California Sun

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A desperate search for refuge after a community is displaced.
Ryan Zinke blames environmentalists for the wildfires.
And the magic of mushroom foraging in Northern California.

California wildfires


Denise Chester of Paradise hugged her son at a makeshift shelter in Chico last week.

Noah Berger/A.P.

Disease, dispossession, overcrowding, sorrow.

A Washington Post account of fire evacuees seeking refuge reads like it could be from a faraway land torn by strife. But it's Northern California.

"People keep using the word 'unprecedented,' and I keep looking for a different word, but I can’t find one because it works so well," a Butte County spokeswoman said. "We have an entire community that is displaced."

Read the story in the Post. See a live fire map, and learn how to help.


There's little left of their town, but some wildfire survivors in Paradise are hunkering down for the long haul. Brad Weldon, who saved his house with a garden hose, said he's not leaving what he now calls the "hell zone." "If they take me out of here, it will be at gunpoint," he said. "My mom says they’ll have to beat her ass, too. She ain’t going without a fight."


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, center, toured Paradise last week.

Rich Pedroncelli/A.P.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he agreed with President Trump on the cause of California's wildfire disaster. "It's not time for finger-pointing," he said. "We know the problem. It’s been years of neglect, and in many cases it’s been these radical environmentalists that want nature to take its course. ... You know what? This is on them."


Social media users in Finland posted pictures of themselves raking local forests.

Finns took to social media to poke fun at the claim by President Trump that Finland prevents fires by raking. Using the hashtag #rakefinlandgreatagain, hundreds of people posted pictures of themselves in forests or gardens with rakes.


Gov. Jerry Brown was asked by a reporter, "How do we curb these fires?"

"You know," he replied, "we’ve had fires for long before the Europeans showed up here. And our indigenous people had a different way of living with nature. For 10,000 years, there were never more than 300,000 [people living in California]. Now we have 40 million and we have a totally different situation.

"So it’s not one thing. It’s people. It’s how people live, it’s where they live, and it’s the changing climate. ... And the truth is ... we’re going to have more difficulties. Things are not going to get better. They’re going to get more challenging because of the continuing alteration in the climate — lack of moisture, early snowmelt and faster winds, the whole thing."


Smoke blanketed Northern California last Friday.

U.S. Forest Service

California's air was so polluted last week that it exceeded world health standards by 60 times. Particulates in the air reached as high as 1,500 micrograms per cubic meter. The threshold set by the World Health Organization is 25. "It is just insane," a scientist who studies pollution said.


The Paradise Adventist Academy volleyball team in their new uniforms.

The girls' volleyball team at Paradise Adventist Academy had made the state semifinals before disaster hit. Some players lost everything in the wildfire. They decided go ahead with the game, playing in T-shirts with numbers written in Sharpie ink. But when they showed up, there was a surprise waiting: Their opponents presented them with brand-new uniforms and $16,000 in donated cash and gift cards.


A flash flood watch was issued beginning early Wednesday in an area that includes the fire-scarred mountainsides of Butte County. While the precipitation is expected to help firefighters battle the still-raging Camp fire, it brings the threat of debris flows. A lighter storm was poised to bring potential mudslides to Southern California starting late Wednesday.


Other news


Roses in Wasco, Kern County.

One of California's poorest regions, Kern County is expected to shed more than 24,000 jobs as its agricultural industry meets strict new groundwater rules imposed after decades of over-pumping. Officials predicted that nearly 300 square miles of farm land would need to be taken out of production.


Sixteen Democrats vowed to oppose Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker, setting up a leadership showdown as the party prepares to take control of the House. "We promised to change the status quo," the Democrats said in a letter.

Separately, Pelosi told the N.Y. Times how she would work with President Trump: "You know how I talk to him? I just say it in public. That’s what he hears: what people say in public. Now, President Bush: a gentleman, we have disagreements on the liberal-conservative spectrum, but it’s not — my God." She thought of Trump again. "What’s the word I could use instead of 'grotesque'?"


Democratic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond was elected as California’s schools chief, a victory for the state's labor-backed education establishment. It was only the latest big loss for the pro-charter school movement, whose donors have included Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and Bill Bloomfield. In June, their chosen candidate for governor, Antonio Villaraigosa, failed to make it out of the primary.


Mesquite Sand Dunes in an image made with a blend of photos around sunset.

Mesquite Flat Dunes are the easiest dunes to visit in Death Valley National Park. The silky, rippled sands are also among the most popular places in the park to watch sunsets and sunrises, when they host an epic show of light and colors.


People sat around a campfire on Alcatraz Island during the Native American occupation of 1969.

Charles E. Young Research Library/U.C.L.A.

When the penitentiary on Alcatraz Island closed in the early 1960s, a group of American Indian activists saw an opening. It was on this day in 1969 that they occupied the island and demanded that it be deeded to them under a treaty that gave American Indians the right to claim unused federal land. The government refused, but the takeover awakened many Americans for the first time to the plight of Native Americans.


"Fallen Star" is cantilevered out from the roof of Jacobs Hall at U.C. San Diego.

Perched off the edge of a roof at U.C. San Diego is a cottage that appears ready to plummet at any moment. "Fallen Star" is a permanent art installation by the Korean artist Do Ho Suh. An art critic said it made him ill, a sensation he welcomed — "an unexpected disorientation that is indicative of the way art can move the body as a way to move the heart and mind."


California the beautiful


'Magical beings'

Young turkey tail mushrooms in the Bay Area.

Among those welcoming the predicted rainfall this week will be California’s mushroom hunters.

During the wet winter months, the state’s northern forests erupt with some of the most abundant wild mushrooms in the country — golden chanterelles, porcinis, Russulas, and other specimens free for the taking.

The antithesis of industrial farming, foraging for food has increasingly been embraced by California restaurants as part of the so-called field-to-table movement.

A growing army of mushroom hobbyists too have been drawn in the last decade by the thrill of the hunt, the culinary experience, and the communion with nature.

"It has a purpose," said Kevin Feinstein, co-author of The Bay Area Forager. "It’s not, 'Oh, we’re going to go on a 10-mile hike.' Instead, we’re walking through the forest, off trails, finding magical beings growing."

While foraging is generally seen as environmentally sustainable, some environmental groups have warned that careless collectors trample sensitive forests and fields.

That's one reason mushroom-hunting shouldn’t be done casually. Another: While some species of fungi can taste delicious in a salad, others can melt your ego, and still others can kill you. Poison control officials in California get poisoning cases every year.

There are amateur clubs up and down the state with information on classes and guided outings. Charles Russo, editor of the wonderful website The Six Fifty, went on one such excursion not long ago on the San Francisco peninsula. He shared a few closeups of his weirdly photogenic finds.

The toxic and psychoactive Amanita muscaria mushroom.

Turkey tail mushrooms, often found growing on wood.

A golden chanterelle mushroom, which can command a high price at grocery stores.

A common russula mushroom.


Thanks for reading!

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

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