Grim search for more fire victims, 31 dead across California
By GILLIAN FLACCUS and DON THOMPSON
Monday, November 12
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — As wildfires raged at both ends of California, officials released another grim statistic: Six more dead in a swath of Northern California wiped out by fire, raising the death toll there to 29. It matched California’s record for deaths in a single fire and brought the statewide total to 31 as authorities stepped up searches for bodies and missing people.
Another 228 remain unaccounted for. Two people were killed in a wildfire in Southern California.
Ten search teams were working in Paradise — a town of 27,000 that was largely incinerated last week — and in surrounding communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Authorities called in a DNA lab and teams of anthropologists to help identify victims.
Statewide, 150,000 remained displaced as more than 8,000 fire crews battled wildfires that have scorched 400 square miles (1,040 square kilometers), with out-of-state crews continuing to arrive. Whipping winds and tinder-dry conditions threaten more areas through the rest of the week, fire officials warned.
“This is truly a tragedy that all Californians can understand and respond to,” Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters. “It’s a time to pull together and work through these tragedies.”
Brown, who has declared a state of emergency, said California is requesting aid from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has blamed “poor” forest management for the fires. Brown said federal and state governments must do more forest management but that climate change is the greater source of the problem.
“And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years,” he said.
Drought and warmer weather attributed to climate change, and the building of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in California. While California officially emerged from a five-year drought last year, much of the northern two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry.
Firefighters battling fire with shovels and bulldozers, flame retardant and hoses expected wind gusts up to 40 mph (64 kph) overnight Sunday.
In Southern California , firefighters beat back a new round of winds Sunday and the fire’s growth and destruction are believed to have been largely stopped. Malibu celebrities and mobile-home dwellers in nearby mountains were slowly learning whether their homes had been spared or reduced to ash. Two people were killed and the fire had destroyed nearly 180 structures.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby stressed there were numerous hotspots and plenty of fuel that had not yet burned, but at sunset he said there had been huge successes despite “a very challenging day.”
Celebrities whose coastal homes were damaged or destroyed in a Southern California wildfire or were forced to flee from the flames expressed sympathy and solidarity with less-famous people hurt worse by the state’s deadly blazes, and gave their gratitude to firefighters who kept them safe. Actor Gerard Butler said on Instagram that his Malibu home was “half-gone,” adding he was “inspired as ever by the courage, spirit and sacrifice of firefighters.”
Flames also besieged Thousand Oaks, the Southern California city in mourning over the massacre of 12 people in a shooting rampage at a country music bar on Wednesday night.
In Northern California, where more than 6,700 buildings have been destroyed, the scope of the devastation was beginning to set in even as the blaze raged on.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county consulted teams of anthropologists because, in some cases, investigators have been able to recover only bones and bone fragments.
In some neighborhoods “it’s very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there,” Honea said.
Public safety officials toured the Paradise area to begin discussing the recovery process. Much of what makes the city function is gone.
“Paradise was literally wiped off the map,” said Tim Aboudara, a representative for International Association of Fire Fighters. He said at least 36 firefighters lost their own homes, most in the Paradise area.
“Anytime you’re a firefighter and your town burns down, there’s a lot of feelings and a lot of guilt and a lot of concern about both what happened and what the future looks like,” he said. “Every story that we’ve heard coming through has been that way, like ‘I wish I could have done more, What’s going to happen to our community, Where are my kids going to go to school?’”
Others continued the desperate search for friends or relatives, calling evacuation centers, hospitals, police and the coroner’s office.
Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, Joanne Caddy, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise. She lived alone and did not drive.
As he drove through the smoke and haze to yet another shelter, he said, “I’m also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother’s somewhere and you don’t know where she’s at. You don’t know if she’s safe.”
The 29 dead in Northern California matched the deadliest single fire on record, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, though a series of wildfires in Northern California’s wine country last fall killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes.
Firefighters made progress against the blaze, holding containment at 25 percent on Sunday, but they were bracing for gusty winds predicted into Monday morning that could spark “explosive fire behavior,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Bill Murphy said.
Fire officials are bracing for potentially more fires in Southern California’s inland region as high winds and critically dry conditions were expected to persist into next week.
“We are really just in the middle of this protracted weather event, this fire siege,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said.
He said officials were moving resources and preparing for “the next set of fires” as winds are expected to pick up. The chief warned that fire conditions will continue until the parched state sees rain.
“We are in this for the long haul,” Pimlott said.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Janie Har and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco; Paul Elias and Martha Mendoza in Chico, California; and Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon.
AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s rhetoric on voter fraud is misleading
By HOPE YEN and CHRISTOPHER RUGABER
Monday, November 12
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing closely contested election races in Florida and Arizona, President Donald Trump is spreading misleading rhetoric regarding voting fraud.
He says votes are suspiciously appearing “out of the wilderness” in Arizona after Election Day to boost the Democratic candidate in the Senate race. It’s actually typical for the state to take additional days after an election to finish tabulating mail-in votes.
Trump also suggests that heavily Democratic counties in Florida may be improperly seeking to inflate the Democratic vote in the state’s Senate and governor races. There’s no evidence of that. The Florida state agencies charged with investigating potential fraud say no credible allegations exist.
Meanwhile, on the economy, Trump asserted that U.S. growth under his watch has been unprecedented. In fact, it was surpassed just four years ago during the Obama administration. He also minimized the trade threat from China and claims a U.S. steel industry renaissance that isn’t really happening.
A look at his claims, also covering health care and veterans:
TRUMP: “You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia — but the Election was on Tuesday? Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!” — tweet Friday.
TRUMP: “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: He’s making baseless charges of “stealing” elections in Florida’s Senate and governor races, which headed for recounts due to razor-thin leads held by Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, respectively.
It’s not uncommon for vote tallies to change in the days after the election as local officials process mailed and provisional ballots. In Florida, both Scott and DeSantis saw their leads dwindle in recent days as the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward counties continued to count votes. That vote count concluded Saturday, leading to the Florida secretary of state’s order for recounts after the unofficial results in both races fell within the margin that by law triggers a review.
In the past two elections, in 2016 and 2014, Florida counted more than 99 percent of the vote on Election Day and in the early hours of the next day. In Broward, election officials updated vote totals for days after Election Day.
In alleging potential fraud, Scott, as outgoing governor, had said Thursday night that he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate elections offices in Palm Beach and Broward. However, the agency said Friday there were no credible allegations of fraud and therefore, no investigation is active.
Scott’s campaign also filed a lawsuit asking that the Broward County supervisor of elections be ordered to turn over several records detailing the counting and collection of ballots cast. A judge Friday sided with Scott and ordered Broward’s election supervisor to release that voter information; the ruling did not address allegations of fraud.
The state’s election division, which Scott runs, said Saturday that its observers in Broward had seen “no evidence of criminal activity.”
Voting fraud in Florida and nationwide, in fact, is extremely rare. Trump often asserts that voter fraud is a significant issue, but has not provided evidence of consequential fraud.
After the 2016 election, Trump convened a commission to investigate potential voting fraud, after alleging repeatedly and without evidence that fraud cost him the popular vote. Trump won the Electoral College. But he disbanded the panel in January, blaming the decision on more than a dozen states that refused to comply with the commission’s demand for reams of personal voter data.
ARIZONA SENATE RACE
TRUMP: “Now in Arizona, all of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes, and she’s — the other candidate is just winning by a hair.” — remarks to reporters Friday.
TRUMP: “Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH. Electoral corruption – Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!” — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: There is no evidence of anything unusual going on in the vote-counting in Arizona. Trump made the charges of “electoral corruption” and votes appearing “out of the wilderness” as Republican pessimism grew about Rep. Martha McSally’s prospects in the Senate race. However, Arizona normally takes more than a week to count its ballots, and no elected Republican officials in the state have cried foul. It’s possible that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s opponent, McSally, could jump back into the lead in the coming days. That wouldn’t be suspicious, either.
The vote count tends to take longer in Arizona because residents like to vote early, by mail, and a mailed-in ballot requires more work for elections officials.
State law requires the envelope to be sealed and signed, and for elections officials to match each signature to the one on file with the voter’s registration before even opening the envelope. In this election, that’s about 1.7 million individual signatures that had to be confirmed, one by one. A total of about 2.4 million votes were cast in Arizona.
The work piles up in the final days before the election as ballots flood in. Voters can also drop off sealed mail ballots on Election Day, adding to the pile. The state’s Republican secretary of state, Michele Reagan, added another reason: election security. To ensure against voter fraud, mail ballots dropped off Election Day — which totaled 320,000 — are double-checked with votes cast at the polls to confirm no one voted twice.
The GOP had filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Maricopa and Pima counties from contacting voters after Election Day about problems with the signatures on their mail ballots. But they, Democrats and the state’s counties settled the complaint Friday to essentially allow the rest of the state to follow the more lenient Maricopa and Pima standards. Those standards are what Trump seemed to complain about in his “signatures don’t match” tweet.
TRUMP, on the message taken from Tuesday’s elections: “I think the results that I’ve learned, and maybe confirm, I think people like me. I think people like the job I’m doing, frankly. Because if you look at every place I went to do a rally … and it was very hard to do it with people in Congress because there are just too many … but I did it with the Senate. I did it with (Kentucky Rep.) Andy Barr, as you know. And he won.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong to suggest that congressional candidates won in every state where he held a rally on their behalf.
Two Republicans who closely embraced Trump in their Senate races — Montana’s state auditor, Matt Rosendale, and West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey — lost to Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Joe Manchin, respectively. Trump had visited Montana four times and West Virginia three times to rally voters. Also losing Tuesday were Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, defeated by Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, and Leah Vukmir, a GOP state lawmaker in Wisconsin who lost her Senate race to Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Trump campaigned for Heller in Nevada on Oct. 20 and for Vukmir in Wisconsin on Oct. 24.
In the House, Republican Rep. Jason Lewis lost his race in Minnesota to Democrat Angie Craig, whom he had defeated by 2 percentage points in 2016. Trump campaigned in Minnesota on Oct. 4 after Lewis invited Trump to appear for him.
TRUMP: “Fifty-five is the largest number of Republican senators in the last 100 years.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: His party didn’t win 55 Senate seats Tuesday. Republicans held 55 seats in the Senate in 2005-2006, as well as 1997-2000, according to the Senate historian’s office.
After Tuesday’s elections, Republicans will hold a 51-46 edge, with races in Florida and Arizona too close to call. A special election in Mississippi has advanced to a runoff election on Nov. 27 between Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy. That means 54 Republican seats if those three races all break the GOP’s way.
TRUMP: “America is booming like never before. … In terms of GDP, we’re doing unbelievably.” — news conference Wednesday.
TRUMP, on his telephone conversation Tuesday night with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi: “We didn’t talk about impeaching. We didn’t talk about — what do you do? Do you impeach somebody because he created the greatest economic success in the history of our country?”
THE FACTS: The economy is healthy, but it’s not unbelievable or unprecedented. It’s also not clear what he means in claiming the nation’s “greatest economic success” ever.
The economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, then by 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter. Those are the best two quarters in just four years. Growth reached 5.1 percent in the second quarter of 2014, followed by 4.9 percent in the third quarter.
The economy has boomed much more dramatically in the past. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years. It reached 7.2 percent in 1984. The unemployment rate is now at an impressive 50-year low of 3.7 percent. But it remained below 4 percent for nearly four years in the late 1960s.
TRUMP: “And our steel industry is back. Our aluminum industry is starting to do really well. These are industries that were dead. Our miners are working again.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating.
The steel industry has added jobs at a faster rate than the economy as a whole since Trump’s inauguration, though all the gains occurred before the administration imposed tariffs on steel imports in March. Still, the rebound has hardly restored steel to its former glory.
The United States has added 5,500 steel jobs since Trump entered the White House for a total of 86,500. Before the Great Recession, there were about 100,000 steel jobs. Aluminum factories have added 2,600 jobs since the inauguration for a total of 60,100. These are minor changes in an economy with almost 150 million jobs.
Meanwhile, not many miners are working again. Coal mining jobs have increased just 1,900 to 52,600 since Trump’s inauguration. That’s also a lot lower than the roughly 70,000 coal mining jobs that existed as recently as 2014.
TRUMP: “China got rid of their ‘China ‘25’ because I found it very insulting. I said that to them. I said, ‘China ‘25’ is very insulting, because ‘China ‘25’ means, in 2025, they’re going to take over, economically, the world. I said, ‘That’s not happening.’” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence China has abandoned its economic plan. Trump is referring to China’s “Made in China 2025” plan, under which that country’s government aims to develop world-leading companies in robotics, semiconductors, electric vehicles and other advanced technologies. It’s a sore point between the two nations because the United States and other countries argue that China is using unfair tactics to achieve those aims, such as forcing U.S. companies to share technology and providing government subsidies.
Chinese officials have played down the plan in recent months because of the international criticism. But there’s little sign they have “gotten rid of” the plan. Because China sees the plan as a key step in the development of its economy, many observers worry they are unlikely to scale it back, which suggests U.S.-China trade fights aren’t going away anytime soon.
TRUMP: “I’ve done more for the vets than any President has done, certainly in many, many decades, with Choice and with other things, as you know. …If you look at Choice — Choice alone — I mean, just take a look at what we’ve done with Choice.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s taking premature credit for improvements that will take years to see full effect in regards to the Veterans Choice program.
Trump signed legislation in June to expand the private-sector Choice program, which was first approved in 2014 during the Obama administration in the wake of a scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center in which some veterans died while waiting months for appointments. The current Choice program allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.
How much Choice will be expanded, however, will depend on yet-to-be-completed regulations that will determine eligibility for veterans as well as available money for the program. The Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to resolve long-term financing due to congressional budget caps that could put funding for VA or other domestic programs at risk of shortfalls next year.
Also important to the program’s success is an overhaul of the VA’s electronic medical records to allow seamless sharing of medical records with private physicians, a process expected to take up to 10 years. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said full implementation of the expanded Choice program is “years” away.
TRUMP, on keeping health premiums down and covering people with preexisting medical conditions: “What we’re doing, if you look at the Department of Labor also — (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Alex) Azar, what they’ve done. They’ve come up with some incredible health care plans, which is causing great competition and driving the prices right down.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s glossing over the limitations of his administration’s new health care options, which offer lower premiums than comprehensive plans such as the Affordable Care Act but also cover less. The availability of Trump’s short-term health plans also is not going to “drive down” prices of the Obama-era overhaul or comprehensive plans, but may increase premiums for robust coverage if fewer healthy people take it as a result.
Strictly speaking, the short-term and association health plans are not new. The Trump administration has broadened their potential reach, although some states may push back with restrictions.
Short-term plans don’t have to take people with medical conditions or provide benefits such as coverage for maternity, mental health, prescription drugs and substance abuse treatment. Association health plans do have to accept people with pre-existing medical conditions, but they don’t have to cover the full menu of 10 “essential” kinds of benefits required by Obamacare.
Gary Claxton of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation says short-term plans may turn out to be more costly than Trump administration officials suggest. The plans now cover up to 90 days, but if insurers expand them to offer up to 36 months’ coverage, the companies will be taking on more risk.
“You’ll have to pay more up front because there’s a longer time during which you could get sick,” Claxton said.
Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi, Calvin Woodward, Alan Fram and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures