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Dome fire chars Joshua tree forest in California

Palm Springs Desert Sun

Plus: Your power may be going out. But it’s not all bad news. We’ve got a little magic too

I believe it was Buster Poindexter who took us on a repetitive musical journey with the song “Hot Hot Hot.” Poindexter might well have been describing the California temps over the weekend, where Death Valley reached a whopping 130 degrees. I’m Shad Powers, a columnist at The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and here is what is happening today in the toasty Golden State.

But first, Gov. Gavin Newsom is peeved about the state’s power prepardness. An irate Newsom signed an emergency proclamation on Monday allowing some energy users and utilities to tap backup energy sources amid a days-long heatwave that has prompted rolling blackouts affecting hundreds of thousands of households. The governor warned that customers could start to lose power Monday as spiking temperatures strained the state’s power grid. He didn’t say where the outages might occur, but the rotating shutoffs could persist for days. 

Newsom acknowledged the state failed to predict and plan for the energy shortages.

“I am not pleased with what’s happened,” he said in an afternoon press briefing. “You shouldn’t be pleased with the moment that we’re in in the state of California.”

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.  

COVID-19 rips through California motel rooms of guest workers who pick nation’s produce

Riveting report: A month-long investigation by CalMatters and The Salinas Californian looking into guest agricultural workers living in hotels uncovered reports of six outbreaks among seven companies in four counties, sickening more than 350 people. Reporters found at least one person had died and companies haven’t always notified local public health departments when they have an outbreak. Without strong state or federal guidelines, some counties struggle to detect or contain outbreaks.

Unlike other congregate living facilities like nursing homes, neither federal nor state officials have issued specific safety or reporting requirements aimed at keeping guest workers safe.

An excerpt:Beto V. heard the ambulance pull up to the Colonial Motel where he was quarantined by his employer, police sirens close behind. That was his first clue a fellow farmworker had died of COVID-19. Beto, who used a shortened version of his name for fear of retaliation, was confined to a hotel room one floor below Leodegario Chavez Alvarado, a crew manager and driver who died July 7 amid an outbreak in the agricultural town of Santa Maria where strawberry, lettuce and celery fields stretch for miles. 

‘My Black brother wishes that he could change the color of his skin’

Meet Alayssia Townsell, a 19-year-old from Stockton, who is determined to sow seeds of change in her community.

The UCLA sophomore became a social justice activist in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, but the issue is very personal to her. She said she thinks often about a heartbreaking conversation with her 9-year-old brother, a fourth-grader who fears the injustices facing people of color.

“My Black brother wishes that he could change the color of his skin just so that he doesn’t have to worry about going outside and being killed,” Townsell said at a recent protest in downtown Stockton, one of the most diverse cities in America. “This is what I’m doing this for. I’m doing it for the generations after us.”

MORE LIKE HER: This profile is part of a USA Today series looking at how 12 young activists across the U.S. are creating change in their communities. Click here for the full package.

Métis people Dome fire torches 42,700 acres in Mojave preserve; Joshua trees burn

The smell of charred Joshua trees filled the air, the hot wind kicking up dust devils of ash that swirled through Mojave National Preserve near the California-Nevada border. By Monday afternoon, the Dome Fire had torched 42,700 acres and was 0% contained, according to Todd Smith, the preserve’s supervisory interpretive ranger.

(In case you were wondering, the reporter on the scene said charred Joshua trees smell a little bit like s’mores.)

A national park ranger said that the fire began with a lightning strike on Saturday near Cima Dome, a geologic formation in the park that rises 1,500 feet above the desert floor.

Fires prompt evacuations in Northern California: Cal Fire is fighting nearly two-dozen fires across Butte County as record temperatures, roaming lightning storms and hot winds created difficult fire weather Monday, the Sacramento Bee reported. At least 21 fires are burning in Butte County as a result of lightning strikes, and the largest fire near Potter’s Ravine Drive north of Oroville has grown to over 100 acres.

Métis people Long-awaited trial of Twentynine Palms Marine accused of murder begins

The trial of a former Twentynine Palms Marine accused of killing a Murrieta man he knew his girlfriend was cheating with — and then burying the body in a shallow grave in Joshua Tree National Park — began Monday.

Curtis Lee Krueger, 32, is charged with one count of murder in connection with the May 2018 killing of Henry Alan Stange, 54. He is also charged with one count of assault, as investigators believe he attacked Stange with a hammer months before Stange’s death, officials said. 

The prosecution characterizes the trio’s relationship as a love triangle fueled by drug use and jealousy, while the defense casts it as the deterioration of a couple’s relationship amid addiction, according to trial briefs filed in advance of opening statements at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, a sentencing hearing for the Golden State Killer is to begin with victim impact statements. Joseph DeAngelo. DeAngelo, 74, of Citrus Heights, pleaded guilty in June to 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnapping with robbery. 

Coronavirus update: Positives and negatives

Negative: The number of counties on California’s monitoring list for coronavirus grew to 42 on Monday as Amador, Mendocino, Calaveras, Sierra and Inyo counties were added to the list of counties facing more restrictions. 

Positive: Santa Cruz County was taken off the list. 

Negative: Newsom said the state found an additional 14,861 virus cases after reviewing a backlog of nearly 300,000 test results that got tied up in a lab reporting problem. 

Positive: However, Newsom said the state’s overall virus trends were heading in the right direction.

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Trump sought to withhold California fire aid because of politics, former official says

The former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security claims in a political ad released Monday that President Trump tried to withhold disaster relief money for California’s wildfires because voters in the state opposed him politically.

“He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,” Miles Taylor, who left the Trump administration in 2019, claims in the ad. You can watch the ad here.

Report faults California prisons for poor coronavirus checks

California prisons were inconsistent in screening employees and visitors for the coronavirus, which may have increased the risk of its spread, the state’s inspector general said in a report Monday.

The report does not link the poor practices to the worst outbreak, which resulted from a botched transfer of infected inmates from a Southern California prison to San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco. Twenty-five inmates and one correctional officer have died there, though infections that at one point topped 2,100 have since dropped to 77 active cases.

Do you believe in magic?

Magician David Blaine was test-driving his latest stunt in which he elevates into the sky holding a bunch of balloons in Tulare County over the weekend. He is preparing for his first nationally televised stunt in nearly a decade. It was quite a sight for the citizens of Porterville who could see the “Up”-style balloon trick in their own backyard. Blaine did take time to take photos with some of the locals. 

That’ll do it for today. Hope you have a magical start to your week. 

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. Also contributing: The Associated Press and The Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee. 

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/nletter/in-california/2020/08/17/wildfires-coronavirus-and-newsom-all-raging-california/5600969002/

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