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Massive wildfires burn around Arizona, force evacuations

PHOENIX (AP) — Firefighters across Arizona were working to gain ground Monday against massive wildfires that led to surrounding communities evacuating.

In the foothills and mountains outside of Tucson, the so-called Bighorn Fire spread to higher elevations overnight. The 23-square-mile (60-square-kilometer) blaze was 30% contained by Monday afternoon, fire officials said. But the fire now is burning heavier fuels, which crews say will lead to denser smoke.

Some of the roughly 630 personnel working on that blaze will focus on strengthening fire lines on Mt. Lemmon. Others will be on the blaze's north edge toward the town of Oro Valley looking for possible containment areas.

Crews are trying to keep the fire at bay from the areas of East Golder Ranch and Ventana Canyon. The Pima County Sheriff's Office on Sunday allowed residents who had been evacuated from the area of East Golder Ranch Drive and East Rollins Road to return. But they are urged to stay vigilant in case evacuations are enforced again.

Three people have been treated for minor heat-related illness, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The lightning-caused fire started June 5. It is burning in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest.

Wildfire Near Tucson 6/13/20

Meanwhile, fire crews believe a community in Arizona's high country is in less danger from a blaze in the Kaibab National Forest.

The fire, which was 39 square miles (101 square kilometers), is 2% contained and about 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) southwest of Jacob Lake. On Sunday, the wildfire spread north toward Mangum Springs burning grass, brush, pinon and juniper.

Crews on Monday plan to build fire lines on the north flank northeast of Highway 89A, fire officials said. Thus, Highway 89A is closed from Marble Canyon to Fredonia and Highway 67 to the Grand Canyon. The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park also remains closed.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

In central Arizona, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Phoenix, a wildfire has forced residents in the communities of Tonto Basin and Punkin Center to evacuate their homes. The American Red Cross has set up a shelter at Lee Kornegay School in Miami, according to emergency management in Gila County.

The fire has closed the area around Beeline Highway and Bush Highway.

The so-called Bush Fire, as of Monday, was 22 square miles (57 square kilometers) with zero containment. It has been burning mostly tall grass and brush in the Tonto National Forest near the Four Peaks Wilderness Area. More than 300 personnel are working on the fire.

It was first reported Saturday afternoon and investigators say it appears to be human caused.

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CG woman, retired teacher puts creative and baking skills to the test on 'Nailed It!'

CASA GRANDE -- For retired teacher and amateur cake maker Gail DePadre, baking is a creative passion.

And as a contestant in a recent episode of the Netflix original baking competition “Nailed It!,” she put her creative and baking talents to the test before a cast of judges and a nationwide audience.

“My grandchildren watch the show and love it,” she said. “Since I bake a lot, they thought I should go on the show.”

“Nailed It!” is a competitive baking show on Netflix in which amateur bakers follow directions to make and decorate specific themed cakes and cookies while being timed.

There are two specific baking challenges in each 35-minute episode. A panel of judges reviews the cookies or cakes for each segment and a winner is declared.

DePadre appeared on the first episode of Season 4, which premiered in April. The episode, “Let’s Get Lit,” had a literature theme with bakers making Shakespeare-inspired stained-glass window cookies and a “Moby Dick” cake.

The show host is actress Nicole Byer and celebrity judges for the episode were chef Jacques Torres and actor Matt Walsh.

DePadre said the journey from filming to waiting for the show to be released began nearly two years ago.

“The application process started with me sending an email and pictures of a cake I had made. I sent the email and I didn’t give it a second thought,” she said.

Nearly eight months later, she received a phone call from a show.

“I was grocery shopping at the time and nearly dropped my groceries,” she said.

She went through a series of phone and Skype interviews before being asked to submit a series of audition videos.

“They needed videos of me baking and explaining what I’m doing every step of the way,” she said.

For the audition video, DePadre made a caterpillar cake based off the book “The Hungry Caterpillar.”

“After I sent the audition video, I panicked until I finally got a call about a week later,” she said.


Gail DePadre on the set of “Nailed It!”

After sending photos of good cakes and bad cakes, she was flown to Los Angeles for a taping of the show.

“We were on the set for 12 hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she said. “It was a fun but frustrating experience. Everything on the set was unfamiliar to me. There were a lot of different utensils than I’m used to and when I’m home, I have a certain way of doing things.”

In the first segment of the “Let’s Get Lit” episode, competitors were tasked with making stained-glass window and Romeo and Juliet cookies. Crushed hard candy was used to make the stained-glass, but in the episode, DePadre makes an error in selecting the candy and her stained glass does not set in the cookie.

“I am in a Shakespearean comedy of errors right now,” she says during the episode.

“It was very frustrating using tools I had never used before in a high-pressure situation,” she said. “Even going into the pantry, you have to run and get stuff. In the end, I was a little embarrassed by what I had made.”

In the second segment of the episode, contestants made a cake depicting a whale rising up from the water with a small boat nearby.

DePadre later described the cake she made on the show as “the worst thing I ever created.”

“I’m meticulous about my cakes,” DePadre said. “But it was difficult to make a cake in a high pressure situation with a time limit.”

DePadre, a retired teacher who taught at Casa Grande Middle School, said she loves making cakes. Over the years, she has made dozens for her grandchildren, friends and others.

“When I first had grandchildren, I wanted to do something special for them and make special cakes, so I looked online for recipes and watched the Food Network for ideas,” she said.

Her grandchildren are now older and request specific cakes. Her granddaughter recently asked for a birthday cake resembling a pineapple. Another wanted a “Planet of the Apes” theme cake.

“Cake pops or cake balls are my specialty, and one year I did an ‘Angry Birds’ cake made out of cake pops,” she said. “I make all my cakes 99 percent edible.”


Gail DePadre made a caterpillar cake for her audition video for “Nailed It!”

DePadre has lived in Casa Grande since 1976. She has two grown children and seven grandchildren.

Being on “Nailed It!” was thrilling, she said.

“Even though I was embarrassed by what I made on ‘Nailed It!,’ I still felt special that I was selected to be on the show,” she said. “They receive thousands of applications and only three people are chosen for each episode.”

Despite virus surge, Arizona governor won't require masks

PHOENIX — Coronavirus infections are surging in Arizona. Hospitalizations are increasing and more people are dying since the state relaxed stay-at-home orders last month.

But in one of the nation’s COVID-19 hot spots, Gov. Doug Ducey is not requiring residents of the Grand Canyon State to wear masks in public, and it seems a good many people agree with him.

In shopping malls, restaurants and the crowded bar scenes of Scottsdale and Tempe, most patrons have disdained the use of cloth face masks that health officials advocate to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Robert Fowler, a truck driver in Phoenix, wears a mask as required for work but otherwise he goes about mask-free.

“I’m not worried about it,” Fowler said while waiting for a table Thursday at Snooze A.M. Eatery, where the patio was full and only employees were seen donning face masks.

Despite COVID-19 case numbers trending upward, Fowler has no plans to change.

“Everybody’s going to get COVID one way or the other eventually,” he said. “People are gonna do what they want to do regardless.”

In a red state with a Republican governor, the trend seems to be to follow President Donald Trump’s lead. Get the state reopened and keep the face masks in your pocket — that’s where Ducey kept his Thursday during a news conference in which he dismissed concerns that the dramatic increase in virus cases may overwhelm hospitals.

The governor did say he recommended wearing masks when social distancing is impossible, but he has rarely been seen wearing one himself. Ducey wore one when he met last month with Trump, who wasn’t wearing one, at a Honeywell plant ramping up mask production.

“There are some people that can’t wear masks for whatever reason, shortness of breath or they are asthmatic,” Ducey said in response to a question about why he wasn’t requiring masks. “But we want to do a better job from a public health communications standpoint that masks are a good thing when you can’t social distance — wear a mask, wash your hands.”

Some think the governor is making a mistake. Ricky Young, who wore a mask for her appointment at a Phoenix salon, said it’s “ridiculous” that the public at large isn’t wearing masks inside stores and other businesses.

“I wear it for my safety and for the other person’s safety,” said Young, who is 93. “Let’s cooperate. I’ve lived too long.”

She also found it perplexing that Ducey hasn’t worn a mask in public appearances or in meetings. She believes he’s putting off the inevitable decision to reimpose stay-at-home orders and wonders if he’s acting out of politics.

“I think he’s stupid,” Young said “He baffles me. Sometimes he’s too cozy with Trump.”

Public health and medical officials outside state government have started pleading with Arizonans to wear masks after a recent surge in cases that is threatening to set off a cascade of new hospitalizations. They note scientific evidence that wearing cloth masks in public prevents people who don’t realize they’re infected from spreading the virus, and protects those not exposed as well.

Some parts of the country have acted on masks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered residents to wear masks in public places in April; In California, counties have the option to require masks and some have done so.

With nearly all of Ducey’s closure orders ended, pushing social distancing and requiring masks are about all that can be done to prevent transmission of an airborne virus in public spaces.

Not all of Arizona is a mask-optional zone: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport started requiring everyone on airport property to wear masks on June 1, Phoenix and Maricopa County have started requiring employees to wear masks, and Arizona State University announced Friday that students, staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings when inside or in areas where social distancing isn’t possible, effective immediately.

“ASU had already announced this requirement for the start of the fall semester,” President Michael Crown said in a statement. “But, given the current rise in COVID-19 cases we’re seeing in Arizona and a lax attitude toward face coverings and other social distancing measures since Gov. Ducey’s Stay At Home Executive Order was lifted, we feel it is important to accelerate our policy.”

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County’s disease control director, on Wednesday said the county is now urging everyone to wear masks in public. That’s a reversal for Sunenshine, who early in the pandemic said there was no evidence masks could help prevent the virus’ spread.

“Now there is a mounting body of scientific evidence that shows that a cloth face mask, a well-fitted cloth face mask, can prevent COVID-19 from spreading,” Sunenshine said. She also noted a huge surge of cases in the county, the state’s most populous. A full 27% of the cases have come in the past week.

Testing has been increasing in Arizona, which raises the chance of finding new cases. But the proportion of tests coming back positive also has been rising.

An Associated Press analysis found Arizona had a rolling average of fewer than 400 new cases a day at the time the shutdown was lifted May 15, but it shot up two weeks later and surpassed 1,000 new cases a day by early this week. Hospitalizations also have risen dramatically, hitting the 1,200 mark a week ago.

The state passed another grim milestone June 5, marking its 1,000th death. As of Saturday, the state’s death toll was 1,183. An additional 1,540 cases were reported Saturday, increasing the statewide total to 34,458.

Since restaurants were allowed to do dine-in last month, four have had to close because of COVID-19 exposure. Two of those closures, a Phoenix restaurant and a Tempe brewery, happened this week.

Shelby Quinn, 22, wears a mask at the athletic wear store where she works and when she goes out because of an autoimmune disorder. But she’s skeptical of making face masks mandatory.

“Personally, I feel like it’s up to them. It’s definitely their choice,” Quinn said. “But I wouldn’t try to force it on them.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Eloy continues to see jump in COVID-19 cases

PHOENIX — Eloy has passed Florence with the second highest number of positive cases of coronavirus reported in Pinal County, health officials said.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, Eloy reported 28 new cases of the virus Monday morning, bringing its total to 283. Casa Grande continues to be the top hot spot in the county with 289 overall cases reported. The city’s ZIP codes saw eight new cases reported Monday morning.

Eloy now has a rate of 14.6 positive cases per 1,000 population, well above Florence at 7 per 1,000 and Casa Grande, 5 per 1,000.

Guards at the Eloy ICE Detention Center wrote on Facebook that a sergeant died from COVID-19 complications and that 123 people detained there have tested positive, according to MotherJones magazine.

A CoreCivic spokesperson says the guard died on Sunday “due to potential COVID-19 related issues” and last worked at Eloy June 7.

A day after recording no new cases, Pinal County reported 68 new cases on Monday, for a total of 1,568.

Statewide as of Monday, there have been 36,705 positive cases reported, up 1,014 from Sunday.

There were also eight new deaths reported in the state, bringing the total number to 1,194.

The overall number of cases includes people who have recovered or didn’t show symptoms.

The were 1,449 patients hospitalized for positive or suspected instances of COVID-19 on Sunday. It marks two weeks straight of at least 1,000 hospitalizations. The state’s hospitals were at about 82% capacity. Eighty percent is the cutoff for suspending elective surgeries to save space for a potential surge in virus cases.

Health department officials have said they were not yet halting surgeries as they review the capacity numbers.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.