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California suburbs again under siege from wind-driven fires

VENTURA (AP) — For the second time in two months, wind-driven fires tore through California communities in the middle of the night, leaving rows of homes and a psychiatric hospital in ruins Tuesday and sending tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries in the blazes burning in Southern California's Ventura County, on the edge of Los Angeles and in inland San Bernardino County.

The Ventura wildfire broke out Monday and grew wildly to nearly 80 square miles. It was fanned by dry Santa Ana winds clocked at well over 60 mph that grounded firefighting helicopters and planes.

Lisa Kermode ignored the first evacuation alert that buzzed on her phone when it said the fire was 15 miles away. But the flames were nearly on top of her an hour later when she rounded up her three children, still in their pajamas, and told them to grab some jeans.

They returned home Tuesday to find their world in ashes, including a Christmas tree and the presents they had just bought.

"We got knots in our stomach coming back up here," Kermode said. "We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms — it's not sort of gone, it's completely gone."

A smaller fire erupted on the northern edge of Los Angeles, threatening the Sylmar and Lakeview Terrace neighborhoods, where residents scrambled to get out as heavy smoke billowed over the city, creating a health hazard for millions of people.

Just eight weeks ago, wildfires that broke out in Northern California and its wine country killed 44 people and destroyed 8,900 homes and other buildings.

Fires aren't typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region in the past six months.

Like the deadly October fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, the blazes are in areas more suburban than rural.

"That means that there are going to be far greater numbers that are going to be evacuated, as we're seeing now. And counties and cities are going to have to expand their budgets," said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires. "These fires are not just fast and furious, but they're really expensive to fight."

The early official count was that at least 150 structures burned in the Ventura County fire, but it was sure to go higher.

Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames. The Hawaiian Village Apartments burned to the ground. The Vista del Mar Hospital, which treats patients with mental problems or substance abuse, including veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, smoldered after burning overnight.

Aerial footage showed dozens of homes in one neighborhood burned to the ground and a large subdivision in jeopardy as the flames spit out embers that could spark new blazes.

More than 27,000 people were evacuated, and one firefighter suffered bumps and bruises in a vehicle accident in Ventura County.

The fire erupted near Santa Paula, a city of some 30,000 people about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles known for its citrus and avocado orchards and farm fields along the Santa Clara River.

"We had the fire come through here, pretty dramatically, all night long," said Karen Heath-Karayan, who stayed up with her husband to douse embers that rained on their home and small lot where they sell Christmas trees. "It was really scary."

They were ordered to evacuate as flames got within about 100 yards, but they decided to stand their ground to protect their property, where they have chickens and goats.

They hosed down their roof and hit hotspots before winds pushed the fire over a hill toward neighboring Ventura, a city of 106,000 where more people were ordered to clear out.

"It was just exponential, huge growth because the winds, 50 mile an hour out of the east, were just pushing it and growing it very, very large, very quickly," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said shortly after sunrise.

Thomas Aquinas College, with about 350 students, was evacuated.

The fire on the northern edge of Los Angeles was estimated at more than 6 square miles and had burned homes, though no immediate damage estimates were released. About 2,500 homes were ordered evacuated.

Alan Barnard watched flames come downhill toward his Lakeview Terrace home and told his wife to grab their 11-month-old grandson and leave. He stayed to collect a few possessions and then took his dog and left the quiet cul-de-sac.

When he returned later, a bedroom and his garage were destroyed, but three-quarters of the house remained intact.

"We're pretty much out of the main danger now," he said as he tried to spray hotspots with a garden hose. "We consider ourselves very lucky."

Southern California's gusty Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region's most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland West toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

Nearly 180,000 customers in the Ventura County lost power, and schools in the district were closed. Some firefighting efforts were hampered when pumping stations lost power.

Stray cats a concern for base community

The Naval Air Station Lemoore Cat Depot, a volunteer run shelter for stray cats, is in search of forever homes for their rescues. 

On average, the depot houses between 15 and 20 cats at its Ticonderoga location, with an additional six to 10 at its quarantine facility on Franklin Avenue. The cats housed at the quarantine facility typically have upper respiratory infections, but can be held there for myriad of reasons.

While sheltering up to 30 cats at one time, the average month sees only about four adoptions.

Running through the month, the Cat Depot is running a special where a cat can be adopted for $65. The depot has contracted with Valley Oak SPCA in Visalia, and all adoptable cats are negative for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and leukemia, neutered or spayed, up to date on rabies and distemper vaccines and equipped with microchip identification tags. Microchip identification involves implanting a tag in pets so that they can be identified on a national computer network.

Stray cats are a concern on base, and Lorena Perez, manager of the depot, believes most of them are abandoned by base families. “Out of the cats we rescue, about eight out of every 10 are spayed or neutered, which means they were cared for once. We don’t go out in town looking for cats; all of our rescues are found on base,” Perez said.

According to Perez, on occasion cats have been returned to the depot, sometimes after years of care by a family.

While many of the strays are spayed or neutered, not many are found microchipped. NASL pet registration policy includes having all animals on base be microchipped, a service that Kings County SPCA offers for $10. 

An additional concern of the Cat Depot is the presence of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Three of the strays that have been found in the last six months were infected with FIP and subsequently euthanized, as the disease is highly contagious and often fatal to cats. 

The Cat Depot is in need of donations of food, cat litter and cleaning supplies year-round. Amberle Reid, one of the volunteers, has also organized a holiday cat/dog food drive that runs through Dec. 15. Cat food donations will go to the NASL Cat Depot and dog food donations will go to Valley Animal Haven in Lemoore. Monetary donations for the depot can be made to naslcatdepot2016@gmail via PayPal.

For more information, email the depot or visit them on Facebook at NASL Cat Depot. According to Perez, they are in desperate need of volunteers, donations and adoptions.

Contributed by Dawn Berkenkamp 

Cat Depot manager Lorena Perez cares for base strays.

Trump forges ahead on Jerusalem-as-capital despite warnings

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital today despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Trump will instruct the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, U.S. officials said Tuesday. It remains unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.

The officials said numerous logistical and security details, as well as site determination and construction, will need to be finalized first. Because of those issues, the embassy is not likely to move for at least 3 or 4 years, presuming there is no future change in U.S. policy.

To that end, the officials said Trump will sign a waiver delaying the embassy move, which is required by U.S. law every six months. He will continue to sign the waiver until preparations for the embassy move are complete.

The officials said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be an acknowledgement of "historical and current reality" rather than a political statement and said the city's physical and political borders will not be compromised. They noted that almost all of Israel's government agencies and parliament are in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, where the U.S. and other countries maintain embassies.

The U.S. officials spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity Tuesday because they were not authorized to publicly preview Trump's Wednesday announcement. Their comments mirrored those of officials who spoke on the issue last week.

The declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state's claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has insisted its status be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

The mere consideration of Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed U.S. security warning on Tuesday. America's consulate in Jerusalem ordered U.S. personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem's Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.

Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy. However, U.S. leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the United States must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.

Key national security advisers — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.

The concerns are real: Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could be viewed as America discarding its longstanding neutrality and siding with Israel at a time that the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to midwife a new peace process into existence. Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a "deal of the century" that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Trump about Jerusalem's status as the "capital of Israel." The president isn't planning to use the phrase "undivided capital," according to the officials. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and would imply Israel's sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek for their own future capital.

Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. But it's also home to Islam's third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.

Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

The Jerusalem declaration notwithstanding, one official said Trump would insist that issues of sovereignty and borders must be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. The official said Trump would call for Jordan to maintain its role as the legal guardian of Jerusalem's Muslim holy places, and reflect Israel and Palestinian wishes for a two-state peace solution.

Still, any U.S. declaration on Jerusalem's status ahead of a peace deal "would harm peace negotiation process and escalate tension in the region," Saudi Arabia's King Salman told Trump Tuesday, according to a Saudi readout of their telephone conversation. Declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the king said, "would constitute a flagrant provocation to all Muslims, all over the world."

In his calls to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II, Trump delivered what appeared to be identical messages of intent. Both leaders warned Trump that moving the embassy would threaten Mideast peace efforts and security and stability in the Middle East and the world, according to statements from their offices.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Parliament such recognition was a "red line" and that Turkey could respond by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.