California’s largest wildfire brings new dangers for firefighters on front lines

After more than three weeks, firefighters Monday continued to struggle against the largest fire in modern California history as the Mendocino Complex blaze prompted more evacuations and posed new dangers to those on the front lines.

While battling the fire, five members of Los Angeles Fire Department Strike Team 1880C were injured Sunday. All five suffered minor injuries and were treated and released from area hospitals.

Many of the nearly 3,500 firefighters on the lines aren’t familiar with the steep terrain in the area, which has made battling the blaze more difficult and dangerous, said Capt. Cary Wright, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The dense timber and brush provide continuous fuel for flames and make it arduous for firefighters to access the area safely.

“Trees burn and then fall, so it’s dangerous to get ground resources in there,” he said. The dense brush also makes water and retardant drops by plane less effective.

Crews are on especially high alert after Matthew Burchett, a firefighter who traveled from Draper City, Utah, to help battle the blaze, died last week.

A Cal Fire report released Monday said Burchett was struck by falling tree debris during a retardant drop. The report called on the agency to make sure firefighters were clear of areas with overhead hazards during drops.

“The message at this morning’s briefing was to make sure all the crews have lookouts and are keeping their head on a swivel,” Wright said.

Officials issued a mandatory evacuation order Sunday night for areas west of County Road 306 to the Lake County line, including the Mendocino National Forest area from the Colusa County line to County Road 308. Portions of Lake, Mendocino and Colusa counties remain under mandatory evacuation, according to Cal Fire.

(Los Angeles Times)

 

The Ranch and River fires, which make up the Complex fire, had burned 398,862 acres as of Monday morning. Firefighters treat the Ranch and River fires as one event, even though the two fires never merged.

The River fire is fully contained, but steep, inaccessible terrain, erratic winds and low humidity have made the Ranch blaze difficult to control, Wright said.

The Ranch fire is 74% contained, Cal Fire officials said Monday.

Wright said the fire continued to chew through dry brush even as humidity increased overnight, when firefighters typically gain traction battling wildfires.

Fire officials geared up for a tough fight on Monday, when humidity was expected to drop further and temperatures were predicted to climb.

“The fire activity has been unpredictable,” Wright said. “We have to get through the next 24 hours. It’s going to be pretty dangerous conditions.”

Firefighters hope to gain momentum later in the week as cooler temperatures roll into the area.

The Mendocino blaze has destroyed 157 homes since it broke out nearly a month ago.

Years of drought have created ripe conditions for large-scale wildfires that spread rapidly. Of the five largest wildfires in state history, four have occurred since 2012.

The Front fire, which broke out on Sunday in the Los Padres National Forest in the Santa Maria area, has burned 1,000 acres and was 10% contained as of Monday.

The blaze, which brought 700 firefighters to the area, forced the closure of Highway 166 between Santa Maria and Cuyama in both directions on Monday, according to Santa Barbara County officials.

In Redding, the Carr fire has claimed eight lives and more than 1,000 homes as it grew to 229,651 acres as of Monday morning. The fire is 88% contained.

The Holy fire, which has charred 22,887 acres in Riverside and Orange counties is 92% contained as of Monday, according to Cal Fire officials.

5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with details on the injured LAFD firefighters.

1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about Matthew Burchett’s death.

This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.

Mendocino Complex fire now largest in California history, capping destructive year

The erratic conflagration has chewed through more than 273,000 acres and 68 homes in 10 days, making it the second-largest wildfire on record in California.

  

The Mendocino Complex fire is now the largest wildfire in modern California history, scorching more than 283,000 acres and frustrating firefighters as it continues to leap across natural and man-made barriers in Lake County.

The Ranch and River fires, which make up the complex fire, had grown to 283,800 acres as of Monday evening, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze was only 30% contained.

“We broke the record,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with Cal Fire. “That’s one of those records you don’t want to see.”

The blaze surpassed the Thomas fire, which burned through more than 281,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties late last year.

Officials said the Mendocino Complex fire has continued to grow by thousands of acres each day, even at night, when most fires normally calm down.

The Mendocino Complex fire perimeter Monday morning covered more than 273,000 acres.
The Mendocino Complex fire perimeter Monday morning covered more than 273,000 acres. (Jon Schleuss / Los Angeles Times)

 

The fire has prompted evacuations in Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties, but it has been less destructive to property than some of the other dozen-plus wildfires burning across the state because it continues to rage in remote areas.

Firefighters treated the Ranch and River fires as one event, even though the two fire never actually merged. One burned on the west side of Clear Lake, the other on the north and east side.

But the fire’s sheer size and rate of spread is the latest signal of a remarkable fire year for California.

“It is extremely fast, extremely aggressive, extremely dangerous,” McLean said. “Look how big it got, just in a matter of days.… Look how fast this Mendocino Complex went up in ranking. That doesn’t happen. That just doesn’t happen.”

Years of drought have created ripe conditions for large-scale wildfires that spread rapidly. Of the five largest wildfires in state history, four have occurred since 2012.

Wine country was devastated last October with the most destructive fires in state history, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens.

There are 18 large wildfires burning across California, scarring a combined 559,000 acres, officials have said. In Redding, the Carr fire has claimed seven lives and more than 1,000 homes while growing to 163,207 acres in size, making the deadly blaze now the 12th largest wildfire in state history, Cal Fire officials said in a statement.

Firefighters working overnight Sunday increased containment on the Carr fire to 45%, officials said during a Monday morning news briefing. The blaze chewed through about 3,000 more acres overnight as crews continued to build up containment lines, Cal Fire said.

Rescue crews there have been repeatedly hamstrung by intense heat and difficult terrain. The fire jumped the Sacramento River more than a week ago and raced into subdivisions in western Redding.

Officials said Monday that shifting winds, steep canyons and rocky terrain on the fire’s northern edge along the Shasta and Trinity county border have made it difficult to attack the flames on the ground.

Bulldozers have scraped in defensive lines miles to the north and east, far from the fire’s edge. With Trinity Lake providing a natural barrier that has slowed the fire’s advance to the northwest, crews will spend the next several days tightening that perimeter until they find a position to make a final stand, officials said.

A high-pressure system moving into the area Monday could help with that effort, meteorologist Alex Hoon said during Monday’s briefing.

While that will create poor air quality for firefighters and virtually every community around the blaze, it also means the fire will be starved of the oxygen it needs to grow, he said.

“This is pretty much the best weather conditions we can ask for, for the beginning part of August. The fire’s not going to get up and move,” Hoon said.

The Carr fire has proved to be the deadliest in the state this year, claiming the lives of four residents, a Redding firefighter, a private bulldozer operator and a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker.

Fire officials are also concerned about the growth of the Donnell fire, which has spread to 12,000 acres since it ignited last week in the Stanislaus National Forest. The fire began along the Stanislaus River and has triggered mandatory evacuations, but like several other blazes around the state, the fire is in steep terrain that has made containment efforts difficult, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Forest Service. The blaze was only at 1% containment as of Sunday night.

As the fires raged in Northern California, meteorologists issued red flag warnings in the Los Angeles area, where temperatures will reach the triple digits in several neighborhoods and cities early in the week.

Woodland Hills could see a high of 108, while Santa Clarita and Burbank could all see the mercury rise above 100 before Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Farther north, other cities that could experience 100-degree-plus heat are Ojai in Ventura County and Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County.

9:50 p.m. The article was updated with more details on River and Ranch fires.

7:20 p.m.: This article was updated with new fire figures.

9:50 a.m.: This article was updated with information about the Donnell fire.

9:20 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information from a Cal Fire briefing about the Carr fire.

This article was originally published at 8:00 a.m.

California’s Carr Fire may have unleashed the most intense fire tornado ever observed in the U.S.

 1:11
Massive fire tornado sweeps through California
August 3 at 11:54 AM

A tornado? Scary. Wildfire? Horrific. A tornado made out of fire? Just about the most terrifying thing Mother Nature can whip up.

On July 26, the Carr Fire near Redding, Calif., unleashed a vortex with winds so strong it uprooted trees and stripped away their bark. On Thursday, the National Weather Service estimated the fire-induced tempest packed winds in excess of 143 mph. Such wind strength is equivalent to an EF3 tornado, on the 0-to-5 scale for twister intensity.

“This is historic in the U.S.,” Craig Clements, director of San Jose State University’s Fire Weather Research Laboratory, told BuzzFeed News. “This might be the strongest fire-induced tornado-like circulation ever recorded.”


A large pyrocumulus cloud (or cloud of fire) explodes outward during the Carr Fire near Redding, Calif., on July 27.  (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty images)

How it formed

The tornado formed as the blaze, which has already charred an area three times as large as the District of Columbia, erupted and began to rotate like a supercell thunderstorm. Initially the smoke plume reached about 20,000 feet. That’s not overly impressive for a thunderstorm, but it couldn’t rise any higher: It was trapped beneath an inversion.

That “cap” in the atmosphere caused the smoke to spread out. But around 7:15 p.m. Pacific time, two plumes suddenly managed to break the cap. They rose into an unstable environment and exploded upward, towering to nearly 40,000 feet within 30 minutes. That extreme, rapid vertical growth of the fire fueled an updraft that eventually would spawn the tornado.


(GR2, adapted by Matthew Cappucci)

Looking at a profile of the atmosphere from a nearby National Weather Service office on the day of the fire, changing winds with altitude were apparent. That means any cloud that spans multiple layers in the atmosphere is going to experience this shearing force resulting from being pushed in multiple directions. This caused the entire smoke cloud to rotate, just like any tornado-producing thunderstorm.

Eventually a pair of quickly-rotating updrafts became established between 7:30 and 8 p.m. — rivaling the intensity of the turbulent behemoth storms that sweep across the Plains each spring. The southern updraft went on to produce a legitimate tornado.


(GR2, adapted by Matthew Cappucci)

The key was how quickly the updraft rose. After all, the smoke cloud top doubled in height, surging upward nearly four miles in 40 minutes. Just like a skater pulling in her arms, when a vortex near the ground is stretched, it intensifies — likely the main ingredient in tornado formation.

While the National Weather Service forecast office in Sacramento described the vortex as a fire whirl, our analysis suggests this was an actual tornado. Fire whirls are much more common. They are the equivalent of dust devils and shed off by large wildfires by the hundreds.


(GR2, adapted by Matthew Cappucci)

But this vortex’s rapidly-rotating updraft that was embedded in cloud-based rotation bore the hallmarks of a textbook tornado.

“I’m relatively comfortable calling this a tornado; I’m sure some people will take issue with it,” Neil Lareau, a physics professor at the University of Nevada at Reno, told Axios. Lareau specializes in fire weather phenomena.

The funnel produced tornado-like damage, too. It tore trees from the ground, destroyed additional structures and even collapsed/twisted large high-tension electrical towers!

NWS Sacramento

@NWSSacramento

The NWS & @CAL_FIRE Serious Accident Review Team (SART) are conducting a storm damage survey regarding the large fire whirl that occurred Thursday evening in Redding. Preliminary indicators placed max wind speeds achieved by the fire whirl in excess of 143 mph.

Damon Arthur

@damonarthur_RS

These trees aren’t even singed but all the leaves were blown off and some of the trees were completely blown over by the power of the .

An even more intense firenado Down Under?

While this may be the most intense fire tornado observed in the United States, an even more vigorous fire tornado has been documented in Australia.

On Jan. 18, 2003, a lightning-sparked wildfire near Canberra produced a pyrocumulonimbus smoke cloud that grew into a supercell thunderstorm. It produced 80 mph winds, fueling the blaze and exacerbating fire suppression efforts. Similar atmospheric conditions were in place, and the storm produced a tornado that traveled roughly 15 miles over the course of an hour, touching down four times and carving out a path about a quarter-mile wide.

Investigators in the wake of the Canberra Fire Tornado found a path of clockwise-laid trees, suggesting convergent rotating winds at the surface.

That particular tornado skirted most towns, but did level a neighborhood in the Australian community of Lincoln Close, Chapman. The storm did damage consistent with 160 mph winds — even tossing the eight-ton roof of a water tower more than a half mile near Mount Arawang.

Record heat stoking California blazes

Fire season is in full swing across the Golden State, and this year has seen a string of exceptionally destructive blazes. The Carr Fire has been blamed for at least six deaths and claimed nearly 1,600 structures.

July ranked as the hottest month in the past three decades in Redding. And there’s no end in sight to the hot conditions as climate change continues to take a toll on the beleaguered region.

Redding’s top-five hottest years have all occurred in the past five. In addition, the moisture-starved region is seeing a drying trend during the summer months. Thanks to this combination, increased fire activity is likely in the years ahead — and the uptick we’re seeing now is partially because of climate change.

As the planet continues to warm, devastating fire seasons like this in the West will become the near normal.

Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow contributed to the reporting in this story.

COURTESY: TWP

The Pension Hole for U.S. Cities and States Is the Size of Japan’s Economy

MARKETS

Many retirement funds could face insolvency unless governments increase taxes, divert funds or persuade workers to relinquish money they are owed

  • Link copied…
  • For the past century, a public pension was an ironclad promise. Whatever else happened, retired policemen and firefighters and teachers would be paid.

    That is no longer the case.

    Many cities and states can no longer afford the unsustainable retirement promises made to millions of public workers over many years. By one estimate they are short $5 trillion, an amount that is roughly equal to the output of the world’s third-largest economy.

    The fiscal situation of Central Falls, R.I., which filed for bankruptcy in 2011, has improved.
    The fiscal situation of Central Falls, R.I., which filed for bankruptcy in 2011, has improved. PHOTO: GRETCHEN ERTL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    Certain pension funds face the prospect of insolvency unless governments increase taxes, divert funds or persuade workers to relinquish money they are owed. It is increasingly likely that retirees, as well as new workers, will be forced to take deeper benefit cuts.

    In Kentucky, a major pension plan covering state employees had about 16% of what it needs to fulfill earlier promises, according to the Public Plans Database, which tracks state and local pension funds, based on 2017 fiscal year figures. A fund covering Chicago municipal employees had less than 30% of what it needed in that fiscal year, according to the same database. New Jersey’s pension system for state workers is so underfunded it could run out of money in 12 years, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study.

    When the math no longer works the result is Central Falls, R.I., a city of 19,359. Today, retired police and firefighters are wrestling with the consequences of agreeing to cut their monthly pension checks by as much as 55% when the town was working to escape insolvency. The fiscal situation of the city, which filed for bankruptcy in 2011, has improved, but the retirees aren’t getting their full pensions back.

    Retired Central Falls firefighter Paul Grenon.
    Retired Central Falls firefighter Paul Grenon.PHOTO: GRENON FAMILY

    “It’s not only a financial thing,” said 73-year-old former Central Falls firefighter Paul Grenon, who retired from the department after a falling wall punctured his lung, broke his back and five ribs, and left him unable to climb ladders. “It really gets you sick mentally and physically to go through something like this. It’s a betrayal, as far as I’m concerned.”

    Uncertainty over public pensions is one reason some Americans are reaching retirement age on shaky financial ground. For this group, median incomes, including Social Security and retirement fund receipts, haven’t risen in years. They have high average debt, and are often using savings for their children’s educations and to care for their elderly parents.

    The public pension arose from the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. New York was the first city in the U.S. with a pension fund for injured police officers in 1857 and then for firefighters in 1866. The concept of a public pension plan for government workers became widespread in the early decades of the 20th century. The understanding was employees would accept relatively lower pay in exchange for richer, guaranteed benefits once they retired.

    When times were flush, politicians made overly generous promises. Public-employee unions made unrealistic demands. High-profile municipal employees, such as coaches at public universities, have drawn fire for what some consider too-rich retirement benefits, while some first responders scored rich early retirement and disability arrangements.

    Deepening DeficitState pension deficits have grown steadilyover the past two decades.Source: Pew Charitable Trusts
    .trillion2000’05’10’15-1.6-1.4-1.2-1.0-0.8-0.6-0.4-0.20.0$0.2

    Extended lifespans caused costs to soar, as did increasingly expensive medical care, which unions put at the center of contract negotiations, among other benefits.

    A technology-led stock market boom in the late 1990s produced a brief period of surpluses in pensions, according to figures from Pew, before deficits began to creep higher in the mid 2000s. Deficits accelerated following the 2008 financial crisis, which caused steep losses for many funds just as large numbers of baby boomers began to retire.

    State and local pensions lost roughly $35 billion in assets between 2008 and 2009, according to Pew. Liabilities, meanwhile, ballooned by more than $100 billion a year, widening the difference between the amount owed to retirees and assets on hand. Not even a nine-year bull market in stocks could close that gap.

    Officials, taxpayers and public-sector employees are increasingly at odds as they figure out what comes next. The board overseeing Puerto Rico, which filed for the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy in 2017, this year certified an average 10% cut in certain retiree pensions as part of a plan to restore the island to solvency. The governor has vowed not to implement it, a face-off that will likely end in court.

    In the Bluegrass State, a judge in June ruled that a reduction in new worker benefits championed by Kentucky’s governor was unconstitutional because of the way lawmakers passed it. The state’s attorney general opposed the cuts. The case could end up at the state Supreme Court.

    Climbing Cost

    Public pensions are becoming a growing burden for many states and cities across the U.S.

    Funded ratio† for state and local public pension funds

    Employer contribution* as a percentage of payroll for state and local pensions

    16

    %

    100

    12

    75

    50

    8

    25

    4

    0

    0

    2001

    ’05

    ’10

    ’15

    2001

    ’05

    ’10

    ’15

    *Weighted by payroll    †Weighted by plan assets

    Source: Public Plans Database

    In California, several cases before the state’s Supreme Court are testing an influential 1955 rule that stipulates benefits for public employees can’t be cut. Gov. Jerry Brown is predicting pension reductions in the next recession if that rule is loosened. A change in that law might persuade other states to reach for deeper benefit reductions.

    State and local pension plans in the U.S. now have less than three- quarters of the money they need to meet their promised payouts, their lowest level since at least 2001, according to Public Plans Database figures weighted by plan size. In dollar terms the hole for state and local pensions is now $5 trillion, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Another estimate of unfunded state pension liabilities, from Pew, is $1.4 trillion.

    The prospect of lower benefits is particularly daunting for pensioners in their 60s. Those older are likely to die before a large reckoning, while those younger have years left in their careers to make new plans. But many in their 60s have spent four decades assuming a financial promise that is no longer guaranteed.

    Firefighters check equipment at the Central Falls Fire Station. The city emerged from bankruptcy in 2012. PHOTOS: GRETCHEN ERTL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL(3)

    There are few easy solutions. Cities and states can either raise taxes, cut services or become more aggressive about reducing benefits to retirees. For many years governments were unwilling to take these steps because they weren’t politically palatable, although public appetite to cut public-employee benefits is emerging, in states including Wisconsin. Many governments opted to change benefits for new employees, which in some cases didn’t fully alleviate funding woes.

    Are You on Track for Retirement?
    Age

    Current income

    Percentage of salary saved each month

    Total savings

    Include 401(k), 403(b) and 457 accounts; IRAs; brokerage and bank accounts

    Equity in home

    Home’s current value minus outstanding mortgage

    Total debt

    Include loans and credit cards; exclude mortgage

    Planned retirement age

    • 62
    • 65
    • 67
    • 70

    Note: If you have a traditional pension as opposed to 401(k) or similar accounts, this value will underestimate your actual retirement assets.

    Methodology: The choice of four retirement ages coincides with important Social Security milestones. The earliest age at which it is possible to claim Social Security is 62. For most people, a full Social Security benefit is available between ages 65 and 67. (To find the full retirement age that applies to you, look up your birth year and ‘Social Security full retirement age’). A maximum Social Security benefit is available to people who delay claiming until age 70. We assume wage growth of 1.2% a year until age 50. Calculations are in real rather than nominal terms, which means we assume you will receive annual raises that exceed inflation by 1.2% of income per year until age 50. After age 50, we assume your salary remains steady, meaning that your purchasing power keeps pace with inflation. To determine whether you are on track for retirement, we calculate your career average earnings and compare that to your projected assets at retirement age. We assume your current net assets—your assets minus debt—earn a real rate of return of 3.58% until your retirement age. The Journal used ratios of income to net assets provided by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research to estimate whether a person’s savings, in combination with Social Security, would be sufficient.

    In San Jose, Calif., voters approved cuts to police pensions in 2012 only to roll back those changes after hundreds of officers quit and the crime rate increased. The measures were revised, with savings coming in part through changes to retiree health care.

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the bulk of the police departures took place before the pension revamp as a result of earlier hiring freezes, layoffs and pay cuts. He doesn’t see the pension changes as a factor in the crime rate.

    San Jose has taken “our medicine perhaps earlier than others have,” said Mr. Liccardo. “This is medicine that hundreds of cities and many states are going to have to take,” he added.

    Retirees in other cash-strapped states said they expect to lose some of what they have been promised. “It may sustain itself before I die,” Len Shepard, 68, a retired teacher in Pennsylvania said of the pension system in his state. “But I don’t see how it can continue to do so.”

    Central Falls, which sits 7 miles north of Rhode Island’s capital, is one of several former industrial towns that speckle the Blackstone River Valley.

    It provided for public workers under a number of pension plans. Under one, firefighters hired after July 1972 could retire after 20 years of service, essentially in early middle age, receiving half of their final base salary. They could earn another 2% a year for up to five additional years of work and 1% a year after that, up to 65% of their end salary if they retired after 30 years.

    The city’s required contribution to its police and fire pensions was about $4 million in fiscal year 2011, the last fiscal year before its bankruptcy, or 20% of the total, said Finance Director Leonard Morganis.

    Central Falls didn’t pay that year, or in either of the previous two, given the severity of the city’s economic woes. Rhode Island officials then took the rare step of passing legislation that put bondholders ahead of other creditors and pensioners in the event of a municipal bankruptcy.

    After the 2011 bankruptcy, an event that received national attention amid predictions of widespread municipal failures, retirees agreed to 55% cuts because they feared facing even deeper cuts later.

    In 2011, retired police sergeant Michael Long, left, asked questions at Central Falls High School during a pension concession meeting. Retired firefighter Paul St. George listened to speakers explaining concessions. PHOTOS: STEPHAN SAVOIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS(2)

    The concessions helped Central Falls emerge from bankruptcy in 2012 and create a “rainy day fund” that now holds $2 million. The town hired a grant writer to help secure money for a new firetruck with smaller wheels custom-made for the town’s narrow streets. The truck is emblazoned with an image of Yosemite Sam dressed as a firefighter that reads “The Wild Mile,” the city’s nickname.

    Even though the town is on a better fiscal footing, and state contributions blunted the full impact of the cuts, retired workers are still grappling with how their lives were altered in matters big and small. Two men lost their homes to foreclosure after falling behind on their mortgages. Others had problems paying medical bills as they fought terminal illnesses.

    Paul Grenon when he started at the Central Falls Fire Department in 1967.
    Paul Grenon when he started at the Central Falls Fire Department in 1967. PHOTO: GRENON FAMILY

    Mr. Grenon, the firefighter who retired after he was injured, says the pension reduction left him without enough money each month to cover a $300 prescription lung medication. He has medical coverage but said the medication is beyond what is covered.

    George Aissis, a retired Central Falls firefighter, says he has so little left in his checking account he has to buy groceries when they are on sale and use as little power or gas as possible.

    Retired Central Falls firefighter George Aissis, at his Lincoln, R.I., home. Mr. Aissis holds a photo of himself taken in 1998 at the Central Falls fire station. His coat hangs in his garage. PHOTOS: GRETCHEN ERTL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL(3)

    The pension settlement cut his income by $1,200 a month to about $2,600, including an additional state contribution. On one recent Wednesday, he said there was $6.01 in his checking account.

    “I never used coupons before, but I know about coupons now,” Mr. Aissis said. “You gotta cut back on things when the money is not there.”

    Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, in an interview, called the 2011 pension cuts “unfortunate” but said they did alleviate long-term budget pressures for the city. “These aren’t big pensions, but a lot of these folks built their lives around it,” he said. “To see them get cut was devastating.”

    Under the changes, many current workers have to work longer than they thought when they signed up and some will get a lower percentage of their final salary than they would have under the old plan.

    Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.
    Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. PHOTO: GRETCHEN ERTL FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

    Some retirees whose income was cut are now arguing their benefits should be restored to prebankruptcy levels.

    The person in charge of that effort, 52-year-old former firefighter Don Cardin, acknowledged he and his colleagues have no legal recourse to restore lost benefits since they signed them away in the settlement.

    One of his bleaker arguments contends that firefighters tend to have shorter lifespans because of smoke inhalation and other workplace hazards. That means the town, which also covers some health benefits, is unlikely to have to pay the added benefits for more than a decade.

    Despite the city’s surplus, the mayor said Central Falls is unlikely to restore the pensions.

    What happened in Central Falls is “certainly not going to be a one-off,” said Robert Flanders, who acted as the city’s state-appointed receiver. “Because other cities and towns, not just in Rhode Island but across the country, are still in bad shape.”

    Write to Sarah Krouse at sarah.krouse@wsj.com

    COURTESY: WSJ

    Redding fire claims three more lives as blaze continues to burn out of control, destroying more than 500 structures

    More than a dozen people reported missing, 500 structures destroyed.

      

    A devastating wildfire in Northern California has claimed the lives of three more people as it continued to spread Saturday, threatening new communities as firefighters struggled to keep up.

    Sherry Bledsoe told the Associated Press on Saturday that her two children, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts, and her 70-year-old grandmother, Mary Bledsoe, were killed in the fire. Their deaths would bring the total number of people killed in the Carr fire to five.

    Redding police confirmed that they had received a missing persons report on Bledsoe and the two children but could not comment on details because the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department is the investigating agency.

    “My sympathy goes out to the family,” Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said at a news conference on the latest report on Bledsoe and her grandchildren.

    “I have not had a confirmation of death,” Bosenko said, but he added that his investigators are “overwhelming sure that there are decedents at the scene but no bodies have been recovered.”

    He said access is a problem. The fire consumed the Bledsoe house, he said, and the walls collapsed and the roof is covering the debris.

    A firefighter and a bulldozer operator were also killed this week battling the Carr fire. Don Ray Smith, 81, of Pollock Pines was identified by the sheriff’s office Saturday as the bulldozer operator. Smith was overtaken by the fire and his body was found by emergency personnel in the area of Benson Drive and Rock Creek Road.

    Authorities are investigating 13 other missing persons cases connected to the fire.

    Redding police Sgt. Todd Cogle said that some of those reported missing may have fled their homes without cellphones and be safe in evacuation centers or out of the area.

    “My hope is that we are able to find all of them eventually. However, the possibility does exist that there may be far more grave situations for some of them,” Cogle said.

    On Saturday morning, the Carr fire barreled toward the towns of Igo and Ono, prompting new evacuations. High temperatures in Redding were expected to hit 110 degrees Saturday and reach triple digits through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

    The challenges facing firefighters — steep terrain and hot weather combined with dry brush and other vegetation that can fuel a fire — are among the most difficult they could encounter, said Greg Bertelli, an incident commander at Cal Fire.

    “Any one of those factors will make containing a fire extremely difficult,” Bertelli said. “The Carr fire, at times, experienced all three combined. This fire is moving, at times, three or four different directions.”

    The Carr fire swept into Redding on Thursday night and has so far burned more than 80,000 acres, with only 5% containment, officials said. About 38,000 people were evacuated in Shasta County. About 5,000 structures are threatened.

    The fire also has compromised the integrity of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge, which spans Clear Creek in rural Igo, according to the California Highway Patrol.

    Bledsoe and her two great-grandchildren were reported missing late Friday by a family friend, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. They hadn’t been seen since their Redding home burned Thursday night.

    Donald Kewley, the boyfriend of Bledsoe’s granddaughter, said he called Bledsoe’s house late Thursday as the fire grew closer to the area.

    “She was screaming, ‘It’s getting closer,’ and you could hear the sirens,” Kewley told the Chronicle. “Then the phone went dead.”

    An evacuation center at Shasta College reached capacity at 8 a.m. Saturday. More than 500 people forced from their homes are bunking in the campus’ cafeteria and gymnasium, and livestock and pets are being housed in the school’s agricultural pavilion. The evacuees in the air-conditioned facilities include residents of three senior care facilities, many of whom are not mobile, according to Peter Griggs, the college’s director of marketing and outreach.

    “We are at a very safe distance,” he said.

    At a late-morning briefing at the college, ash rained down on fire officials as they told evacuees no one could answer the top question on the everyone’s mind: When can we go home?

    “This fire still has very explosive behavior,” one official told evacuees. “It’s likely to continue that way.”

    Many people who brought pets and weren’t allowed inside camped in their cars in the parking lot or on cots laid out on one of the campus’ open lawn areas.

    News of the magnitude of the property damage was just filtering through the impromptu community of evacuees Friday night.

    Dena Balding and Claire Lillian were sharing a domed camping tent and preparing for their second straight night at the evacuation site.

    “We might be here for days,” Lillian said. A police officer drove her away from her apartment on Thursday night, as she had no other means of travel. She said she appreciated the efforts of first-responders, as well as the services at the college being provided by the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.“They’re doing the best they can,” she said.

    One man crossing the evacuation lines was Jerry Kirk, a ferrier in Anderson. When the fire kicked up Thursday, Kirk wrote a Facebook post offering help evacuating livestock.

    “I’ve had two or three hours of sleep since then,” Kirk said at noon Saturday.

    With his Dodge pickup and a trailer, Kirk said he had rescued about 200 animals from rural ranches and farms, including 50 horses and numerous goats and sheep.

    Many times when he pulled onto a property, the flames were nearby and the residents and animals were panicked, he said.

    “They aren’t going to leave their animals and they are just waiting on me,” he said.

    When he arrived in Igo to pick up animals at 5 a.m. Saturday, the fire was 10 miles in the distance, he recalled.

    “Nobody was concerned or really moving that quickly,” he said. By his third trip, at 9 a.m., “there was fire right there in town.”

    In the River Ridge Park subdivision, Austin Bramson, 16, had spent months working with his father to restore a 1965 Chevrolet Nova. The classic car was almost finished, ready for the coat of paint to make it look new. They had to leave it behind in the garage as they evacuated.

    “All that work — gone,” Austin said, almost in tears, as he looked over the shell of his home.

    For others, it was agonizing to know when to flee.

    In southwest Redding on Friday evening, a spot fire broke in the hills above Cedars Road. Residents watched nervously as they packed their belongings in the 101-degree heat. Helicopters thrummed as a voice from the loudspeaker of a police cruiser told residents to get out.

    “I just kept watching things,” said Crystal Harper, who stood in her driveway with the car packed. “And it’s time.”

    “This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Steve Rice, a resident of 55 years.

    Rice watched as a young man kept driving and stopping, unsure of how to proceed.

    “There’s all kinds of people walking around that shouldn’t even be here,” said Rice, who had left garden hoses watering down his RV beside his house.

    A nearby resident could be heard yelling at a neighbor, wondering why he hadn’t made preparations to leave.

    Rice had family members sitting in a nearby vehicle ready to caravan away with him. He didn’t have time to get everything he wanted from his home.

    But he left one item intentionally — an American flag flying on a pole by his front door, a plea of sorts to firefighters.

    “Hopefully they’ll see that and protect it,” he said.

    Myers, Willon and Vives reported from Redding and Ryan from Los Angeles.

    2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with the identity of one of the fire victims.

    2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department.

    1:55 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about fire-related deaths.

    1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the evacuation of livestock.

    12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information about evacuees.

    11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with information about missing persons reports.

    9:25 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

    8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with revised fire growth figures.

    This article was originally published at 8 a.m.

    California protests over police shooting of black man

    Protests have broken out again in the capital of the US state of California after an autopsy contradicted police accounts of the shooting of a black man. Another larger rally is planned for Saturday.

    Protesters in California (Reuters/B. Strong)

    Some 200 demonstrators took to the streets of the US city of Sacramento on Friday evening after an autopsy showed that police had fatally shot an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, in the back.

    The results of the independent examination went against police statements that Clark had been approaching them when he was killed.

    The protesters gathered first at city hall before marching into the old part of the Californian capital, known for its bars and restaurants. Although the four-hour protest caused some disruption and blocked traffic, it remained largely peaceful.

    Read moreUS police say black shootings, protests make job riskier and more difficult

    Series of deaths

    Clark’s death was the latest in a series of fatal police shootings of black men that have led to protests across the United States and accusations that the American justice system is biased against the country’s black community.

    The 22-year-old father of two was shot dead in his grandparents’ yard on March 18 by police responding to a report that someone was breaking windows. Police initially said he was walking toward officers in a menacing way with an object in his hands — later found to be a cellphone — when he was killed.

    However, details from an autopsy released on Friday showed that Clark was hit six times in the back, once in the side and once in the leg.

    Autopsy diagram of Stephon Clark shooting (Getty Images/J. Sullivan)The autopsy contradicted police accounts of the killing

    ‘Questionable circumstances’

    A lawyer for Clark’s family, Benjamin Crump said: “This independent autopsy affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances.”

    The fact that Clark took three to 10 minutes to die, with police waiting some five minutes to render aid, has further fueled anger and grief at his death.

     Bennet Omalu (picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Pedroncelli)The autopsy was carried out by famed pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu

    The killing had already sparked numerous peaceful protests in the past two weeks, and another is planned for Saturday afternoon, this time organized by former NBA player Matt Barnes.

    The rally is planned to take place just hours before a major basketball game in a downtown arena will draw thousands of fans.

    Hand holding up picture of Stephon Clark (Getty Images/J. Sullivan)Several protests have already taken place over Clark’s death

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday that the shooting was a “local matter.”

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said state justice officials will oversee the investigation and look into Sacramento police procedures and practices.

    tj/rc (Reuters, AP)

    Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

    COURTESY: DW

    Anti-Trump protesters put their message to the president in lights

    Jesse Madera holds a flag that is an amalgamation of the U.S. and Mexico flags while he and other people chant, protesting President Trump.
    Jesse Madera holds a flag that is an amalgamation of the U.S. and Mexico flags while he and other people chant, protesting President Trump. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)
    Tudor Popescu
    Tudor Popescu (Melissa Etehad / Los Angeles Times)

    A few hundred protesters assembled outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel on Tuesday night as they awaited the expected arrival of President Trump, who attended a fundraiser in Beverly Park earlier in the evening.

    Chants of “Not my president, not my system” echoed down the block as curious bystanders stood nearby.

    Tudor Popescu, 38, brought a projector to cast “Oppose Racism. Oppose Trump” in bright lettering on Figueroa Tower across the street from the hotel. Trump has frequently been the target of strongly worded messages projected onto the Washington, D.C., hotel bearing his name.

    Popescu, a software engineer, said he spent the day protesting in Beverly Hills and traveled with about 15 other protesters on a bus to downtown L.A.

    “It’s a sad day to have Trump here,” he said. “But our spirit isn’t broken.”

    Protesters rally at 7th and Figueroa streets waiting for the arrival of President Trump to the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel.
    Protesters rally at 7th and Figueroa streets waiting for the arrival of President Trump to the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
    Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel at 7th and Figueroa streets
    Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel at 7th and Figueroa streets (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

    Protesters make their presence known across the street from the Intercontinental Hotel where President was staying in

    Courtesy: L A Times

     

     

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