California Sun

Good morning. It's Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Trump is said to try to block disaster relief to California.
Police officers leave San Francisco force in record numbers.
And fire sweeps across Joshua tree forest in Mojave Desert.

Coronavirus

1

Alcatraz Island reopened to the public on Monday after being closed for five months.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In California, coronavirus hospitalizations are declining. So is the seven-day daily rolling average of fatalities. And San Diego County, the state's second-largest, has made so much progress that it's on the verge of being able to loosen restrictions. “It’s extraordinarily good news, speaking on behalf not just of the county but the state of California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday. L.A. Times

See trackers of cases in California, the U.S., and worldwide.

  
2

Kern County is now among the places hardest hit by Covid-19, with a per capita infection rate more than twice that of Los Angeles County. Local officials blame confusing state guidance. Also part of the story: prevalent doubts about the virus. The county sheriff says he isn't enforcing coronavirus orders. “We’re not going to be the mask police. We’re not going to be the church police. We’re simply not,” he said. L.A. Times

  

Wildfires

3

A wildfire sparked by lightning burned out of control across nearly 70 square miles of the Mojave National Preserve, an untamed desert landscape east of Barstow. The blaze swept through a “phenomenally large and phenomenally dense Joshua tree woodland,” a preserve official said, calling it a "tragic loss." Desert Sun

  
4

An air tanker dropped retardant over Contra Costa County on Sunday.

Noah Berger/A.P.

Dozens of other blazes raged around the state Monday, exacerbated by lightning and heat. A few snapshots:

Twelve homes and businesses were destroyed and thousands more were at risk as the 6-day-old Lake fire pushed further into the Angeles National Forest. Ventura County Star | KTLA
A series of wildfires forced evacuations across the Bay Area, including Alameda, Contra Costa, and Napa counties. "It all depends on where the lightning strikes,” a meteorologist said. S.F. Chronicle | KQED
Nearly 4,000 people were forced to flee areas surrounding Grass Valley and Nevada City, nestled in the foothills northeast of Sacramento, as a wildfire crept toward both towns. Sacramento Bee | CBS13

Explore a live fire map. 👉 S.F. Chronicle

  

Statewide

5

President Trump tried to block disaster relief after California wildfires because it was a blue state, according to a former administration official. In a new election ad from the Republican Voters Against Trump coalition, the official, Miles Taylor, said, “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." L.A. Times | Politico

  
6

Power lines along the L.A. river on Sunday.

Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

Lawmakers expressed anger over California's first rolling blackouts since the 2001 energy crisis, even as more widespread outages were averted on Monday. Newsom demanded an investigation into why state regulators had failed to prepare for the heat wave, which had been forecast for days. The blackouts, he said, "are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” N.Y. Times | A.P.

Officials warned last year about likely power shortages. The reason: California’s shift away from reliable fossil fuels toward sources such as solar and wind energy that rise and fall with the weather. Mercury News

  
7

California on Monday finalized fuel efficiency agreements with five major automakers, defying opposition from the Trump administration. The president was blindsided when a secret deal with the companies was announced last summer, even as he worked to roll back standards. The deal has widespread implications: 13 states that follow California's standards have agreed to enforce it. N.Y. Times | Reuters

  
8

A demonstrator taunted a police officer in San Francisco on on May 31.

Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images

As politicians debate the future of policing in San Francisco, officers are leaving the force in record numbers. At the current pace, the police department would lose twice as many officers this year as it did last year. “The members are upset that the social experiment being conducted in San Francisco is failing, and they would rather work someplace that values them,” a union leader said. S.F. Chronicle

  
9

Researchers are waking up to the reality that sea level rise threatens more than our shorelines. "Imagine the groundwater beneath your feet. As the ocean moves inland, it will push all this trapped water upward until it breaks the surface. Basements will heave, brackish water could corrode sewer pipes, toxic contaminants buried in the soil could bubble up and spread." This story includes some helpful graphics on what to expect. 👉 L.A. Times

  
10

Blue whales off Monterey.

Chase Dekker

Whales have been appearing in large numbers along the Northern California coast. Scientists credit vast amounts of krill for luring humpbacks and blue whales. A research trip at the Farallon Islands sighted 50 blue whales. “That is an all-time record,” Chris Biertuempfel, programs manager for the Oceanic Society, reported. S.F. Chronicle

Watch this mesmerizing video of roughly 300 dolphins stampeding off the coast of Dana Point last week. 👉 YouTube

  
11

JSpannhoff

☝️Here’s MacKerricher State Park.

Located along the Mendocino Coast, its stands out among California parks for its varied landscapes — nearly 4 square miles of forest, wetlands, sand dunes, cliffs, and one beach blanketed by kaleidoscopic pebbles. MacKerricher was included in this list of the 15 best places to camp across the entire Western U.S. 👉 Sunset Magazine

Below, a few more views.

Gloria Ann Roberson

Jürgen Hamann

  

California profile

12

Michael Pelley, AKA Merman Mike.

By day, Michael Pelley, 28, is a mild-mannered construction estimator living in a suburb of Sacramento. But in his free time, he becomes Merman Mike, scuba-diving rescuer of people's lost treasures.

Pelley said he discovered the hobby last summer, and in time began fielding requests from forlorn strangers through his Facebook and YouTube pages.

Searching the rivers and lakes of Northern California, he's returned lost iPhones, wedding rings, and a treasured fishing pole. He returned a camera to a woman that contained pictures of her on vacation with her mother, who had since died.

In June, he plunged into the Sacramento River in search of a $17,000 ring lost by a man named Bill Fitty. The item had belonged to his late brother. In a video of the dive, Pelley emerges from the water after numerous failed attempts, clutching the ring and gushing with excitement.

Delivered the news, Fitty gasps. "I love you, brother," he tells Pelley. "I love you." Then Fitty hands him $1,500 to buy a top-of-the-line metal detector. Pelley wipes a tear.

He's always telling people not to feel obligated to him, Pelley told the California Sun. The joy in their faces is payment enough.

Before scuba diving, he explained, "I was just going to school, going to work, and going to sleep." Now, he has a purpose. "It's changed my life completely in the best way possible," he said. "It's just this amazing thing that I didn't think I would find."

See video of the ring dive and emotional handoff. 👉 YouTube

  

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

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