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Firefighters make progress against big fires in US West
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LOS ANGELES — Dozens of wildfires burned across the torrid U.S. West on Monday, but fire agencies reported some progress in corralling the flames and forecasters predicted a gradual decrease in extreme temperatures.

The fires have forced evacuations in numerous areas with scattered homes and tiny communities where some burned houses and other structures have been observed, but total losses were still being tallied.

The fires erupted as the West was in the grip of the second bout of dangerously high temperatures in just a few weeks. A climate change-fueled megadrought also is making conditions that lead to fire even more dangerous, scientists say.

The National Weather Service said, however, that the heat wave appeared to have peaked in many areas, and excessive-heat warnings were largely expected to expire by Monday night or Tuesday.

The two largest fires were burning forests in northeastern California and southern Oregon, sending smoke across other states.

The Beckwourth Complex, two lightning-ignited blazes, covered about 140 square miles on Northern California’s border with Nevada. Plumas National Forest officials said firefighters successfully contained almost a quarter of the blaze but still expected some extreme fire activity.

Evacuation orders were in effect for more than 3,000 residents of remote areas of California’s Lassen and Plumas counties and Nevada’s Washoe County. Some structures were destroyed over the weekend in Doyle, California, a town of about 600 residents.

“A damage assessment team has arrived to validate and assess reports of structures damaged or destroyed,” a forest statement said.

In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire covered 240 square miles in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, near the Klamath County town of Sprague River.

After doubling in size at least twice over the weekend, it grew only incrementally Sunday, a sign of some progress, said Rich Saalsaa, spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal.

“It’s allowed firefighters to build more lines and go on the offensive,” Saalsaa said.

Seven homes and 43 outbuildings have been destroyed in an area on the south end of the blaze, Saalsaa said.

“Most of these places are not within a community per se. Maybe they’re the same postal zone. But it’s kind of scattered out there, very remote,” Saalsaa said.

Some 1,926 homes were within the current evacuation zone, he said, but he didn’t know how many people that includes.

Firefighters were contending with erratic winds, but temperatures were slightly lower.

In central Oregon, a wildfire that started Sunday near the resort town of Sisters doubled in size to 6.2 square miles.

The Bootleg Fire disrupted service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to California, where the state’s grid operator asked for voluntary power conservation from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to ease the strain. The timing coincides with decreasing generation from solar facilities as night falls.

Elsewhere, a forest fire started during lightning storms in southeast Washington grew to 86 square miles. It was 20% contained Monday.

Another fire west of Winthrop closed the scenic North Cascades Highway, the most northern route through the Cascade Range. The road provides access to North Cascades National Park and the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little mobilized the National Guard to help fight twin lightning-sparked fires that have together charred nearly 24 square miles of dry timber in the remote, drought-stricken region.

A new fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park and by evening had exploded over more than 6 square miles, triggering evacuations in areas of two counties. The fire’s size, however, remained unchanged early Monday and was 5% contained. A highway that leads to Yosemite’s southern entrance remained open.

The July heat wave follows an unusual June siege of broiling temperatures in the West, and comes amid worsening drought conditions throughout the region.

Global warming has contributed to the megadrought and is making plants more prone to burning. Human-caused climate change and decades of fire suppression that increases fuel loads have aggravated fire conditions across the West, scientists say.

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Pinal woman's old record collection reminds her of her younger days
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PICACHO -- Sandra Bradley’s record collection once filled an entire room.

Now consolidated to a modest book case in her Picacho living room, the collection reminds her of her childhood in Chicago, listening as musicians who would become legends rehearsed.

“Jazz music reminds me of my life,” she said. “When I listen to it, I can see my family sitting in the living room, playing records. We would dance and eat popcorn. Those are happy memories.”

At age 80 and suffering from Stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Bradley said the records are comforting to her.

One of her favorite songs to listen to when she is feeling stressed or overwhelmed is “Rescue Me” by Fantella Bass.

“Whenever I have enough breath, I still dance,” she said. “But I tire easily now.”

While Bradley is a self-described “jazz fanatic,” she said she appreciates all styles of music. The dates of the records in her collection range from 1903 through the disco era and into the 1990s and include 45 and 78 rpm discs and their original packaging.

Some of the rarest in her collection were manufactured by RCA Victor in the pre-Depression era.

Bradley started collecting records when she was a child and continued into adulthood.

For many years in the early 1940s, Bradley’s father owned a music store and worked for a record player manufacturing company. Her collection started with many of the records he would bring home for the family.

“Our friends would come over and look at the records. We would charge them a penny to see the records and a nickel for us to put it on the record player and play it,” she said.

The records in Bradley’s collection are an eclectic mix of jazz, R&B, soft rock, disco, rock and a variety of other genres. They reflect the various changes throughout her life, she said.

As a child, her home was near a theater where musicians, including Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Pearl Bailey and others, would rehearse. She would linger off stage in the theater to listen to the music.

“I was 8 years old when I first heard Nat King Cole’s voice, and I loved it,” Bradley said. “It was soothing and mellow. The theater had a spiral staircase and we would listen and dance. I heard a lot of greats practice in that theater.”

She became a fan of acid rock when she met her longtime boyfriend Randy in the 1990s.

“He had a lot of records too. At first we didn’t like the same kind of music. He listened to acid, and I liked jazz. But we would play our records and we grew to love each other’s music,” she said. “We were together 15 years, sharing our love of music.”

Randy died in 2006.

Bradley’s record collection does not include hip hop, rap or much of the music from the current decade, although she does enjoy listening to Usher.

“I don’t like any kind of music that belittles women, glorifies violence or puts down other races,” she said. “But other than that, I love all music.”

Bradley moved to Casa Grande in the 1980s to live closer to her brother, who also has an extensive record collection.

For years she worked as a house cleaner and later as a caretaker for the Dr. James O’Neil family.

“I loved this area as soon as I got here,” she said. “It was quiet and friendly and there was no gang violence.”

She attended culinary school to learn more about her other favorite pastime, cooking. She enjoys cooking a French-inspired version of soul food. Her specialty, she said, is chicken and dumplings.

“I love to put on my records and dance and cook,” she said. “Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith are some of my favorites to listen to when I cook.”

Bradley prefers listening to her records on a classic record player. She has never digitized her collection and doesn’t have access to the internet.

A few years ago, her record player broke and she hasn’t been able to replace it or fix it. But she says she doesn’t need it.

“I’ve listened to those records so many times I can play them in my mind now anytime I want,” she said. “If I get upset or need to relax, I just listen to Billie Holiday in my mind and I can see her singing and feel the fabric of her gown.”

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County discovered unpaid rent nearly 2 years ago, allowed it to continue

FLORENCE — Pinal County staff first learned almost two years ago that a dentist had been operating rent-free in a county-owned building in Eloy, but have allowed the practice to continue up to now.

The county recently told the dentist, Dr. Russell Taylor, that his lease is terminated when it expires next month. With no rent collected over a six-year period, county taxpayers are due approximately $100,000, according to the lease.

Pinal County spokesman James Daniels told PinalCentral by email that county staff are confident this is “an isolated case,” and no other rents are going unpaid.

“Apart from space at our airports and cell tower leases, the county only tends to lease space to other government entities and nonprofits,” Daniels said. “This is a unique situation and one that we believe to be an isolated case, but of course, checks are being made to confirm this.”

Daniels said there is no evidence so far that any county official told the Taylors they did not have to pay rent. The Board of Supervisors will provide direction at some point on whether to pursue the Taylors for nonpayment, Daniels said.

County staff first discovered the nonpayment in October 2019 after a staffing change. A letter was sent to the dentist requesting payment, stipulating that the county would pursue all remedies if payment was not made.

“It is not clear why this legal avenue was not followed through when payment was not made,” Daniels said, “and unfortunately those who might be able to shed some light — the county manager at the time, the finance director at the time and the attorney who handled this case at the time — are no longer with the county.”

Management of leases has been transitioning to Pinal County’s real estate division within Public Works over the past couple of years to provide a more efficient process. “And it was this improvement in process that flagged this issue again earlier this year,” Daniels said. Another letter was sent with no response from the dentist and continued nonpayment, so the decision was made to terminate the lease on its expiration in August, Daniels said.

Pinal County Attorney spokesman Michael Pelton said by email, “The Pinal County Attorney’s office is aware of the issue and has been working with county staff to identify what happened, why it happened and to evaluate all available options. As the legal advisers for the county, PCAO will evaluate and, if requested, make recommendations, but ultimately, county management will decide what steps the county takes moving forward.”

Taylor previously told PinalCentral that his father, Dr. Malcolm Taylor, first began seeing patients in Eloy in 1966, before Pinal County owned the building. The office at 302 E. Fifth St. shares a building with a Pinal County Public Health clinic.

Taylor typically only saw patients in Eloy on Fridays, and after the onset of the pandemic, was only there every-other Friday.