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El Dorado Fire: More Than 11,000 Acres Burned; Containment At 16%

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Smoke from the El Dorado Fire that started Sept. 5, 2020 in San Bernardino National Forest. Zach Behrens/Courtesy of US Forest Service

This post is no longer being updated. Get our latest news reporting on the El Dorado Fire>>

Jump to: Basics | Evacuations | Closures | Additional Resources | Cause

Firefighters made "good progress" on the El Dorado Fire Monday, according to fire officials, as they worked to divert the fire's path away from homes in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Here's what we know about the blaze so far today.

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 11,259 acres
  • Containment: 19%
  • Resources deployed: 719 total personnel, including nine hand crews, 75 engines, four helicopters, four fixed-wing aircraft, seven dozers and nine water tenders

The El Dorado fire began on Saturday with a bang – literally – when a firework from a gender reveal party in Yucaipa ignited a blaze that has grown to more than 10,500 acres, threatening thousands of homes and causing the mandatory evacuation of 21,000 residents.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory through this evening due to both the El Dorado and Bobcat fires.

EVACUATIONS

Mandatory:

  • Areas east of Bryant from Carter South to Yucaipa Boulevard, then east on Yucaipa Boulevard at Bryant intersection to Freemont Street, then south to Grande View Drive, then along Ave E southeast to the intersection of Mesa Grande, east to Wildwood Canyon Road to include all portions of Hidden Meadows, and east to Edgar Canyon Road
  • The portion of the Cherry Valley Community that is north of Orchard Street to the County Line, and east of Nancy Avenue and west of Beaumont Avenue
  • Oak Glen (partial, see road closures), Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls and North Bench Yucaipa (north of Carter Street to Highway 38 and both sides of Bryant Street east & west)

Voluntary:

  • East of Beaumont Avenue east to Hillside Place in the Highland Springs area, north to Cherry Valley Boulevard to the County Line Road.

EVACUATION CENTER

  • Cafeteria of the Redlands East Valley High School, 31000 E. Colton Ave. Redlands
  • NOTE: This center moved from it's initial location: Yucaipa Community Center, 34900 Oak Glen Rd., Yucaipa

ROAD CLOSURES

  • Highway 38 at Bryant Street in Yucaipa and the community of Angelus Oaks
  • Bryant Street between Hwy 38 and Carter Street
  • Oak Glen Road between Pine Bench Road and Cherry Croft Drive
  • Cross Streets east of Bryant Street between Yucaipa Boulevard and Carter Street
  • There is a "soft closure" on Highway 38 at Lake Williams Dr. (south of Big Bear) to warn drivers of the closure in Angelus Oaks

CAUSE

The fire was started Saturday by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party in Yucaipa. The family behind the party tried to put out the fire, called 911 and cooperated with authorities.

Cal Fire spokesperson Captain Bennett Malloy says while investigators are still looking into the specifics, the family could face misdemeanor charges:

"Some of the laws they could have broken: a public resource code where you cause a fire on somebody else's land, or, in California under a penal code, there's provisions for what's called recklessly causing a fire. And that may be the case with this fire, but that would be up to the district attorney to determine."

Both are punishable by fines or jail time, though prosecutors could pursue felony charges if someone is hurt or killed, or if homes are damaged by the fire. No charges had been filed as of Tuesday afternoon.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

Jacob Margolis and Emily Guerin, both veterans of past fire coverage, are reporting on this fire. Lita Martinez has been making additional calls. Brian Frank and Ryan Fonseca have been helming the LAist story.

This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. 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.

FIRE RESOURCES

YOUR QUESTIONS OR IDEAS

Bobcat Fire: Arcadia Warns Of Possible Evacuations As Blaze Surpasses 10,000 Acres

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Published
Image captured Monday night from the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) cameras operated by UC San Diego at Mount Wilson. Courtesy UCSD

This post is no longer being updated. Get our latest news reporting on the Bobcat Fire>>

Jump to: Basics | About Mt. Wilson | Air Quality | Additional Resources

Portions of Arcadia were added to the list of evacuation warnings Tuesday evening as firefighters continued to battle the Bobcat Fire, which broke out Sunday in the foothills above the city of Azusa and quickly spread into the Angeles National Forest. Here's what we know so far today:

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 10,344 acres
  • Containment: 0%
  • Resources Deployed: 347 personnel

The brush fire erupted near the Cogswell Dam and then spread rapidly amid an intense, record-breaking heat wave, prompting evacuation orders for Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Officials say the blaze is burning "in extremely steep terrain in the west fork of the San Gabriel drainage," with active flames spreading north into the San Gabriel Mountains and south towards Mt. Bliss.

Numerous television and radio stations have transmitters in the area, including our newsroom which broadcasts on the radio at 89.3 KPCC.

On Sunday, cameras placed near the observatory captured the steady approach of flames.

The priority is to contain the south end of the fire in anticipation of a "moderate Santa Ana wind event," U.S. Forest Service officials said. Brush and vegetation in the Santa Anita and Monrovia canyon areas hasn't burned since the 1950s.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for Tuesday through Wednesday through much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties and gusts could reach 55 to 60 mph, bringing widespread critical fire weather conditions.

The Angeles National Forest is closed to the public through Monday, Sept. 14, officials said. San Gabriel Canyon Road is closed, as is State Route 2 from 10.6 miles east of La Cañada-Flintridge to Islip Saddle.

EVACUATION WARNING

The city of Arcadia issued an evacuation warning for all residents north of Foothill Boulevard and east of Santa Anita Avenue. Residents were advised to make preparations now for a possible order to evacuate.

The city advised anyone with large animals like horses and cattle not to wait and to begin moving the animals out of the area. The city said accommodations for the animals were being prepared at Pomona Fairgrounds and Santa Anita Race Track.

Monrovia also issued an evacuation warning, saying residents in the foothill communities south of the fire should be prepared to evacuate should the fire move south.

"All of the foothill communities have done evacuation planning the last several days," said Angeles National Forest spokesperson Andrew Mitchell. "We are trying to work as much as we can and send all resources to that southern part to protect those communities should this thing grow."

Officials said evacuations would be conducted in two phases.

"Please continue to remain alert as Santa Ana winds are expected throughout the day," officials wrote on a fire incident page.

ABOUT MT. WILSON

The Mount Wilson Observatory houses 18 telescopes, many of which were used to make some of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the last century.

They include the 100 inch Hooker telescope that Edwin Hubble used in the 1920s to prove that our universe is still expanding.

Observatory Director Tom Meneghini said he's afraid they could be seriously impacted if the fire gets close enough.

“The heat can do irreparable damage. Our two big telescopes are historically significant and irreplaceable,” Meneghini said.

However, he said fires have gotten close before and the decades-old firefighting setup at the Observatory is ready to be used again.

"We have an inground system of hoses and pumps," he said. "We have half a million gallons of water ready to pump so that’s all been prepared for any fire professional to come in and take over."

The fire also threatens a seismic station that has recorded earthquake activity for 100 years, seismologist Lucy Jones said via Twitter.

AIR QUALITY:

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory through this evening due to both the Bobcat and El Dorado fires.

Across Southern California, the air quality level is projected to be moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups. Many communities in the San Gabriel Valley have been dusted with a layer of ash. Bottom line: If you can see it or smell it, then you should take precautions. Stay indoors and check the current air quality before attempting outdoor activities.

You can look it up at airnow.gov.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

Jacob Margolis and Emily Guerin, both veterans of past fire coverage, are reporting on this fire. Ryan Fonseca is helming the LAist story. Brian Frank, Jackie Fortiér and Sharon McNary reported on this fire on Monday.

This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. 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:

FIRE RESOURCES

YOUR QUESTIONS OR IDEAS

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Want A Best Picture Oscar? Be Ready To Meet These New Diversity Rules

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FILE: Oscar statuettes backstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on February 9, 2020 (Richard Harbaugh /Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

For years, activists have called on Hollywood to try to do better when it comes to diversity. Now, the Oscars say if studios don’t, they won’t be invited to their awards show.

Multiple studies show that studios consistently fail to hire women and people of color both in front of and behind the camera. It’s what created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. In this year’s ceremony, only one non-white performer, “Harriet’s” Cynthia Erivo, was among the 20 actors nominated for lead or supporting roles.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t decide who gets jobs, but it does write the rules for who can compete for an Oscar. And starting in 2024’s show, any film eligible for best picture must meet several criteria for inclusion and diversity.

Specifically, the academy said in a radical rule change, a movie must pass at least two of four tests to qualify for the top trophy.

Those standards include having at least one lead or supporting actor come from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or have an ensemble that’s at least 30% diverse. Another test is that a movie must have multiple department heads who are not white men.

The academy also will reward productions that have internship, training and marketing initiatives aimed at women and people of color.

Animated, foreign language and documentary films that want to compete for best picture also must meet the new rules.

A statement released by Academy President David Rubin and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said:

“The aperture must widen to reflect our diverse global population in both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them. The Academy is committed to playing a vital role in helping make this a reality. We believe these inclusion standards will be a catalyst for long-lasting, essential change in our industry.”

These latest moves come after years of effort to diversify the members of the Academy who vote for top honors. In 2012, a story I was a lead reporter on for the L.A. Times — called Unmasking The Academy — found that members were overwhelmingly white and male.

MORE ON CHANGES IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

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For Now, No Winding Down Of Decennial Count In LA As Census Lawsuit Moves Forward

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(Screenshot of 2020 Census form)

A lawsuit aimed at blocking the Trump administration's decision to shorten the 2020 Census moved forward today, as orders from a federal judge this weekend for census officials to not wind down the count remained in place.

In her latest action, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh asked lawyers from both sides to submit arguments as to whether the government should release documents detailing the decision making behind the moved-up end date.

If the judge decides tomorrow that the government must produce documents, they'd have to be released by Thursday.

Plaintiffs, which include the National Urban League and several city and county governments, among them the City of Los Angeles, had asked the Census Bureau to produce documents showing how the agency decided to shorten the 2020 Census. When a lawyer for the federal Department of Justice said the government doesn’t have written documentation, Koh wasn’t convinced.

"I do not understand the government's refusal to be transparent about what they have decided to do," Koh said.

The lawsuit argues that U.S. Census Bureau officials acted arbitrarily and capriciously when they decided to abruptly cut the 2020 Census short, from the planned deadline of October 31, to a new early deadline September 30th.

The plaintiffs also said that cutting the census short could cause irreparable harm by miscalculating population totals — something that could skew how seats in congress are distributed and change where billions of federal dollars go.

Whether or not documents are produced this week, a top Census Bureau official is expected to explain the bureau’s decision to cut the count short at a hearing set for next Tuesday.

The temporary restraining order put in place by Koh late last week is set to expire next Thursday, when another hearing is scheduled for oral arguments.

That means that the Census Bureau is not allowed to wind down operations, such as laying off census takers or change any field operations until at least that date. Koh could decide to extend and replace it with a longer-lasting order.

In L.A., prior to the order, some census workers had begun getting layoff notices.

"A full Census count, void of political interference, is vital if Angelenos are to receive our fair share of federal resources and political representation," L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement Saturday, after Judge Koh granted the temporary restraining order based on the plaintiffs' concerns.

In a document filed with the District Court, the Census Bureau said it would comply with the ruling. An agency director shared directions sent to field staff advising them not to release any more enumerators unless they’re producing low-quality work, or other specific conduct problems.

MORE ON THE CENSUS

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LA Sheriff Requests ‘Security Hold’ on Dijon Kizzee Autopsy

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Dijon Kizzee. (Courtesy of the Kizzee family)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has requested a “security hold” on the autopsy of Dijon Kizzee, the man shot and killed by two L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies last month, according to the coroner’s office.

A security hold typically means the autopsy is not released to the public until after law enforcement has concluded its investigation. Detectives worry that releasing the information in the midst of their investigation could taint witnesses’ stories.

The security hold could spark more controversy in a case that has touched off nightly protests. The Sheriff’s Department says the deputies opened fire at Kizzee on Aug. 31 after a foot chase that ended with him tussling with one deputy and dropping a gun on the ground. The department says the deputies started shooting when Kizzee “made a motion” for the gun. Video from a nearby surveillance camera is inconclusive about that claim, because a wall partially blocks the camera's view.

The autopsy became the focus of a dispute last week between Inspector General Max Huntsman and Sheriff Alex Villanueva, when Huntsman accused the Sheriff’s Department of not informing him when the autopsy was occurring. The sheriff called Huntman's comments "inflammatory," adding that his department "doesn't have the authority or control" to decide who attends an autopsy.

It happens very rarely, but the coroner can override a security hold. That’s what happened in July, when Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas took the highly unusual step of overriding the security hold the Sheriff’s Department had placed on the autopsy of Andres Guardado, the 18-year-old fatally shot June 18 by a deputy in Gardena.

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Backpackers Saved From Creek Fire By Dramatic Helicopter Rescue

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Flames incinerate a forest as the Creek Fire rapidly expands (David McNew/Getty Images)

When backpackers Adrienne Chenette and a friend, Kathryn Palmer, set off from Tuolumne Meadows they had plans to summit Mt. Whitney.

On day seven of their trip, when they noticed smoke rising high above the mountains, they knew they had to evacuate.

Nine miles later, with eyes burning and lungs inundated with falling ash, they arrived at their emergency exit.

But soon they found out they, and 50 other backpackers, locals, and law enforcement were trapped. The fire had encircled them. And the only way they could be saved was by helicopter.

The problem? The smoke was too thick and the weather too erratic for the pilots to land.

READ MORE ABOUT THEIR TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE:

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The Winds Are Coming — Red Flag Warnings Are In Place

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The sun is seen behind smoke from the Bobcat fire rising above in the Angeles National Forest on Monday. (Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images)

A red flag warning is in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday in the mountains and valleys of Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

The warning comes as Santa Ana winds roar in.

Weather forecasters warn that gusts up to 55 mph could fuel the out-of-control Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest.

Eric Boldt, a warning coordination meteorologist with National Weather Service office in Oxnard, cautioned on our newsroom's call-in show AirTalk this morning that the "the fire is still very active up in the mountains and those winds are expected to kick up shortly after lunch time."

Flames could push further south towards communities like Monrovia, Azusa, and Sierra Madre.

"So wind speeds of gusting 50 to 60 mph possible in the mountains," Boldt explained. "And that's really gonna make for a rapid fire spread towards those communities later today."

Meterologist Mark Jackson with the National Weather Service says the newest forecasts are sent to fire officials:

"We stay in close coordination through conference calls, through direct phone calls to operations chiefs to give them more specific details on how this event will unfold - especially in terms of the timing and the strength and the location."

Winds are expected to ramp up tonight and into tomorrow morning. The Antelope Valley also could experience isolated gusts of 60 miles per hour.

These gusts, mixed with dry conditions and hot temperatures, could force electrical utilities to shut off power to keep equipment from starting fires.

More than 54,000 Southern California Edison customers could be impacted and officials with the power company are asking for customers help.

"When customers get a text on their cell phone or a phone call, please take it seriously,"said spokesman Reggie Kumar. "Make sure to have an emergency plan in place and go somewhere safe if their power is shut off."

These potential shut-offs are different from the rolling blackouts issued due to power demands during the heatwave.

MORE FIRE COVERAGE

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Elementary School Kids Are Back In Class At Los Alamitos Unified. Here’s What Day One Looked Like.

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A student entering Lee Elementary in Los Alamitos waves goodbye to family on the first day of hybrid classes. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Los Alamitos Unified officially welcomed students and staff back to its six elementary campuses using its reopening waiver Tuesday morning.

We went to one of those campuses, Lee Elementary, to observe the promised safety protocols in effect.

It was not your typical back-to-school morning. Parents were not allowed to walk their kids – even the young ones – to their classrooms, and students’ temperatures were taken before going inside.

According to the district’s application for a reopening waiver, Lee Elementary expected about 570 students to come back to campus for in-person learning.

Because the district is reopening first in a “hybrid” model, about half of the students were assigned to “Cohort A,” which was on campus in the morning. The other half were assigned to “Cohort B,” which arrived in the afternoon.

A teacher at Lee Elementary School takes a student's temperature before he enters the classroom on the first day of reopening. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

At Lee, there were three gates: one in the front of the school for kindergarteners and students with last names starting with A-C, one for students whose names started with D-Mc, and another for the remaining kids. Outside of each of the gates, there were pink circles painted on the concrete to help space kids out.

Most – but not all – of the people we saw were wearing masks. Third graders and older, as well as all adults, are supposed to wear masks while on campus.

Parent Christopher Gavieres dropped off his son, a kindergartener, in the morning cohort.

“You just wait in line, and then one of the attendants will take your child to class personally, which is nice,” Gavieres said. “It feels totally safe.”

A similar situation played out around the corner at another one of the district’s other schools, Rossmoor Elementary, said Matt Oelschlager, parent of a fifth-grader and a second-grader.

Matt Oelschlager's kids – a fifth grader and a second grader at Rossmoor Elementary – pose for a photo before their first day of in-person classes. (Courtesy of Matt Oelschlager)

“The thing that stood out to me was going to give them goodbye kisses with masks on,” Oelschlager said. “Everything about it was different, you know?”

Oelschlager said it was a “big” decision deciding whether to send his kids back for in-person learning. Ultimately, he said he and his wife believe going back will be better for their kids’ mental health, and they were comforted by the district’s emphasis on mask-wearing.

Oeschlager had a lot of questions for his kids when he picked them up.

“We were like, ‘Okay, kids, take note of what's happening in your class. We want full reports on … how many the kids are actually gonna wear masks and just kind of what the procedures are.”

The kids “had big smiles when we picked them up and were so happy to be back in school,” he added. Once they got back home, they focused on their remote assignments.

Teachers got a short break between dismissing the first cohort and welcoming the second one. Stacy Schmitz, who teaches transitional kindergarten at Weaver Elementary and is president of the Los Alamitos Education Association, took a few moments from her break for a phone interview

Before her students entered her classroom, she said, they placed their backpacks on hooks outside, got their temperatures checked, and washed their hands, one at a time.

Normally, her students would sit on the carpet all together. But at least for now, they sat one student per desk instead. On each desk was a tub of personal supplies, like pencils, scissors, crayons, and a glue stick, to help minimize sharing.

Teacher Stacy Schmitz's transitional kindergarten classroom at Weaver Elementary is set up for physical distancing -- one child per desk, with one chair for the morning cohort student and the other for the afternoon cohort. (Courtesy of Stacy Schmitz)

“The part that I had the most concern about was how would I comfort these children as they come into school, maybe apprehensive to leave their parents,” Schmitz explained. “And, you know, we’re supposed to keep our distance also.”

Despite all the changes, one familiar routine persisted: starting the day by reading the childhood classic “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.”

She said she tried to use reassuring words and eye contact to connect with her students despite the six feet of distance between them. She said her whole morning cohort – about a dozen kids – all wore masks.

“The reality of 4- and 5-year-olds [is that they] pretty much want to follow the directions for the most part,” Schmitz said. “So I felt very comfortable. And with that piece of it – knowing that, they would follow directions, really I couldn't have asked for a smoother morning.”

Weaver Elementary transitional kindergarten teacher Stacy Schmitz poses for a mask selfie with student Brantley Bohnen. (Courtesy of Stacy Schmitz)

When the district requested a reopening waiver last month, 62% of teachers surveyed said they supported the district’s application. Their application was approved by county and state public health officials.

Not all Los Alamitos Unified students went back to school in person, though.

The district gave parents the option for signing up for a year of “LosAl@Home,” a 100% distance learning program, which started last week. We reached out to Superintendent Andrew Pulver multiple times for comment on the reopening, but did not hear back. Last month, he told us that about a fifth of the district had opted into the online-only option.

Almost 700 have signed an online petition asking the district to reconsider its reopening plan.

We’d like to hear parents, teachers, and staff about your experiences with the school reopenings. You can reach out to me – reporter Carla Javier – by emailing cjavier@scpr.org.

READ OUR COVERAGE OF THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS:

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Police Arrest 12 In Mass Shooting At 2019 Long Beach Party; Say Gang Mistakenly Targeted Location

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Screenshot from Long Beach Police Department news conference where Chief Robert Luna outlined the murder investigation (Courtesy LBPD)

Long Beach police have arrested 12 people suspected of carrying out a deadly mass shooting at a Halloween-themed birthday party last year.

Three men were killed and nine other people were hurt last Oct. 29 when a group of suspects parked in an alley behind a house in the city's Rose Park neighborhood and began firing into the backyard. Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna says eight of the suspects are known members of a local gang — giving detectives a possible motive for the violence:

"This is an extremely complex and detailed case, and we now know that this was a pre-planned attack on what the suspects incorrectly believed to be a party of rival gang members."

Luna said none of the shooting victims had any gang affiliation. He said investigators served more than a dozen search warrants in Long Beach and other cities across the state — including San Jose and Fresno.

They recovered eight firearms in the process — three of which they said were untraceable "ghost guns."

At the time of the shooting, neighbors said they were stunned by the level of violence, in part because they had never witnessed any issues at that location which has a nail salon in front and a home behind.

Scene of mass shooting on the morning after gunmen opened fire on a Halloween party in Long Beach on 7th Street. (Megan Garvey/LAist)

MORE ON THE CASE

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WATCH: Gov. Newsom Speaks As 'Historic' Wildfire Season Rages Across California

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is holding a press briefing to discuss the state's response as 25 major wildfires burn across California, including the Bobcat and El Dorado fires in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.You can read highlights below or watch the full press conference video above.

California Governor Gavin Newsom began his Tuesday press briefing with a startling statistic.

So far in 2020, there have been 7,606 wildfires in the state and roughly 2.3 million acres burned, compared to just under 5,000 fires and 118,000 acres burned in 2019.

That speaks to the "historic" nature of this year's fire activity, Newsom said, calling it "the largest fire season we've had in terms of total acreage impacted" — and noting that we're still in the early months of the state's typical fire season.

Eight people have been killed in fires this year and more than 3,400 structures have been destroyed, he added.

Newsom mentioned the El Dorado Fire, which broke out in the Yucaipa on Saturday and has burned more than 10,500 acres. Fire officials say that blaze was sparked by a firework from a gender reveal party.

"It's a reminder that the vast majority of fires that we experience on an annual basis come from individuals making bad decisions or by simple neglect and accident," Newsom said.

The governor also took a moment to note the links between our "almost normalized" extreme fire seasons, record-breaking heat waves and the reality of climate change on display throughout the Golden State. He also had a message for those who don't share that view.

"I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers... You may not believe it intellectually, but your own eyes, your own experiences, tell a different story — particularly out here in the West Coast of the United States, and particularly here in the state of California."

Asked how the state will allocate limited resources to address the historic fire season, Newsom said mutual aid requests have been made and that California will remain "resilient" in the face of the growing challenges.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were 2,767 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, with a seven-day average of 4,302 new cases per day. That's with about 110,000 tests conducted per day over the past week, Newsom said.

The 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate in California is down to 4.3%, while the 7-day positivity rate is at 3.8%.

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions for COVID-19 are each down 24% and 21%, respectively, over the past two weeks.

Five counties across the state, including Orange County, have been assigned new status in the state's tiered system of recovery, downgraded from the purple tier (the most severe) to the red tier (the second-most severe). Los Angeles remains in the purple tier, signifying widespread transmission of the coronavirus.

Newsom said some progress has been made in recent weeks, but noted one major "point of caution": We're just coming off a three-day holiday weekend, and those "have not been advantageous" for slowing the spread of COVID-19. The state recorded spikes of infections following the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holiday weekends.

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7 Found Killed At Alleged Illegal Pot Grow House In Riverside County

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(Wikimedia Commons)

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the murders of seven people at a home that it says was the site of "a major organized crime type operation" to grow illegal marijuana. Sheriff Chad Bianco has asked federal law enforcement to assist in the investigation.

Around midnight on Monday, the department says deputies responded to a report of assault with a deadly weapon at a residence in the 45000 block of Highway 371 in the unincorporated area of Aguanga, less than 20 miles east of Temecula.

They found an adult female suffering from gunshot wounds; she was rushed to a hospital but died. Six other shooting victims were found dead at the scene.

The department said it has yet to locate any suspects.

Authorities said they found several hundred marijuana plants and more than 1,000 pounds of marijauana at the property, which had multiple makeshift dwellings and buildings, Bianco said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Bianco said the complex had "a nursery type place, where they were growing plants. There were places to dry the plants. There were places to process the plants ... This was not a small operation, this was a very organized crime type of operation."

He said more than 20 people were living there. The victims were all found on or around one of the dwellings, Bianco said.

All the people on site who were potential witnesses or victims were Laotian, the sheriff added.

A lot of the cars parked at the house were registered in various states, said Bianco, who said he requested federal help because "this is not going to be an easy investigation" and it will likely span multiple states.

By some measures, illegal cultivation hasn’t slowed since marijuana was legalized in California. Some analysts say high taxes and tough licensing rules make it hard to turn a profit selling legal pot.

One measure is the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, an annual July-September state effort to eradicate illegal marijuana farms on public and private lands. It's on track to seize its one millionth plant of 2020 by the end of this week, said Jack Nelson, a regional operations commander for the California Department of Justice. That’s compared with about 600,000 in 2016, he said.

This story has been updated.

Hikers Flee Sierra Nevada After Forests Close Due To Wildfires

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Flames incinerate a forest as the Creek Fire rapidly expands on September 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The high peaks, alpine lakes and rugged mountain passes of the Sierra Nevada are always crowded on Labor Day weekend. But this year, thick smoke and dangerous wildfires forced many hikers to cut their trips short and flee the area on foot, car, or even in helicopters.

Most of the mountain range is now closed to visitors, and many hikers reported receiving emails that their upcoming backpacking permits were also cancelled through mid-September.

The U.S. Forest Service, which manages most of the land in the Sierra Nevada, closed the area on Sunday due to "extreme heat, significant wind events, dry conditions, and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit."

In public Facebook groups, hikers described how difficult it was to decide whether to continue on, or turn around, when they had little information about where fires were burning or what direction they were moving.

Lauren Rae wrote on Monday:

"Being 2 days and 4000 feet of descent into a trail, having no communication with the outside world, getting no helpful information from the one wilderness ranger we ran into, and ending up within 30 miles of a rapidly growing fire is not an experience I'm interested in repeating."

Jaymie Shearer and her hiking companions decided to end their backpacking trip on the western side of the Sierra Nevada early when a huge black plume of smoke began to block out the mid-afternoon sun on Saturday, she wrote in a blog post. They tried driving out of the mountains, but the road passed by Mammoth Pool, where the Creek Fire had trapped more than 200 people.

So the group ended up having to flee on foot, hiking to a different trailhead and leaving their car behind.

"We made it back to the Mammoth Trailhead by 6 p.m. At this point we were in robot/survival mode—moving robotically, doing our best to stay present, and trying to continue making the best decisions as we could," Shearer wrote.

Other hikers were evacuated by helicopter from the Vermillion Valley Resort, a popular re-supply location, China Peak and Lake Edison.

The following National Forests are temporarily closed: Stanislaus, Sierra, Sequoia, Inyo, Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forest.

MORE FIRE COVERAGE

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Want To Help Out Staffing A Polling Place In Southern California? Here’s What You Need To Know

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Published
Three mobile voting centers like this one were deployed across L.A.for the March 2020 primary. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Yes, every active voter in California will get a mail-in ballot this year. Still, there will be in-person options to cast your vote on (or before) Nov. 3.

But there’s a problem: Folks over the age of 61 usually make up a majority of workers at polling places, and the pandemic is keeping many retirees home who would typically volunteer.

L.A. County Supervisors acknowledge recruitment will be tougher this year. So last month they voted to invoke the “Disaster Service Worker” program to meet the need.

Every public employee in the state can be called on to work in different roles during an emergency. In this case, county workers will be assigned to assist voters and enforce COVID-19 safety protocols.

On Aug. 4, Supervisors adopted a motion that suspended the usual County Employee Election Worker Program, which was voluntary. Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion said:

“One of the lessons that we learned from the March election was the need for pretty deep and appropriate training for vote center staff, and ensuring there were enough staffers."

Los Angeles County hasn’t officially started recruiting vote center staff yet, but you can fill out an application online and the county will be in touch. Volunteers get a stipend of $100 a day and $80 for training days, which are mandatory.

Other counties are actively hiring part-time workers to fill the roles. Orange County pays vote center “Customer Service Representatives” around $18-21 an hour. (The application is here.)

O.C. Registrar Neal Kelley says so far, his team has hired about half the workers needed.

“I am optimistic that we will hit our goals and be fully staffed well ahead of our opening,” Kelley said.

No matter where you live in California, the Secretary of State recently launched an online application to connect you with a poll worker job or volunteer position in your area.


KEY THINGS TO KNOW

  • All registered voters in California will receive a mail-in ballot for the November election under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June.
  • All ballot envelopes in California are pre-paid postage.
  • Ballots postmarked on or before election day will have their votes counted under state law — as long as they arrive within 17 days.
In L.A. County all voters are are free to choose how they vote, either by mail, or by dropping their filled-in ballot at any voting center, or by voting in person at any voting center.
Read more about voting in L.A. County: How Voting Will Work For The 2020 Election

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our nonprofit public service journalism: Donate now.