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Brush fire north of Phoenix forces evacuation of 250 people

CAVE CREEK (AP) — High winds caused a brush fire in a town north of Phoenix to nearly quadruple in size to 2.3 square miles and forced the evacuation of 132 homes, officials said Monday.

No homes have burned in Cave Creek, but the fire came within 100 yards of some houses. Many other evacuated homes were less than a mile from the blaze. About 250 people in Cave Creek, located 33 miles north of downtown Phoenix, were evacuated.

East Desert Fire Near Cave Creek 5/18/20

The fire started Sunday afternoon and had grown to about half a square mile by late evening.

Then, the winds picked up, causing fire to spread through a green space, into the desert, over a mountain and move toward neighborhoods, said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Similar conditions were expected Monday, with winds in the area forecast to reach up to 30 mph.

Another complicating factor was the density of vegetation, which had grown significantly thicker due to heavy rains last year, said Brent Fenton, a spokesman for Daisy Mountain Medical and Fire, which was the first agency to respond to the fire.

“Everything is pretty crispy out here,” said Davila.

As of Monday morning, crews had completed building 20% of the protection lines around the blaze in an attempt to contain the flames.

Airplanes were dropping retardant, and a helicopter was hitting the fire with water.

In addition to building containment lines, crews also were clearing away brush between homes and the fire.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Article unites CG family with relatives in Israel

CASA GRANDE -- When her home telephone rang at 7:30 one morning a few weeks ago, Susan Wortman considered just letting it ring.

But she decided to answer the call, and the resulting conversation changed her life. On the other end was a distant cousin of her husband’s. He was calling from Israel and had been searching for Susan and Randy Wortman for years.

“I didn’t even know these cousins existed,” Susan said.

The Israeli branch of the family found its American cousin through an article about Randy and Susan that ran in the Casa Grande Dispatch and on PinalCentral in July.

“If not for the article, I don’t think they would have found me,” Wortman said.

Randy Wortman died about three months ago, but connecting with his European cousins has led Susan to learn stories about the family she never knew and those stories will be passed on to her daughter and grandchildren.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know these family members,” Wortman said. “I’m learning stuff about Randy’s family that I never knew. There are so many pieces of the puzzle out there, and we’re starting to connect the pieces.”

Through the newly found family members, Susan said she learned that Randy’s parents, Sylvia and Sol Wortman, helped the Israeli branch of the family during World War II.

“Sol Wortman came to the United States in the 1920s, but most of his family stayed behind in Poland,” Wortman said. “Some went to Israel.”

Those who remained in Poland died during the Holocaust, Wortman said, but some made it to Israel.

Throughout the war, Sol and Sylvia Wortman sent food, clothing and money to the family in Palestine, which helped them survive.

In the years after the war, Sylvia Wortman wrote letters to the family and often mentioned her son Randy in the letters.

“The woman in Israel Sylvia was writing to, Sarah, learned to read and write English by reading Sylvia’s letters,” Wortman said. “It was her son (Mo Wortman) who wanted to find Randy.”

Later, the American Wortmans helped some of the Israeli Wortmans immigrate to the United States.

“Sol and Sylvia were very humble and didn’t talk about what they had done for other members of the family,” Susan said. “But Sol and Sylvia were very important to the family members who they’d helped. They kept a photo of Sol and Sylvia on their wall. But over the years, they lost contact.”

Through an internet search, one cousin discovered a July article in the Casa Grande Dispatch about Randy and Susan writing a book.

Susan and Randy spent decades working in education in Casa Grande and Chicago.

Randy was suffering from Parkinson’s disease at the time, and the couple was working to preserve the stories about their careers and family.

Randy was a physics teacher and school administrator in Chicago and later became the first principal at Casa Grande Union High School after the new campus on Trekell Road opened in 1997. He was also a principal at the district’s Desert Winds campus.

After the initial early morning phone call, the family held a mini family reunion via Zoom.

“We ended up having a Zoom call with 11 people in three countries,” Wortman said. “Five cousins live in Israel, one in London, England, one in Rochester, New York, and the rest of us live in Arizona, California, Washington and Illinois.”

Susan’s oldest grandson, now 17, plans to visit Israel next year and hopes to meet the cousins in person.

Susan also hopes to travel to Israel to meet them.

The Israeli cousins are working to create a family tree for the next generation of Wortmans.

“It gets bigger each day,” Wortman said.

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Company buys property next to CG open pit mine

CASA GRANDE — Elim Mining has purchased an additional 160 acres south of the mine tailing area for the old Sacaton Unit mine, now known as Cactus Mine, for exploration.

The company announced the purchase of the property for $1.2 million on Friday.

“The advancement by our team of the Cactus Mine continues to be aggressive yet meticulous. We have been working hard to secure properties, drill, confirm historic information and complete an economic study. We are excited about the potential this site brings,” Elim Mining President and CEO John Antwi stated in an email.

Historic drilling on and around the property near Casa Grande off Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway indicates that there may be some good opportunities in the area, according to Adam Hawkins from Global External Relations, a company hired by Elim for public relations. The company plans to continue exploring the new property throughout 2020.

The company also closed on a $1.83 million financial agreement with a group of individual investors, some of them already owning stock in Elim, Hawkins said. The agreement helped cover the purchase price of the new property and will provide additional funding for operations. Elim is continuing to work on a larger financial package to further fund the mine, he said.

The company is still working through the final stages of funding, property acquisition, site characterization and operations plan but hopes to have more news on jobs, site plans and production later this year, he said.

Arizona lawmakers push to shield people from being arrested for violating stay-home orders

PHOENIX — Arizonans who violate current or future gubernatorial executive orders would no longer face the possibility of getting locked up, under a proposal being considered by legislators.

Legislation proposed by state Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would set the maximum penalty for violating emergency orders at a civil fine of no more than $100.

By contrast, current law makes it a criminal misdemeanor with the potential of six months behind bars and a $2,500 fine.

The measure also would allow police to issue a citation only after an individual or business has first been warned about the violation and chooses not to comply. Even then, Kavanagh’s proposal would allow someone to escape the penalty entirely by going to court and showing he or she is now abiding by the order.

Most immediately affected would be what’s left of executive orders issued by Gov. Doug Ducey during the COVID-19 pandemic. While he has dissolved his stay-home order and allowed most businesses to reopen, the governor has mandated that they comply with various directives including social distancing of staff and patrons.

During public appearances, Ducey has used the threat of jail to try to keep retailers and restaurants from reopening before he said they could.

Kavanagh said he sees it as basic logic to take the issue out of the criminal code.

“First of all, nobody’s enforcing the current penalty, either because they think it’s unfair or they think the whole process is unfair,” he said. Several county sheriffs have publicly declared they and their deputies will not issue citations.

“Add to that the utter confusion of COVID,” Kavanagh said.

Initial advice told people not to wear a mask, but now, wearing masks is the protocol, he said, as an example.

“There’s too much confusion over this particular issue to hold people to criminal standards,” Kavanagh said.

He dismissed the idea that eliminating the threat of jail time and stiff fines would lead to less compliance with what remains of Ducey’s orders.

“I think people are going to obey because they want to obey the law and I don’t think the penalty necessarily is what determines compliance,” Kavanagh said. The key is providing clarity so people know what they are meant to do, he said.

Still up in the air is whether Ducey will accept the changes. “We do not comment on draft legislation,” said gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak.

Kavanagh conceded he has not run the wording by the governor’s staff. But he said he’s presuming Ducey will go along.

“There’s been a lot of negative public reaction to criminalization,” Kavanagh said. “And he’s very responsible to the will of the people.”

House Speaker Rusty Bowers pointed out that the penalties are not new. He said they were added years ago when legislators first approved laws designed to give all governors special powers to deal with an emergency.

“The misdemeanor wasn’t created for COVID,” Bowers said.

But now that people have had a chance to see how that law works, Bowers said he and his colleagues believe a criminal penalty is not necessary.

The measure is expected to be voted on Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee, which Kavanagh chairs.