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California ablaze; Las Vegas aftermath; Drying wells

HCN.org news in brief.


The massive wildfires in Northern California in mid-October forced thousands to quickly evacuate their homes as the fires advanced on neighborhoods and wineries. The American Red Cross set up makeshift evacuation centers in veterans’ halls, churches and schools to accommodate the hundreds seeking refuge, some who had lost everything.

Firefighters from other states and as far away as Australia came to fight the blazes, whose cause is still unclear, and President Donald Trump approved emergency disaster relief funds to help fight the blaze that spanned hundreds of thousands of acres. Over 40 people lost their lives.

Donations poured in from all over the country to places like the Grace Pavilion at Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, where 700 people slept one night in October. One woman who was staying at the shelter, Toni Anderson, had been awoken at 4 a.m. and given five minutes to evacuate. “They were worried the ammunition store nearby was going to blow,” she said.

Many of the volunteers at the ad hoc shelters were affected by the fires themselves. Jodi Alton, normally an administrative assistant with the city of Santa Rosa, was helping run an evacuation facility. “Yesterday morning I could see flames from my house and could hear propane tanks (at people’s houses) blowing up,” she said. “It sounded like a war zone.” Alton’s sister in-law, a deputy sheriff, had been called to patrol evacuated neighborhoods to deter looting.

Red Cross shelter site manager Roy Pitts, also a local resident, oversaw the Grace Pavilion shelter, helping direct new arrivals and handing out donations. “The number-one question for people,” he said, “is, ‘When do I get to go home?’” —Tay Wiles

A woman walks through the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California, on Oct. 11, where hundreds of people evacuated from the fire took refuge.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Large-scale October wildfires forced tribal members in Northern California to evacuate. “The fire was on both sides of the road, and we could feel the heat,” said Robert Geary, a member of the Elem Indian Colony of Pomo Indians. After leading a convoy of tribal members, including elders and small children, through the smoke, Geary and others returned to aid firefighters and begin cleanup. Some tribes were not directly hit, like the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, who sheltered people affected by the fires in their casino resort in partnership with the Red Cross. “We’ll be here as long as it’s needed,” said Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon III. —Debra Utacia Krol

Other news:

40 PERCENT of permanent National Park Service employees who reported some form of harassment in their jobs over 12 months, a new survey found. —Lyndsey Gilpin

1 IN 30 groundwater wells in the West went dry between 2013 and 2015, according to a new study. —Emily Benson

20 BILLION barrels of oil lie below the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain, and it should be drilled to reduce the national debt, according to Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who helped convince his House colleagues to include a push for drilling in a new budget resolution they passed in October. —Rebecca Worby

Louise Johns
“This family’s search for balance in a landscape is both courageous and uplifting, leaving me with hope for a future that values working with the wild.”

—Louise Johns, who has photographed Hilary Zaranek-Anderson and her range-riding family in Montana’s Tom Miner Basin over the last four years.

Some of the 58 crosses set up to memorialize victims who died in the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip in early October.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

On the night of Oct. 1, a gunman opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort onto a crowd gathered at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. By the nights end, 59 people had died, including the gunman, and 546 were injured. The victims and survivors of the deadliest shooting in recent American history spanned ages and demographics. They included students, police officers, teachers, tribal members and veterans. To share your thoughts with us about how the shooting affected you as a Westerner, please consider using our tip form.

Our readers reflect:

“We need a system to do better background checks. I think the momentum has started to do this. Regretfully, it’s too late for the victims of past shootings.”   Fritz Kindberg

“For those of us that choose to make Las Vegas home, it is comforting to see how we have banded together during and after this terrible tragedy. We are a small island of private land surrounded by an ocean of public land, and we care deeply about our community and the people that make it special. Sadly, it has taken an event like this to help others recognize the same thing.”     Mike Ford

“I know people who were there and escaped. I used to live nearby in Las Vegas, but after Sandy Hook, and so many others, it all gets too relentless to feel. As a country, we do not need to feel distanced and apart from these tragedies; we need to own what is happening.”   —Anonymous

In memory of those who died in Las Vegas, from around the West and beyond:

Hannah Lassette Ahlers, Beaumont, California |Heather Lorraine Alvarado, Cedar City, Utah | Dorene Anderson, Anchorage, Alaska | Carrie Rae Barnette, Riverside, California | Jack Reginald Beaton, Bakersfield, California | Stephen Richard Berger, Minnesota | Candice Ryan Bowers, Garden Grove, California | Denise Burditus, West Virginia | Sandra Casey, Redondo Beach, California | Andrea Lee Anna Castilla, Huntington Beach, California | Denise Cohen, Carpinteria, California | Austin William Davis, Riverside, California | Thomas Day Jr., Corona, California | Christiana Duarte, Torrance, California | Stacee Ann Etcheber, Novato, California | Brian S. Fraser, La Palma, California | Keri Galvan, Thousand Oaks, California | Dana Leann Gardner, Grand Terrace, California | Angela C. Gomez, Riverside, California | Rocio Guillen, Eastvale, California | Charleston Hartfield, Las Vegas, Nevada | Christopher Hazencomb, Camarillo, California | Jennifer Topaz Irvine, San Diego, California | Teresa Nicol Kimura, Placentia, California | Jessica Klymchuk, Canada | Carly Anne Kreibaum, Iowa | Rhonda M. LeRocque, Massachusetts | Victor L. Link, Orange County, California | Jordan Mclldoon, Canada | Kelsey Breanne Meadows, Taft, California | Calla-Marie Medig, Canada | James Melton, Tennessee | Patricia Mestas, Menifee, California | Austin Cooper Meyer, Reno, Nevada | Adrian Allan Murfitt, Anchorage, Alaska | Rachael Kathleen Parker, Manhattan Beach, California | Jennifer Parks, Lancaster, California | Carolyn Lee Parsons, Bainbridge Island, Washington | Lisa Marie Patterson, Lomita, California | John Joseph Phippen, Santa Clarita, California | Melissa V. Ramirez, Los Angeles, California | Jordyn N. Rivera, La Verne, California | Quinton Robbins, Henderson, Nevada | Cameron Robinson, St. George, Utah | Tara Ann Roe, Canada | Lisa Romero-Muniz, Gallup, New Mexico | Christopher Louis Roybal, Aurora, Colorado | Brett Schwanbeck, Bullhead City, Arizona | Bailey Schweitzer, Bakersfield, California | Laura Anne Shipp, Las Vegas, Nevada | Erick Silva, Las Vegas, Nevada | Susan Smith, Simi Valley, California | Brennan Lee Stewart, Las Vegas, Nevada | Derrick Dean Taylor, Oxnard, California | Neysa C. Tonks, Las Vegas, Nevada | Michelle Vo, Eagle Rock, California | Kurt Allen Von Tillow, Cameron Park, California | William W. Wolfe Jr., Pennsylvania