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California Fire Prompts Evacuations; Oregon Blaze Balloons


SAN FRANCISCO – A rapidly growing wildfire south of Lake Tahoe jumped a highway, prompting more evacuation orders and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada on Saturday as critically dangerous wildfire weather loomed in the coming days.

The Tamarack Fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 4, exploded overnight and was over 82 square kilometers as of Saturday evening, according to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The blaze was threatening Markleeville, a small town close to the California-Nevada state line. It has destroyed at least three structures, authorities said, and was burning toward the Alpine County Airport after jumping a highway.

A notice posted on the 165-kilometer Death Ride’s website said several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all riders to clear the area. The fire left thousands of bikers and spectators stranded in the small town and racing to get out.

Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near the town Friday so her husband could participate in his ninth ride when they were told to leave. They had been watching smoke develop over the course of the day but were caught off guard by the fire’s quick spread.

“It happened so fast,” Pennington said. “We left our tents, hammock and some foods, but we got most of our things, shoved our two kids in the car and left.”

Saturday’s ride was supposed to mark the 40th Death Ride, which attracts thousands of cyclists to the region each year to ride through three mountain passes in the so-called California Alps. It was canceled last year during the coronavirus outbreak.

Paul Burgess, who drove from Los Angeles to participate in the ride, said most of the cyclists he met were thankful to steer clear of the fire danger.

“They just said this is just how it goes,” Burgess said. “It’s part of climate change to a certain extent, it’s part of just a lot of fuels that are not burnt, the humidity is low, the fuel moisture levels are low, and … around the state, many parts of it are much like a tinderbox.”

Afternoon winds blowing at 32 to 48 kph fanned the flames as they chewed through bone-dry timber and brush. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday in both California and southern Oregon, where the largest wildfire in the U.S. continued to race through bone-dry forests.

The Bootleg Fire grew significantly overnight Saturday as dry and windy conditions took hold in the area, but containment of the inferno more than tripled as firefighters began to gain more control along its western flank. The fire was still burning rapidly and dangerously along its southern and eastern flanks, however, and authorities expanded evacuations in a largely rural area of lakes and wildlife refuges.

The fire was 1,173 square kilometers in size, or more than 259 square kilometers larger than the area of New York City.

“This fire is large and moving so fast, every day it progresses 4 to 5 miles (6 to 8 kilometers),” said Incident Commander Joe Hassel. “One of the many challenges that our firefighters face every day is working in new country that can present new hazards all the time.”

Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have swept the region, making wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

In southern Oregon, fire crews have dealt with dangerous and extreme fire conditions, including massive “fire clouds” that rise up to 10 kilometers above the blaze. The Bootleg Fire has destroyed at least 67 homes and 117 outbuildings.

The conflagration has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border.

The Tamarack Fire sent heavy smoke over Lake Tahoe and into Nevada.

The National Weather Service warned of possible thunderstorms stretching from the California coast to northern Montana on Sunday and that “new lightning ignitions” are likely because of extremely dry fuels across the West.

Firefighters said in July they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.

The fires were just two of numerous fires burning across the drought-stricken U.S. West, as new fires popped up or grew rapidly in Oregon and California.

There were 70 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 4,297 square kilometers in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center said. The U.S. Forest Service said at least 16 major fires were burning in the Pacific Northwest alone.

A fire in the mountains of northeast Oregon was also growing rapidly and was 44 square kilometers in size on Saturday. The Elbow Creek fire started Thursday and has prompted evacuations in several small, rural communities around the Grande Ronde River about 50 kilometers southeast of Walla Walla, Washington.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to mobilize more firefighters and equipment to help fight that fire.

The Dixie Fire, near the 2018 site of the deadliest fire in the U.S. in recent memory, was 5% contained and covered 101 square kilometers Saturday. The fire was in the Feather River Canyon, northeast of the town of Paradise, California, and survivors of that horrific fire that killed 85 people watched warily as the new blaze burned.

Officials ordered the evacuation of a wilderness recreation area and kept in place a warning for residents of the tiny communities of Pulga and east Concow to be ready to leave.

“We’re prepared,” said Mike Garappo, a retired military veteran. “We’ve dealt with fires living in the mountains forever. We know there’s a chance it may not hit here, but we’re ready to go in case.”


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Surging California Wildfire Prompts Nevada Evacuation


BECKWOURTH, CALIFORNIA – A Northern California wildfire exploding through bone-dry timber prompted Nevada authorities to evacuate a border-area community as flames leapt on ridgetops of nearby mountains.

The Beckwourth Complex — a merging of two lightning-caused fires — headed into Saturday showing no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size only a few days earlier.

The fire was one of several threatening homes across Western states that are expected to see triple-digit heat through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region.

On Friday, Death Valley National Park in California recorded a staggering high of 54.4 Celsius. If verified, it would be the hottest high recorded there since July 1913, when the same Furnace Creek desert area hit 56.6 degrees Celsius, considered the highest reliably measured temperature on Earth.

California’s northern mountain areas already have seen several large fires that have destroyed more than a dozen homes. Although there are no confirmed reports of building damage, the fire prompted evacuation orders or warnings for hundreds of homes and several campgrounds in California along with the closure of nearly 518 square kilometers of Plumas National Forest.

On Friday, ridgetop winds up to 32.2 kph combined with ferocious heat as the fire raged through bone-dry pine, fir and chaparral. As the fire’s northeastern flank raged near the border, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office asked people to evacuate some areas in the rural communities of Ranch Haven and Flanagan Flats, north of Reno.

“Evacuate now,” a sheriff’s Office tweet said.

Hot rising air formed a gigantic, smoky pyrocumulus cloud that reached thousands of feet high and created its own lightning, fire information officer Lisa Cox said Friday evening.

Spot fires caused by embers leapt up to 1.6 kilometers ahead of the northeastern flank — too far for firefighters to safely battle, and winds funneled the fire up draws and canyons full of dry fuel, where “it can actually pick up speed,” Cox said.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters were aided by aircraft but the blaze was expected to continue forging ahead because of the heat and low humidity that dried out vegetation. The air was so dry that some of the water dropped by aircraft evaporated before reaching the ground, Cox said.

“We’re expecting more of the same the day after and the day after and the day after,” Cox said.

The blaze, which was only 11% contained, officially had blackened more than 98 square kilometers but that figure was expected to increase dramatically when fire officials were able to make better observations.

Meanwhile, other fires were burning in Oregon, Arizona and Idaho.

In Oregon, pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in Klamath County grew from nearly 67 square kilometers Thursday to nearly 158 square kilometers on Friday in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and on private land. An evacuation order was issued for people in certain areas north of Beatty and near Sprague River.

That fire was threatening transmission lines that send electricity to California, which along with expected heat-related demand prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday to issue an emergency proclamation suspending some rules to allow for more power capacity.

The state’s electrical grid operator also issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4-9 p.m. Saturday, calling for consumers to voluntarily conserve electricity by reducing the use of appliances and keeping the thermostat higher during evening hours when solar energy is diminished or no longer available.

In north-central Arizona, increased humidity slowed a big wildfire that posed a threat to the rural community of Crown King. The 63.5-square-kilometer lightning-caused fire in Yavapai County was 29% contained. Recent rains allowed five national forests and state land managers to lift public-access closures.

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

Fire crews in north-central Idaho were facing extreme conditions and gusts as they fought two wildfires covering a combined 50.5 square kilometers. The blazes threatened homes and forced evacuations in the tiny, remote community of Dixie about 64 kilometers southeast of Grangeville.


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Britney Spears’ planned co-conservator Bessemer Trust wants out


hey decided things were too toxic.

The wealth management company scheduled to enter Britney Spears’ conservatorship as a co-conservator of her estate is asking to be removed.

Bessemer Trust was supposed to work with Britney’s father Jamie Spears to manage her estimated $60 million, but decided to bail because of the drama surrounding the conservatorship, TMZ reported.

Bessemer filed court documents Thursday asking to resign as co-conservator before ever starting, according to Variety.

The firm, which claims to manage more than $100 billion, had issues with Jamie Spears and Britney’s court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham, TMZ reported. The company also incorrectly believed Britney willingly agreed to the conservatorship.

The “Piece of Me” singer, 39, made it abundantly clear last week that she wants to end the structure where most of her life is controlled by others.

“I’m not happy, I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day,” she told the court on June 23. “It is my wish and my dream for all of this to end.”

With Bessemer pulling out, Jamie Spears would continue as sole conservator of Britney’s estate, while professional conservator Jodi Montgomery would remain in charge of Britney’s day-to-day life.

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California Supreme Court weighs overturning hundreds of death penalty sentences

SAN QUENTIN, CA - MARCH 13: In this handout photo provided by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, staff members dismantle the death row gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison on March 13, 2019 in San Quentin, California. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced today a moratorium on California's death penalty. California has 737 people on death row, the largest death row population in the United States. (Photo by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty Images)

For decades, California’s highest court has left it up to individual jurors to decide whether certain circumstances increase the severity of a crime and thereby warrant the death penalty in murder cases that qualify for the ultimate punishment.

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on a change to that long-standing practice, which could potentially overturn hundreds of death penalty sentences in California.

At issue is how juries review “aggravating” factors — such as whether a crime was gang-related or involved multiple victims. Defense lawyers in the case argued that to ensure equal application of the death penalty, state law and the state Constitution require juries to be unanimous in their reasoning on each factor.

That the court is even considering new requirements is unusual. It has refused to impose them in the past and has even summarily dismissed the kind of arguments presented Wednesday.


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Polls: Americans Give Biden a Mostly Favorable Review at Three-Month Mark


WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans approve of U.S. President Joe Biden’s overall performance as he nears the end of his first 100 days in office, two major national polls show, with positive marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and negative reviews for controlling the surge of migrants at the border with Mexico.

Washington Post-ABC News survey shows 52% of adults give Biden a favorable review compared to 42% who disapprove. An NBC News poll gives Biden a 53%-39% favorable rating.

Both polls show the country’s deep political divide has not changed from the contentious 2020 election in which Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump by narrowly winning several key political battleground states en route to a four-year term in the White House.

The Post-ABC poll showed 90% of Democrats approved of Biden’s performance compared with 13% of Republicans, while the NBC survey said 90% of Democrats, 61% of independents and only 9% of Republicans approve of his performance.

According to the polls, Biden wins some of his highest approval marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 226 million vaccinations having been administered and more than 93 million people fully vaccinated.

The Post-ABC poll said 64% of adults — including a third of Republicans — approved of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. NBC said 69% approved.

But Biden’s performance standing on other issues is weaker, according to the surveys.

The Post-ABC poll said the country’s 46th president is winning a 52% approval rating for his handling of the economy, while 53% disapprove of the way he had dealt with the thousands of migrants from Central America and Mexico who have tried to cross into the United States. Biden, reversing a Trump policy, has allowed unaccompanied minors to stay in the U.S. rather than expelling them.

The NBC poll showed Biden with his highest marks, aside from the pandemic, at 52% on both the economy and uniting the country and 49% on improving race relations. His lowest scores came on dealing with China (35%), restricting guns (34%) and dealing with border security and immigration (33%).

Biden’s first major legislative initiative was a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, approved solely with the votes of Democratic lawmakers against unified Republican opposition. But the Post-ABC poll showed strong public support, with 65% of those surveyed saying they back the plan compared with 31% opposed.

In the politically divided U.S., however, some Republican lawmakers are beginning to publicly take on Biden.

One Trump supporter, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told the “Fox News Sunday” show, “I’m in the 43% [who disapprove of him] — he’s been a disaster on foreign policy. The border is in chaos, the Iranians are off the mat, he’s opening up negotiations with the Iranian regime and they haven’t done a damn thing to change. Afghanistan is going to fall apart. Russia and China are already pushing him around.”

“So, I’m very worried,” Graham said. “I think he’s been a very destabilizing president. And economically, he’s throwing a wet blanket over the recovery, wanting to raise taxes in a large amount and regulate America basically out of business. So I’m not very impressed with the first 100 days. This is not what I thought I would get.”

Biden’s overall favorability rating was essentially the reverse of Trump’s at the same point in their presidencies, with Trump having a 53%-42% disapproval rating three months into his presidency in 2017. But Biden’s approval standing was lower than that for President Barack Obama at the outset of his eight-year presidency in 2009.

Biden is reviewing his first three months in office in a Wednesday night address to a joint session of Congress, although with the necessity of social distancing because of the pandemic, many lawmakers are not expected to attend, and few other officials will be there. In all, about 200 people are expected, compared to the normal 1,600 who have witnessed past presidential speeches in the House of Representatives’ chamber.

In his next effort on a major legislative effort, Biden is attempting to win approval for a more than $2 trillion infrastructure deal.

But many Republican lawmakers are balking at the inclusion of such items as funding for home health care that go beyond the normal infrastructure spending for road and bridge repairs and opposing paying for the program with higher taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals.

Biden, a Democrat, has expressed a willingness for compromise with Republican lawmakers but the two sides remain far apart.


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Following Grapevine closure due to snow, CHP escorts vehicles on 5 Freeway


Following a closure of the Grapevine portion of the 5 Freeway overnight due to snow, the California Highway Patrol began escorting vehicles in both directions early Tuesday morning.

The CHP closed the road about 8 p.m. Monday due to snow from the cold winter storm that lingered over the region:

But starting Tuesday morning, the CHP began escorting vehicles in groups of 100 through the snowy Grapevine in both directions between Grapevine Road in Kern County and Parker Road in Castaic, the agency said.

After telling drivers to turn around throughout the night, the CHP began bringing drivers through at 4:22 a.m.

The escorts of 100 vehicles at a time in each direction were continuing as of 5:30 a.m., the CHP reported.

The CHP reported at 5:35 a.m. that traffic was backed up on the Grapevine because several big-rig drivers waiting for escorts had fallen asleep in their trucks and had to be woken up by officers.

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California Funeral Homes Run Out of Space as COVID-19 Rages


LOS ANGELES – As communities across the U.S. feel the pain of a surge in coronavirus cases, funeral homes in the hot spot of Southern California say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space for bodies.

The head of the state funeral directors association says mortuaries are being inundated as the United States nears a grim tally of 350,000 COVID-19 deaths. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life did I think that this could happen, that I’d have to tell a family, ‘No, we can’t take your family member,'” said Magda Maldonado, owner of Continental Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

Continental is averaging about 30 body removals a day — six times its normal rate. Mortuary owners are calling one another to see whether anyone can handle overflow, and the answer is always the same: They’re full, too.

In order to keep up with the flood of bodies, Maldonado has rented extra 15-meter refrigerators for two of the four facilities she runs in Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Continental has also been delaying pickups at hospitals for a day or two while they take care of residential clients.

Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association, said that the whole process of burying and cremating bodies has slowed, including embalming bodies and obtaining death certificates. During normal times, cremation might happen within a day or two; now it takes at least a week or longer.

Achermann said that in the southern part of the state, “every funeral home I talk to says, ‘We’re paddling as fast as we can.'”

“The volume is just incredible, and they fear that they won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “And the worst of the surge could still be ahead of us.”

Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis in California, has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths alone. Hospitals in the area are overwhelmed and are struggling to keep up with basics such as oxygen as they treat an unprecedented number of patients with respiratory issues. On Saturday, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived to update some hospitals’ oxygen delivery systems.

Post-holiday surge possible

Nationally, an average of just more than 2,500 people a day have died of COVID-19 in the past seven days, according to Johns Hopkins data. The number of daily newly reported cases in that period has averaged close to 195,000, a decline from two weeks earlier.

It’s feared that holiday gatherings could fuel yet another rise in cases.

In the southern state of Arkansas, officials reported a record of more than 4,300 new COVID-19 cases Friday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson tweeted that the state is “certainly in the surge after Christmas travel and gatherings” and added, “As we enter this new year, our first resolution should be to follow guidelines.”

Also in the South, the state of North Carolina officials reported a record 9,527 confirmed cases New Year’s Day. That’s more than 1,000 cases above the previous daily high.

And in Louisiana, a funeral was being held Saturday for a congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 complications. Republican Luke Letlow died Tuesday at age 41. His swearing-in had been scheduled Sunday. He leaves behind his wife, Julia Letlow, and two children, ages 1 and 3.

In Texas, state officials say they have only 580 intensive care beds available as staff treat more than 12,480 hospitalized coronavirus patients, a number that has risen steadily since September and has set record highs this past week.

In Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation remained in a weekend lockdown to try to slow the rate of infection. The tribe late Friday reported another seven deaths, bringing its totals since the pandemic began to 23,429 cases and 813 deaths. The reservation includes parts of the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Arizona on Saturday reported 18,943 new cases Friday and Saturday, a record for the state in any two-day period. It also reported 46 new deaths Saturday.

Third Metallic Monolith Appears, This Time in Southern California


A third metallic monolith has appeared. This time, it’s in California.

Like its counterparts in Utah and Romania, no one knows who placed the gleaming object on a hiking trail about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The first monolith was spotted by public safety workers in a remote area of Utah on November 18. Later in the month, another similar structure was found on a hill in northern Romania, in the city of Piatra Neamt.

Both have since disappeared. According to the Associated Press, a group of athletes said on social media they broke the Utah monolith into pieces and took it away in a wheelbarrow.

The monoliths have evoked images from the sci-fi classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which a black monolith, seemingly made by aliens, appears throughout the movie and appears to have a role in human evolution.

These monoliths, however, are presumably made right here on Earth.

Bret Hutchings, who spotted the Utah monolith, said the object appeared to be manmade, calling it “more of an art form than any kind of alien life form.”

According to Reuters, some have speculated the monoliths are the work of artist John McCracken, who died in 2011. His son, reportedly told The New York Times in 2002 that his father “would like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later.”



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California officers face protest while trying to oust alleged squatters from state-owned homes: report


Protesters clashed with California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers Wednesday night after authorities removed and detained alleged squatters who occupied several vacant homes in Los Angeles, according to reports.

CHP officers, many in riot gear, responded to at least one vacant home owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in El Sereno, a neighborhood about six miles northwest of downtown L.A., reports said.

As evictions got underway, a large group of protesters crowded the law-enforcement officers, FOX 11 of Los Angeles reported.

At least one video on social media appeared to show protesters clashing with authorities. Another clip allegedly showed the demonstrators slowly walking toward a line of retreating CHP officers as many shouted, “Move, b—-! Get out the way!”

Earlier in the day, members of Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community said they moved into several of the state-owned homes, which were purchased by Caltrans.

“I come here in a good way,” Iris Ge Anda of the group told KNBC-TV of Los Angeles. “Just seeking some safe shelter for me and my family.”

The group had asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to influence Caltrans into freeing up the homes for families during the coronavirus pandemic.

While some residents criticized the decision to remove them just one day before Thanksgiving, others felt the alleged squatters were in the wrong.

“I disagree with what these people are doing. Everybody gets up goes to work,” El Sereno resident Frances Valenica said. “If they want to live somewhere, tell them to apply just like everyone else did.”

A Caltrans spokesman released a statement obtained by KNBC.

“Vacant homes along the State Route 710 that were broken into are unsafe and uninhabitable for occupants. As such, Caltrans requested the CHP remove trespassers so that the properties can be re-secured and boarded up,” the statement read, in part. “Caltrans has been working with local governments to lease several of its available properties for use as temporary emergency shelters.”


Meetup to exchange game console in Southern California includes gunshots


Four men were arrested in Garden Grove when a meetup to sell a gaming console resulted with gunshots, police said.

Two men selling the console met up with two prospective buyers Tuesday night, Nov. 24, Garden Grove Sgt. Nick Jensen said.

The exchange had been set up on social media, and at about 8:35 p.m. the four gathered in the 9700 block of Royal Palm Boulevard, a residential area.

“During the meet, an altercation took place and one of the buyers brandished a firearm and fired at the sellers,” Jensen said in a statement.

No one was hit.

A loaded gun and a replica firearm were found at the scene and all four men were arrested, Jensen said. Police said the four, whose names had not been released, were not from the area and it was unclear why they met up in that neighborhood.


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