Smoke closes Yosemite; crew of doomed dive boat crew wasn’t trained

Smoke closes Yosemite; crew of doomed dive boat crew wasn’t trained


Plus: Aunt Becky heads to jail and workers at small businesses will get more family leave under a new law.

Happy Constitution Day! It’s on this day that we commemorate the formation and signing of the United States Constitution in 1787.

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in sunny Palm Springs, and I’ll be wrapping up your week with the latest headlines and goings-on in this great 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.

Hazardous smoke closes Yosemite, other parks

Janeatte Breeding, left, and her husband Robert Breeding of Eldorado Hills take a selfie as smoke from the Creek Fire hangs in the background at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.
Janeatte Breeding, left, and her husband Robert Breeding of Eldorado Hills take a selfie as smoke from the Creek Fire hangs in the background at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.

Yosemite National Park and neighboring Kings Canyon National Park will close Friday due to concerns over dangerous air quality, a result of the wildfires scorching California’s Sierra Nevada. Park officials said that both parks “will reopen to visitors when conditions improve, and it is safe for visitors and employees.”

This week, several Yosemite visitors posted photos of orange-hued skies and falling ash. Sequoia National Park shut down Tuesday after the SQF Complex Fire made its way toward the park.

Over the weekend, strong winds and millions of dead trees across the southern Sierra Nevada caused the fire to spread rapidly. The Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties have burned 245,000 acres. The Creek Fire is currently the 16th largest wildfire in California’s history and is at 18% containment, according to Cal Fire.

Residents of parts of Three Rivers, the Gateway to the Sequoias in Tulare County, have been issued mandatory evacuation orders and many rangers’ homes have been affected, according to park officials. Sequoia, Sierra, Inyo and other national forests near the parks have been closed since Sept. 7, with closure orders recently extended to Sept. 21. Whether they re-open on that date will depend on the condition of the fires.

New evacuation warnings issued in Bobcat Fire

The Bobcat Fire continues to burn in the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday, Sep. 15.
The Bobcat Fire continues to burn in the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday, Sep. 15.

In other fire news, residents in the unincorporated area of Juniper Hills in the Antelope Valley outside Los Angeles were given an evacuation order this morning as the Bobcat Fire grew by about 2,000 acres while remaining only 3% contained, according to Forest Service officials.

The area around the Mount Wilson Observatory and the southwestern edge of the fire remained active as firefighters worked to protect the historic facility and the nearby broadcast towers valued at more than $1 billion. Observatory personnel were evacuated this morning.

On Tuesday, U.S. Forest Service reported that the blaze had gotten within 500 feet of the 116-year-old observatory. As of Wednesday, the fire, which started Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, had burned 44,393 acres.

As a show of appreciation for their efforts, officials from the Mount Wilson Observatory tweeted a photo of firefighters from nearby Monrovia with a caption reading: “Heroes don’t wear capes. They wear personal protection equipment (PPE).”

Firefighters from Monrovia, Calif., pose in front of the historic Mount Wilson Observatory after working to protect the 116-year-old structure from the Bobcat Fire.
Firefighters from Monrovia, Calif., pose in front of the historic Mount Wilson Observatory after working to protect the 116-year-old structure from the Bobcat Fire.

DNA used to ID wildfire victims in NorCal

A smoky, yellow hue caused by the Bear Fire is seen in Berry Creek, California on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 9, 2020.
A smoky, yellow hue caused by the Bear Fire is seen in Berry Creek, California on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 9, 2020.

In Northern California, the wildfire death toll stood at 15 as of Wednesday night. Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea said DNA testing was being used to positively ID victims and that of the remains found in the North Complex Fire outside Oroville, 12 have been identified.

In news conferences, Honea told of elderly Berry Creek residents John and Sandra Butler. Family members called the sheriff’s office on Sept. 9 to say they had not heard from the couple, and that in their last communication, they had said they would seek refuge in a pond if the fire got close. Their bodies were later found near their residence.

Two additional people were found that day. One, 68-year-old Philip Rubel, was found inside a burned-up Toyota pickup, while the other, 77-year-old Millicent Catarancuic, was discovered down an embankment with her vehicle not far from Rubel’s.

“After speaking with family members, it is believed the decedents were aware of the fire in their area. They had packed their belongings in preparation to evacuate but later decided not to evacuate based on erroneous information that the fire was 51% contained,” Honea said.

Other identified victims include Jacob Albright, 72, and Randy Harrell, 67, both from Feather Falls, and Paul Winer, 68, Mark Delagardie, 61, Josiah Williams, 16, Khawar Bhatti, 58, and Jorge Hernandez-Juarez, 26, all from Berry Creek

“My condolences to all of the families of the people who I’ve identified,” Honea said.

Also on the fire front: On Tuesday, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom visited an area outside of Fresno that had been devastated by wildfires, and Harris shared a photo on Twitter.  

Today, a family who recognized the photo’s backdrop as the remains of their home are accusing the pair of trespassing on the ruins for their own gain.

"I’m incredibly grateful for the courage of our brave firefighters and those who have come near and far to help those fleeing the destruction," tweeted Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Sept. 15, 2020 after visiting a fire-ravaged area outside of Fresno with Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the courage of our brave firefighters and those who have come near and far to help those fleeing the destruction,” tweeted Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Sept. 15, 2020 after visiting a fire-ravaged area outside of Fresno with Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Trampas Patten posted on Facebook (punctuation his own): “For the friends of mine that don’t recognize the fireplace in the background, that is what is left of my parents house! What has me really frustrated right now is the fact that these two politicians used my parents loss for a photo opportunity to push their political agenda! … Decent human beings that have character and class, wouldn’t air someone else’s misfortune on national television! Think about this when you go to the polls in a few weeks to vote.”

Harris has yet to comment on the situation.

No emergency training for crew of sunken dive boat

In this Sept. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast. The crew aboard a Southern California scuba dive boat had not been trained on emergency procedures before the deadly fire broke out last year, killing 34 people in one of the state's deadliest maritime disasters, according to federal documents released Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.
In this Sept. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast. The crew aboard a Southern California scuba dive boat had not been trained on emergency procedures before the deadly fire broke out last year, killing 34 people in one of the state’s deadliest maritime disasters, according to federal documents released Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

According to federal documents released Wednesday, surviving crew members from a dive boat that caught fire and sank over Labor Day weekend 2019 say they received no instructions on what to do in the case of an emergency.

Thirty-four people — 33 passengers and one crew member — were asleep below deck when a fire of unknown origin broke out on the Conception as she was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, about 25 miles south of the boat’s home port in Santa Barbara.

While none of the casualties had an opportunity to escape, the five surviving crew members, including Capt. Jerry Boylan, were saved by jumping into the water.

It remains one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters.

One crew member, Ryan Sims, told investigators he had asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire. Boylan reportedly replied: “When we have time.”

Boylan could face federal manslaughter counts.

‘Don’t wait — vaccinate’ says health department

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is urging Californians to get their annual flu shot now in order to prevent a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.

“Flu will be hitting your community soon, and in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in California, getting your flu vaccine will be more important than ever,” said Dr. Erica Pan, acting state public health officer.

Here in California, flu activity generally begins in late November or December. CDPH recommends an annual flu vaccination for everyone six months of age and older as part of a comprehensive public health strategy to not only reduce the burden of flu but to preserve resources for patients battling COVID-19.

Aunt Becky heads to jail, the Presidio has a birthday, and more family leave

Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli have agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges.
Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli have agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges.

Aunt Becky will likely serve prison sentence in Victorville. Former “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who was convicted alongside her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, was sentenced last month to two months in prison by Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton for her participation in the college admissions scandal. Today, it was reported that Gorton signed off on a recommendation that the actress “be designated to a facility closest to her home in [California], preferably the camp at FCI Victorville, if commensurate with the appropriate security level.”

On this day in history: The Presidio of San Francisco was founded Sept. 17, 1776, by the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The former military base is now a 1,500-acre park.

Californians to get stronger family-leave protections: Beginning Jan. 1, Californians who work at smaller businesses will be required to get 12 weeks of unpaid time off to bond with a newborn or care for a sick relative, thanks to a new bill signed by Gov. Newsom.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Fox News, Los Angeles Times, msn.com, nbcnews.com, Sierra Sun Times.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bobcat Fire, El Dorado Fire, Yosemite, flu vaccinations, Victorville



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