California Sun

Good morning. It's Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Fire advances to within 500 feet of Mt. Wilson Observatory.
San Diego County faces re-closing over rising infections.
And a Victorian fit for a Bond villain in San Francisco.



Inmate firefighters took a break in Oroville last week.

Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s pushing yourself to limits that you never knew you had.”

A reporter and photographer spent time with an inmate firefighting crew in Plumas National Forest. Two takeaways: the work is hellishly hard and virtually every member of the crew hopes to do it for a living one day. With a new law on the books making it easier for former inmates to get firefighting jobs, that dream is now more plausible. S.F. Chronicle


The L.A. Times published some stunning visualizations on the scale of California's wildfire crisis. One depicts how, taken together, the acreage devoured by fires burning right now dwarfs the total area of all 10 of the biggest wildfires between 2001 and 2010. Another illustrates the incredible property toll. In the last decade, nearly 30,000 structures have been destroyed by wildfires. That's the equivalent of more than five Los Angeles downtowns.


Firefighters gathered at Mt. Wilson Observatory.

A wildfire is now at the doorstep of Mt. Wilson Observatory. Officials said the Bobcat fire, burning in the Angeles National Forest, jumped a containment line to come within 500 feet of the 116-year-old facility on Tuesday. Firefighters were waging an all-out ground and air campaign. L.A. Times | A.P.

"Effectively, Hubble discovered the universe in the 1920s up on Mt. Wilson." The observatory holds a precious place in the history of astronomy. LAist


The N.Y. Times published a harrowing account of how millions of Americans could find themselves living in places inhospitable to human life within 50 years. One detail: A 2018 study suggested that one in 12 Americans in the Southern half of the country will move toward California, the Mountain West, or the Northwest because of climate influences alone.


A radar loop depicted smoke sweeping across the U.S.


Other wildfire developments:

Smoke from the West Coast has now drifted across the entire country, obscuring skies in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities. S.F. Chronicle | NBC News
Sen. Kamala Harris toured wildfire damage in foothills northeast of Fresno. “Those chimneys remind me of tombstones,” she said. “These are the stories behind these fires.” KGPE | Fresno Bee



With coronavirus cases falling statewide, California health officials on Tuesday gave Marin, Tehama, and Inyo counties the green light to reopen movie theaters, indoor dining, and places of worship. San Diego County, however, received bad news: Rising infections among San Diego State University students could force businesses to close again. S.D. Union-Tribune | A.P.


Northern California


For decades, a mining operation dredged sand from the small town of Marina, on Monterey Bay, marring the shoreline. Now the mine could be replaced by a desalination operation to help quench the thirst of a region desperate for fresh water. Yet not a drop would go to Marina. Critics say the reason is obvious: Marina is poor and powerless, and many residents speak little English. "Why would anyone think they could get away with that? Why?” one resident said. L.A. Times


Douglas Friedman, via Architectural Digest

☝️ Here's an 1870s Victorian in San Francisco fit for a Bond villain.

Once the home of architectural pioneer Julia Morgan, the home is now owned by an interior designer who fully expected some people to be appalled by her decision to paint it black. And they were. Architectural Digest did a spread on the home, dubbing it "the undisputed drama queen of 'Pacific Heights.'" Architectural Digest


Southern California


Disneyland has been closed since March.

AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Disneyland has been urging state officials to let it reopen for weeks. Now Anaheim, its home, is pleading too. The city is facing a $100 million deficit due in part to the dormancy of the park and nearby businesses. “What we need is guidance and an economic recovery roadmap so we know that we won’t go from coronavirus to a second great recession,” a city official said. O.C. Register | KABC


via GQ Japan

A photo of a Patagonia clothing tag with the hidden slogan "Vote the assholes out" went viral last week on Twitter. Some were skeptical of the tag's authenticity. Now the Ventura company, known for its outspokenness, has taken credit. A Patagonia spokeswoman said the message was added to a line of shorts and refers "to politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science." Mashable | Backpacker


Hollywood's "Tenet" experiment has failed. The Christopher Nolan thriller was supposed to be the industry's lifeline, but it has grossed less than $30 million since August 31 — a number so low that it set off a domino effect. The scheduled releases of "Wonder Woman 1984" and "Candyman" have now both been postponed until at least Christmas. The Atlantic


California wonders


A nelder plot at Blodgett Forest.

Along the slopes of the Sierra west of Lake Tahoe, several oddly symmetrical groups of trees rise from the middle of the forest. Shaped like wagon wheels, they are known as nelder plots and were planted in the 1990s as part of a study at the Blodgett Forest Research Station. The aim was to glean insights into resource competition among trees, said John A. Helms, a silviculturist involved in the project. "It's a little bit like putting rats in a cage or people in a tight suburban environment," he told the Sun. "People behave differently when they're jammed together."

To visitors viewing the plots at ground level, the trees appear little different than the surrounding forest. Send up a drone, however, and their full magnificence comes into view.

A few more pictures. 👉 I Love the Sierra

Also, a great drone's-eye view rising up from a plot. 👉 @mirandaleconte


Help make the Sun strong

If you enjoy the newsletter, please consider sharing it with someone in your life who might also.

Thanks for reading!

The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

The Sun is built by Marquee on Proof.

Consider becoming a member.

Please tell us how we can make the newsletter better. Email

California Sun masthead
The California Sun, PO Box 6868, Los Osos, CA 93412
Wake up to must-read news from around the Golden State delivered to your inbox each morning.