 acres in the first hour alone. (Courtesy LA County Fire Air Ops via Twitter)

Get the latest>> Lake Fire Updates: What We Know So Far As The Wildfire Grows In Lake Hughes

A fast-moving fire that broke out this afternoon in extreme fire conditions near Lake Hughes has pushed people out of at least 100 homes as it rapidly grew to 10,000 acres within hours of igniting.

Shortly after 8 p.m., sheriff's officials cautioned that the fire continued to move in a "north easterly" direction exhibiting "extreme fire behavior."

L.A. County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson provided some key updates at a news briefing tonight:

  • Currently there are more than 100 structures, including homes and outbuildings, within the primary evacuation areas
  • 500 firefighters are on scene, including 300 L.A. County firefighters and an additional 200 firefighters from multiple agencies, including units from the city of L.A., Orange County, Ventura County and other L.A. County fire departments.

"Keep in mind this is a major fire," Richardson said, "...we will be out here for days to come."

He also cautioned that the Lake Fire comes early in the fire season and is "moving without any or minimal winds." Richardson added that the story will be different in a few months when the Santa Ana winds kick in.

The fire, located in an area that officials said hasn't burned since 1968, has moved from chaparral fuels into heavier fuel areas, making it tougher to tackle. One official called it "a recipe for rapid fire growth."

Still, firefighters are hoping favorable conditions overnight make it possible to bring the fire under control.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is assisting with evacuations, which expanded to include about 100 homes under mandatory evacuations within hours of the fire's start. Because of COVID-19, traditional shelter space cannot be set up. So the shelter locations are for people staying in their cars.

The fire was first reported about 3:30 p.m. At 4:22 p.m., the Los Angeles County Fire Department said via Twitter that the Lake Fire had the potential to grow to 1,000 acres. Just over one hour later it was reported that it had expanded to 6,000 acres. Then 7,000 acres. By 6:30 p.m. it had reached 10,000.

Fire crews from L.A. County Fire, Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and Ventura County Fire all rushed to fight the quickly moving blaze.

For perspective on that 10,000 acre figure, there are 640 acres in one square mile. So that means the fire is occurring within an area of roughly 15 square miles. That doesn’t mean that every bit of that area is on fire, but this early in the spread of the fire it can describe the area where fire is being seen.

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 10,000 acres
  • Containment: 0%
  • Homes are threatened
  • Resources deployed: 21 strike teams deployed/requested

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

  • Northwest of Lake Hughes Road and Lake Elizabeth Road
  • West Trail Mtn View Road in Lake Hughes Community
  • Everything south of Hwy 138, all the way west to Old Ridge Route, including Pine Canyon community

EVACUATION CENTERS

People:

  • Highland High School | 39055 25th St., West Palmdale

Animals:

  • Castaic Animal Care Center (31044 Charlie Canyon Rd)
  • Lancaster Animal Care Center (5210 W. Avenue I)
  • Palmdale Animal Care Center (38550 Sierra Highway)
  • Antelope Valley Fairgrounds - large animals only (2551 W. Avenue H in Lancaster)
  • Castaic Fairgrounds

ROAD CLOSURES

  • Lake Hughes Road is currently closed from Castaic to Pine Canyon.
  • 3 Points Rd to Pine Canyon Rd
  • Ridge Route to Lake Hughes
  • Pine Canyon Rd at Highway 138

WEATHER CONDITIONS

Fire officials said temperatures in the area were in the mid 90s, with single-digit humidity. As of August 1, the Angeles National Forest had increased the fire threat from "very high" to "extreme." Parts of the area on fire had not burned since 1968, according to officials.

THE BACKGROUND

The fire was first reported about 3:30 p.m. near Pine Canyon. Fire officials said the fire grew to more than 100 acres in the first few minutes after it ignited. No cause had yet been determined.

SCENES OF THE FIRE

Within an hour of the fire's start a pyrocumulus cloud had formed, climbing high into the sky, making smoke visible as far as Santa Cruz Island, roughly 100 miles away.

The tall, intimidating clouds build as extreme heat from the fire causes air to rise, which then cools and condenses as it climbs higher into the atmosphere. That smoke can then spread across hundreds, if not thousands of miles. In some instances thunderstorms can form, which can mean lightning, which can mean even more fires.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

Science reporter Jacob Margolis is reporting on the fire and our infrastructure reporter Sharon McNary is also contributing context about fires. This is a developing story. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

We'll update this story as we learn more.

MORE ON THIS YEAR'S WILDFIRE SEASON:

FIRE RESOURCES

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Los Angeles Spearheads New Research On Low Cost, At-Home COVID-19 Testing, With Same Day Results

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The city of Los Angeles is now funding research for rapid at-home COVID-19 testing, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today, in part because "this is not the time to wait around for the federal government" to lead on the issue, he said.

Right now, L.A.'s drive-through testing centers are usuing PCR tests, which are administered via mouth swab and deliver results in about 30 hours, on average. "But we still need to go further," the mayor said, "we need to ramp up more testing, and we need to get results even faster."

He added that the rapid test strips have the potential to radically inrease virus detection, and are also much more cost efficient -- while PCR tests cost about $100 to $200, the mayor said test strips could potentially be manufactured for as little as $5 or $10.

More research is needed to determine the efficacy and exact cost of these tests, which is why, Garcetti said, the city has "convened a national group of scientific experts, bioscience firms, government leaders and foundations" to conduct research and accelerate their development and production.

When available, test strips could potentially be given daily to teachers, workers and students at L.A. schools at low cost, with same-day results. He said the city, in partnership with other mayors and governors in the U.S., is urging the FDA and CDC to "clear the obstacles standing in the way" of moving forward with testing research, and is also calling on the federal government to mandate insurance coverage for this form of testing, nationwide.

Since March, L.A. has tested over one million residents for COVID-19; the mayor said, to put things in perspective, with the rapid test strip we could potentially test one million Angelenos per day.

The mayor added that the city needs more volunteers at testing centers. You can sign up at coronavirus.la city.org/volunteer.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • The city has launched LA Connected, a new initiative to connect struggling Angelenos with resources for paying rent, getting stimulus checks, employment insurance and banking resources.
  • The mayor said that as a city, we are "making good progress" in terms of coronavirus recovery. "This means we're seeing fewer cases, deaths hospitalizations, a low positivity rate and stable and strong availability in our hospitals," he said. "But we have to remain vigilant."
  • He added that we should continue to assume that everyone around us is contagious, as 30% of all cases diagnosed in city testing have been asymptomatic.
  • To get to a place where the city could potentially reopen schools, the mayor said, we would need to get to 14 days with under 200 cases for every 100,000 people. We still have a long way to go to get there, but we're 20% closer than we were a few weeks ago.
  • The mayor also urged Angelenos to use caution this coming Labor Day weekend:

"Many people suspect that our collective behavior in two past holidays on Memorial Day, when things began to ease up, and Independence Day on the Fourth of July, contributed to the rise in cases that we saw last month. Thus, as Labor Day approaches, I want to get ahead of the curve to help us push down the curve. And I want to remind you, you should not host or attend unpermitted parties. They're unsafe. They're illegal... You might have an hour or two of fun, that we literally have to all collectively pay for, for weeks, and even months."

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Sheriff Offers A Little More Info On Guardado Killing — But Not On Why He Was Shot Five Times In The Back

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A Compton protest over the fatal shooting of Andres Guardado by a sheriff's deputy. (Brian Feinzimer/for LAist)

An L.A. County Sheriff's Commander said today the department doesn't have any video of a deputy's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado in Gardena because detectives had removed the surveillance cameras' digital recorder to investigate a previous shooting at the same location.

Commander Chris Marks' presentation to a news conference included:

  • A photo of the gun authorities say was recovered from Guardado
  • A video from a business across the street that shows the young man appearing to run away from deputies — but does not show the shooting.

What Marks didn't do was shed any light on why Deputy Miguel Vega shot Guardado five times in the back.

Marks spent a considerable amount of time detailing ongoing possible drug dealing and other illegal activity at the auto body shop where Guardado was killed, including an unsolved 2018 gang-related murder.

He said there was no information linking Guardado to any of the previous incidents, but Guardado family attorney Adam Shea blasted the news conference, calling it an "attempt to convolute and cherry pick the facts to create a narrative that links Andres' death to previous incidents of crime near the shop."

READ OUR FULL REPORT ON THE NEWS CONFERENCE:

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LA Mayor's Top Homelessness Advisor To Resign

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Christina Miller. (Courtesy of LA Mayor's Office)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s top homelessness advisor announced this week she plans to resign from her position by the end of the month.

Christina Miller will join the National Alliance To End Homelessness in September, where she will work as the California point person.

Miller was appointed as Deputy Mayor for City Homeless Initiatives in late 2018, and has managed several city programs to expand L.A.’s temporary shelter system. She's also overseen much of the city response to shield homeless people from COVID-19 in hotels and recreation centers. Her appointment was made as the mayor restructured teams to address the homelessness crisis.

The announcement of her appointment read:

This restructuring of teams comes at a critical moment in Los Angeles’ fight to end homelessness. The City has made strong progress, delivering the first overall decline in nine years.

Unfortunately, the decrease in the count of homeless people in 2018 was overshadowed by double digit increases in both of the following years.

Late Tuesday, Garcetti announced Miller will be succeeded by Jose 'Che' Ramirez, who most recently directed a social services agency in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. He will take over the role at a time when Los Angeles is staring down what may be a new wave of homelessness due to massive increases in unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic.

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1 In 8 LA County Residents Have Likely Had COVID-19 — But May Not Have Had Symptoms

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Approximately one in eight Los Angeles County residents have likely been infected with COVID-19, although many people may have been asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic. That's the word from Dr. Roger Lewis, director of the COVID-19 modeling team within the county's Department of Health Services.

We are "back to slowing the spread of coronavirus," Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health noted, but we have to stay vigilant.

"We still have many, many highly susceptible persons in Los Angeles County, and if the rate of transmission increased, we could see this progress reverse," Lewis said at today's L.A. County coronavirus task force briefing (you can watch the video above). "If we let up, the virus will have new opportunities to persist and even to increase its spread."

A modeling graph showing COVID-19 transmission rates presented during L.A. County's Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. (Los Angeles County)

LATEST COVID-19 STATS

  • 214,197 - total number of COVID-19 cases in L.A. County
  • 2,428 - new COVID-19 cases today in L.A. County (this includes close to 700 cases from a state backlog)
  • 58 - new COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County
    • 19: age 80 and above
    • 24: age 65 - 79
    • 11: age 50 - 64
    • 3: age 30 - 49
  • 5,109 - total COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County
    • 50%: Latino/Latinx
    • 24%: white
    • 15%: Asian
    • 10%: Black
    • Less than 1%: Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
    • 1%: identify with another race or ethnicity

Ferrer said that since May, deaths are trending down for all age categories, and she showed several graphs and charts to illustrate these declines.

RENT RELIEF

The speakers at the briefing also addressed the impact COVID-19 has had on people worried they won't be able to make their next rent payment.

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis announced that the county has set aside $100 million for a COVID-19 rent relief program to assist renters with limited means.

"This will be one of the largest rent relief programs of its kind in the nation," Solis said.

The program, which aims to assist between 8,000 and 9,000 households, launches on Monday, August 17 and closes on August 31. Information about how to apply is available at 211la.org. You can also call 211 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day during the application period. Representatives will be able to assist in different languages.

Solis also said L.A. County has an emergency rent relief program to help provide rent payments to property owners on behalf of income-eligible households. This program is open to property owners with rental units located in the unincorporated areas of the 1st District. Applications will be accepted through August 31 or until funds have been exhausted.

COLLEGES MUST DO MOST CLASSES ONLINE BUT CAN STILL PLAY SPORTS

At today's briefing, Ferrer affirmed that county officials will continue to limit the reopening of colleges and universities. They can continue their central operations but must conduct most academic instruction via distance learning.

"Institutions may continue to offer some limited in-person training and instruction," Ferrer said, "but only for students who are or will become part of the essential workforce." And that only applies to required activities that can't be done through virtual learning, such as labs and practicums.

Colleges and universities must also limit their on-campus student residency only to students who have no other housing options.

However, colleges and universities can allow collegiate sports to proceed, if they are in compliance with the state's interim guidance as well as NCAA protocols.

"The very nature of the way that colleges and universities operate creates a significant risk of outbreaks of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff, and these risks extend beyond the campus into our broader community," Ferrer said.

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California COVID-19 Update: No New Positivity Rates Due To Backlog

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Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered an update on California's response to coronavirus. You can read highlights below or watch the full video above.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS, BUT NO NEW POSITIVITY RATES YET

There were 11,645 new COVID-19 cases reported yesterday, and 12,500 the day before, according to Newsom. However, he noted that these numbers include the additional cases from the backlog (caused by errors in the state's reporting system) that have since been processed.

That most recent number includes 6,212 cases from the backlog, alongside 5,433 new cases. Newsom said that this number is still too high, but encouraging, and that the state is turning the corner on the pandemic.

Newsom said that he wants to make sure that case positivity rates are accurate after working through the backlog before making those numbers public.

Hospitalizations continue to decline — there has been a 19% decrease over the past two weeks. COVID-19 patients now account for 7% of the state's health care system capacity. ICU admissions are down 16% over the past two weeks, with 20% of the state's ICU capacity taken up by COVID-19 patients. There are also 13,149 ventilators available — there were only around 11,000 available a few weeks ago, Newsom noted.

The governor said that in the medium term, the state is working on building a parallel system to handle COVID-19 cases to ensure accurate numbers. For the long-term, the state is looking at more permanent solutions.

KAMALA HARRIS'S REPLACEMENT?

When asked about who he might choose to replace Kamala Harris as one of California's U.S. senators if she is elected vice president, Newsom said that it's only August and he doesn't have to make that decision until the end of January. He said that he's currently focused on bending the curve of the pandemic, but that he looks forward to working with Harris when she's vice president, and noted that they've been friends for more than 25 years.

When asked about who has pitched themselves as Harris's replacement, Newsom replied, "Well, you may be the only one who hasn't — unless you just did. And that is only a slight exaggeration." Newsom said that he is also telling people privately that he is focused on the pandemic, not that decision.

During his presentation on the state's economy, Newsom specifically thanked Harris for her work while attorney general in securing National Mortgage Settlement funds for California — part of the state's plans include accelerating $300 million of that money to the most in-need homeowners and renters.

The governor noted that both he and Harris were elected the same day, when she became San Francisco attorney general and he became the city's mayor. He talked about their extensive work together, as well as Harris's strong character. Newsom also noted how pleased he was with Harris being chosen as VP, given that he endorsed Harris in her presidential campaign. Newsom said there is reason for pride for the state of California, as well as the San Francisco area.

EXTENDING PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE

Newsom noted that the $600 unemployment bonus was thought to be $400 in the president's executive order — and with new information out Tuesday, now it is thought to be just $300. Newsom laid out on Monday why the state wouldn't be able to pick up 25% of the cost, as the administration had said would be required.

He also noted that, if the eligibility rules for the funds are changed as the White House administration wants, it would be difficult to get that money into people's hands quickly because of the significant programming that would need to be made to the state's unemployment processing system. He reiterated that, along with other governors, he is requesting the administration keep the eligibility rules the same as they were before.

PLANS TO ADDRESS COVID-19'S IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY

The governor spoke about how COVID-19 has affected the state's economy, saying that the most urgent tool in an economic recovery is stabilizing the virus.

Worker protections are needed for the economy to reopen, Newsom said. He noted that this issue disproportionately affects Black and Latino workers. Workers need things like paid sick days in order to be able to isolate and quarantine when necessary, Newsom said, rather than going to work sick.

Newsom said that state leaders are "working aggressively behind the scenes" to extend pandemic support, including on mortgages. The governor thanked the state Legislature for work it's done so far, but said that with two weeks left in the legislative session, it is important to pass an economic recovery package.

The governor said that state leaders are committed to providing eviction protections for vulnerable renters, as well as assistance for small landlords. He declined to give specifics due to legislative negotiations being ongoing. That protection is currently set to expire Sept. 1. Newsom said that he believes there is a pathway in the works that would extend those protections.

Beyond unemployment insurance, Newsom said that he believes that employment insurance also needs to be offered. He acknowledged that there are times when people can make more money on unemployment than they do when they have a job, but Newsom said that work provides dignity and that the idea that most people would choose not to work is "nonsense."

The state needs an economy that is more inclusive, resilient, and "future-proofed," Newsom said. Part of the plans for what comes next include accelerating state-funded infrastructure, accelerating wildfire and green infrastructure projects, expanded workforce training, streamline permitting in the hardest-hit sectors, and upgraded technology through the Office of Digital Innovation, according to Newsom.

REFORMS TO ADAPT TO THE PANDEMIC

Newsom said that more details will be announced later this week about efforts to close the digital divide. While this includes issues in education, Newsom said that the state also wants to bring employees and employers together to look at telework rules. That includes protecting employees' rights, as well as providing flexibility for employees, he said. The state also wants to expand access to high-quality, high-speed broadband.

HOW THE STATE HAS TRIED HELPING THE ECONOMY SO FAR

Newsom thanked the state's Jobs and Economic Recovery Task Force, including California enterpreneurs and big business leaders. He noted that they were helping with the state's sector-specific guidance for reopening different parts of the economy more safely, along with other economic efforts.

Newsom said that 3.6 million working families have received $1 billion in tax credits, as well as $1 billion in additional low-income housing tax credits over the past two years.

Newsom said that more than 8,500 employers and 54,000 employees have benefitted from the state's workshare program. (Southern California Public Radio, which publishes LAist, is among the companies that have taken part in the workshare program.)

There have been 5.6 million meals served to seniors through the pandemic Great Plates Delivered program, Newsom said — the program has also supported 8,000 jobs.

The governor also spoke about other actions taken by the state to support the economy.

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Police Swarm Black Lives Matter-LA Co-Founder's Home After False Kidnapping Call

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Black Lives Matter L.A. leader and Cal State LA educator Dr. Melina Abdullah speaks at a press conference demanding Abdullah become the dean of Ethnic Studies on the morning her home was swarmed by LAPD. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Los Angeles police swarmed the home of Black Lives Matter L.A. co-founder Melina Abdullah this morning. She livestreamed the incident on Instagram in what appeared to be a false call meant to draw armed law enforcement to her home.

In the video, an officer on scene explains to Abdullah that the police had received a call saying someone was holding her and her family hostage, and that this man wanted a million dollars or he would kill them in an hour. It appeared to be a "swatting" incident — when someone places a false 911 call in an attempt to draw a large, armed law enforcement response, often by a S.W.A.T. team.

The incident came on the same morning Abdullah was scheduled to speak to the press about a campaign to appoint her as dean of the new College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State L.A., where she teaches.

At that event, Abdullah talked about the swatting incident, saying: “We don’t even believe that [LAPD] got that call. We believe it’s yet another tactic that’s being used to block us from ushering in black freedom and, by extension, freedom for all people."

In the video, which lasts about 12 minutes, Abdullah points the camera through her window, revealing patrol cars outside and officers standing in tactical gear. She can be heard saying that they are pointing guns at her house. Eventually, she makes her way outside, where she speaks with the assembled officers, at least one of whom is carrying what looks like a semi-automatic rifle. The police left after Abdullah explained that there was no hostage situation.

“We looked out the front window, and two officers stood and put their assault rifles and pointed them directly at us," Abdullah said at Cal State L.A. "And I realized they came for me. And they called out my address, said everyone needed to come out with their hands up ... I was afraid -- and I don’t use that word often. I was concerned that if I didn’t come out that my children might be in danger.”

Abdullah has been at the forefront of recent protests against police violence in L.A. and has called for the defunding of law enforcement.

The video was no longer available to stream as of publication. Abdullah said she removed it because her revealed her home address.

Abdullah chairs the department of Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A. She and her supporters have been sharply critical of the appointment of longtime Asian American legal advocate Stewart Kwoh as interim dean of the College of Ethnic Studies while a search is conducted for a permanent dean.

Kwoh is the founding president and past executive director of the legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: Kwoh is a life trustee of the board of Southern California Public Radio.)

MORE ON THE ETHNIC STUDIES CONTROVERSY:

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The Colored Air Circus In 'Perry Mason' Was Real -- And Revolutionary

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On December 6, 1931, thousands of Angelenos filled the field of the Los Angeles Eastside Airport in East Montebello Gardens. Although it was winter and the depths of the Great Depression, they forked over 50 cents to watch daredevils parachute from planes and airplanes fly in breathtaking formations. The Colored Air Circus, a benefit for the city's unemployed, was one of the first airshows in the world piloted entirely by Black aviators.

William J. Powell (right) and unidentified man in flight clothing pose beside left rear fuselage of a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, the first aircraft purchased by the Bessie Coleman Aero Club; circa 1928-1930. Note club emblem below rear cockpit cowling. (Unknown/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

Even the Los Angeles Times, known for ignoring events by and for people of color -- to say nothing of its racist reporting on issues such as housing, segregation and police brutality -- gave the airshow a good review:

"The 'Black Eagle,' known in private life as Col. Hugh Julian... and five other colored pilots kept nearly 10,000 necks craned skyward over Los Angeles Eastside Airport yesterday afternoon during the colored air circus conducted under the auspices of the Associated City Employees Fund for the Unemployed. Along with the "Black Eagle" flew the 'Five Blackbirds' stunt squadron of colored speed aces. Stunt and parachute leaps completed an afternoon of thrills."

Lieutenant Paul Drake of the LAPD (Chris Chalk) stands in front of a billboard for the Colored Air Circus in season one, episode three of HBO's "Perry Mason." (Screengrab)

Look closely at episode three of HBO's Perry Mason reboot. During the scene where Mason (Matthew Rhys) attempts to extract more info about the death of a kidnapping and murder suspect from Lieutenant Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), you'll spot a billboard for the Colored Air Circus.

US Army American Expeditionary Force (AEF) Identity Card No. 130186 issued to 1st Lieutenant William J. Powell, 365th Infantry; circa 1918. (US Army/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum )

The real event was the brainchild of a lanky pilot and aviation educator named William J. Powell. A World War I veteran and successful owner of a chain of Chicago gas stations, Powell had become enthralled with flying in 1927, after taking his first spin above Paris. Turned away from numerous aviation schools because of his race, he was finally accepted into the Warren School of Aeronautics, located at 120 West Slauson Avenue, in 1928. After earning his pilot's license, Powell worked to convince other African Americans that the burgeoning aviation industry offered them the opportunities they had been denied in many other occupations.

Wiliam J. Powell (right, wearing leather flight helmet with goggles pushed up on his forehead) speaks with two unidentified men in "Craftsmen of Black Wings" coveralls about various aircraft instruments spread out on the table in front of them. Clipping from an unknown publication; circa 1930s. (Unknown/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

"There is a better job and a better future in aviation for Negroes than in any other industry," he wrote in his autobiographical novel Black Wings, published in 1934. "And the reason is this; aviation is just beginning its period of growth, and if we get into it now, while it is still uncrowded, we can grow as aviation grows."

A circular pinback button featuring a sepia portrait of aviator Bessie Coleman. The portrait is the one used on her aviation license issued by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr.)

He expanded on this theory in the novel:

"There is before our eyes an infant industry that someday bids fair to become a bigger giant than any. We have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, an opportunity to help develop this industry -- we have an opportunity to grow with this industry, an opportunity to become producers -- what shall we do?"

To further his mission, Powell in 1928 founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, sponsored by bandleader Duke Ellington and boxer Joe Louis, according to the Los Angeles Times. The club was named after the world's first licensed African American pilot, Bessie Coleman, who had died in 1926 in a plane crash near Jacksonville, Florida.

Under the auspices of the club, Powell, who had a degree in electrical engineering, began to teach aeronautics classes to men and women at Jefferson High School, located in South Los Angeles. During the day, he gave flying lesson to locals, including Marie Dickerson Coker (seen here dancing with friends in a delightful home movie), a fearless "high spirited, entertaining lady," who danced and sang at popular L.A. jazz spots such as the famed Culver City Cotton Club.

An exterior night view of Cafe International/Sebastian's Cotton Club at 6500 Washington Boulevard in Culver City. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
William J. Powell, circa 1917. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coker had become enthralled with flying after a chance encounter one evening. "I was working in Culver City at the Chicken Coop when these pilots walked in -- in those days it was something to be a pilot, let alone a black one -- anyway, they asked if I would like to go for a flight and I said yes," Coker told the Los Angeles Sentinel. She was hooked and soon earned her pilot's license.

According to aviation expert Phil Scott, author of several definitive articles on the Colored Air Circus including "The Blackbirds Take Wing" published in the journal Aviation History, Powell was inspired by the National Air Race held in L.A. in 1928. He decided to mount his own show, the "All-Negro Air Show," at the Los Angeles Eastside Airfield on Labor Day, 1931.

Attracting a crowd of approximately 15,000 people, the show featured the Negro Formation Flying Group made up of Powell, William Aikens and a charismatic aviator named Irvin Wells. A blimp dropped flowers in honor of Bessie Coleman. Lottie Theodore and Maxwell Love did parachute jumps.

Encouraged by the success of the event, Powell began to organize a larger show, the Colored Air Circus. He put together a flying team, known as the Blackbirds, and invited Coker to join. "This is going to be the greatest thing that you have ever gotten in to," he told Coker, according to Scott. Powell also invited friend and frequent collaborator James Herman Banning, a famed aviator and the second licensed African American pilot, to headline the show.

William J. Powell (far right) poses with three other mechanics (groundcrew) beside the right rear fuselage of a Maddux Air Lines Ford 5-AT-B Tri-Motor airliner; circa 1927-1928. (Unknown/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 9A14476).)

Banning refused to perform without pay so Powell instead recruited a slick self-promoter who styled himself Col. Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, and according to Dickerson, often wore a monocle. Julian called himself the "Black Eagle of Harlem" and the Washington Post reports he would later join the Ethiopian Air Force to fight against Italian fascists in the Italo-Ethiopian War.

"If someone could rid Julian of his spasmodic outbursts of egotism, there could hardly be a speaker found to excel him," Powell later wrote.

Whatever Powell's misgivings, he made sure Julian was hailed as the "greatest Negro flyer" and met with fanfare when he from New York. According to the Los Angeles Times, on December 5, 1931, the day before the Air Circus took place, dignitaries including L.A. Mayor John Clinton Porter met with the flyers in preparation for the big event.

William J. Powell, far right, poses with members of the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles, circa 1931. (Unknown/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

On Dec. 6, thousands of people (the L.A. Times counted 10,000; Powell claimed 40,000) crammed onto Eastside Airfield. Up first was Julian, who was supposed to free fall from a buzzing plane but instead parachuted over the crowd. His lackluster performance continued when he took to the skies. He had promised to perform "hair-raising stunts which never materialized," Powell recalled. "He didn't even make a sharp bank, but soon descended, asking for a glass of water, stating that it was quite different to do all that hard flying and make a parachute jump also."

'One of America's first black pilots, William J. Powell, president of the Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs, actively promoted aviation in the black community.' (Unknown/Hatfield Collection, Museum of Flight, via of Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

Luckily, the Blackbirds "saved the day," Powell later said. One by one, they took off over the airfield. According to Scott:

"Wells went first, then Aikens, Julian, Johnson, Matthew Campana, Coker and finally Powell. They flew to a nearby field and landed -- all except for Julian, who later claimed he got lost. After waiting for him, the six gave up and took off once again, flying in a 'V' back to the field, then buzzing the crowd in a train, or 'follow-the leader,' as Coker described it. She recalled: '[Powell] would lead, the first one would fall off, then the second one, then the third one, and we would make a line and come on back around and make another string and come off. That's all we did, and that was good enough.'"

The show ended with parachute jumps by Maxwell Love and Marie Daughtry. According to aviation expert Scott, Powell's Colored Air Circus received rave reviews in the Black press and demonstrated that Black Americans deserved their place in the skies.

Powell planned to stage 100 air shows across the country, however a plane crash and money trouble would quashed these ambitions. He continued to preach the gospel of African American aviation and, in 1935, made Unemployment, the Negro and Aviation. The film, shown to church groups, told the story of a young Black man discovering the promise of the aviation industry. Powell died in 1942, as the famed Tuskegee Airmen, some of whom he had supposedly taught, were training for World War II where they would destroy 261 enemy aircraft and fly 1,578 missions. (This was a different group than the Black men subjected to the horrors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, who were mostly farmers and sharecroppers.)

In Black Wings, Powell described what flight -- and Bessie Coleman's accomplishment -- meant to Black people. "We have overcome that which was much worse than racial barriers," he wrote. "We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.

Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (second from left) visits William J. Powell (right) at the workshop of the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles; circa 1930s. (Adair Photo/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

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Edison Says Fewer Homes Will Lose Power In Fire Prevention Shutoffs

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Power poles that burned in the Thomas Fire in December 2017 dangle above Highway 150. (Sharon McNary/KPCC/LAist)

Homes and businesses in fire-vulnerable mountain and foothill areas should face fewer public safety power shutoffs this coming fire season, Southern California Edison officials said Tuesday during a hearing with state regulators.

Edison cuts power to areas prone to electrical equipment malfunctions during hot, dry and windy days. In prior years, its equipment has caused major fires, including the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

In 2019, the utility cut power to about 122,000 customers as a fire prevention measure. The longest outage was from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3, affecting 101,000 customers.

About 40,000 customers who lived through power shutoffs last year would be spared shutoffs this year because power equipment was improved, or because Edison has installed equipment that lets it more precisely monitor the weather risk to power circuits. But about 80,000 customers remain likely to lose power in a public safety shutoff, Edison vice president Phil Herrington said.

People who live in homes protected by the shutoffs have been annoyed and angered by the inconvenience of having no power, sometimes for days on end. They've lost power to rural water wells, power to charge phones and computers, and power to keep medicine cool and medical devices working.

The public safety power shutoffs are supposed to be used only as a last resort, said Public Utilities Commission president Marybel Batjer. The inconvenience of losing power is magnified during the coronavirus precautions that have more people home from workplaces and schools, she said.

“The haphazardly implemented PSPS events of last year cannot be repeated,” Batjer said.

GO DEEPER:

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Morning Briefing: South L.A.’s New Bookmobile

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(Photo by Kimberly Farmer via Upsplash)

Never miss a morning briefing. Subscribe today to get our A.M. newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Claudia Cataldo learned something remarkable while teaching 12th graders remotely: after months behind screens, some of them were tired of their electronics.

"It turned out they were actually getting bored on their devices and screens, which is, you know, extraordinary," Cataldo told KPCC’s Mariana Dale.

In response, Cataldo converted her Honda Accord into a roving bookmobile, handing out hard copies of reading materials to anyone who wants them. She’s now giving away free books all across town, and has set up shop at the Central Avenue market, the Crenshaw Farmers Market, and the occasional library. Among her most popular titles, she said, are Harry Potter, Diary of Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants – and Shakespeare.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and enjoy a good book if you get the chance.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, August 12

HBO's "Perry Mason" reboot, which recently finished its first season, depicts Los Angeles in the 1930s. Look closely in one of those episodes and you'll see a billboard promoting the "Colored Air Circus." That wasn't some production designer's fanciful invention; it was a real and revolutionary event. Hadley Meares has the story.

Josie Huang takes a deeper dive into the life of Hee Sook Lee and the impact of the BCD Tofu House chain, which she founded. Launched in the heart of Koreatown, BCD Tofu House (named after a neighborhood in Seoul) brought the joys of soondubu (bowls of spicy, bubbling, silken tofu soup) to a broader segment of Angelenos. Lee passed away in mid-July.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

Policing The Police: A video of L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies holding three teenagers at gunpoint in Santa Clarita has gone viral.

Coronavirus Updates: Residents and staff at some nursing homes in L.A. County weren’t tested until months into the pandemic, and family members are now grappling for answers. The California Judicial Council’s statewide order essentially pausing all evictions has been extended to Sept. 1. Here’s how board game cafes are navigating the ban on… board games.

L.A. Kids: An effort by Claudia Cataldo, a 12th grade teacher in South L.A., to deliver books directly to students’ homes has grown into a free bookmobile. LAUSD board members narrowly voted to approve a policy that has alarmed charter school advocates.

Census 2020: Already hampered by the coronavirus, Census Bureau workers are now scrambling to visit households that haven't filled out a 2020 census form. The bureau has begun deploying census enumerators in neighborhoods across Southern California.


Photo Of The Day

Yandel Morales, Aylen Arrendondo, Yahir Morales, and their aunt Bonnie Morales hold a sign they made for Claudia Cataldo's bookmobile.

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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This post has been updated to reflect changes in what's coming up for today.


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