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August 24, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

While you were out

Above: Firefighters at the Bar Complex fires refill a water tanker using Jerry England's mining dredge. Photo by Carmen England.


THE HILLS BURN: Those massive fires up northeast of here continued to turn great swathes of wilderness to ash last week, but as of Tuesday afternoon firefighters were gaining the upper hand on most of them. In all, numerous fires in the Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests have so far burned about 70,000 acres in the roughly square-shaped part of the state bound by Highways 101, Interstate 5, Highway 36 and the Oregon border. Some of the lands to go up in smoke have been in popular recreation areas, others uncomfortably close to roads and homes.

According to the latest updates, the biggest of the big fires -- the roughly 19,000-acre Bar Complex, which was sparked by lightning nearly a month ago -- was still proving problematic. The fire, located roughly 20 miles northeast of Willow Creek, was only 44 percent contained. Five hundred firefighters, nine helicopters and numerous other pieces of heavy equipment were working on the fire as best they could, but the extreme terrain in the area and other obstacles prevented commanders from predicting when they might have it fully under control.

A few miles to the north, just west of Orleans, over 400 firefighters are still battling the 15,700-acre Orleans Complex fires. Commanders estimated the blazes to be only 50 percent contained, but were optimistic that they could cut the fires' capers before the end of the month. Salmon River Road, which had been closed for two days as the flames cut toward the blacktop, was reopened Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the three separate fires belonging to the Uncles Complex ravaged separate areas of the Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps Wilderness areas, over 13,500 acres in total. The so-called Rush Fire in the Trinity Alps has been contained; the other two fires, in the more remote Marble Mountains, are tougher nuts by far -- responders now estimate that those two won't be completely contained until October.

-- Hank Sims


GOD, GUNS, BREW: What a way to start of the school year! St. Bernard's Catholic School is holding a gun auction this week at Miles Hall -- "over at the elementary campus," said the school secretary. Two hundred and eight firearms belonging to a now-deceased Trinidad man will be sold by Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager as part of an estate sale. "He was a gun collector," Jager said of the man. I'd say so! The guns, some of which have never been used, range in price from $50 to $4,500. Bidding is open only to law enforcement and gun dealers, who received invitations in the mail, but the public can come look at the merchandise. Hurry. The sale ends Friday, Aug. 25, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Principal Pat Daly said he had no reservations about renting the space to host the gun auction, as school is not in session yet. "It has nothing to do with the school, besides renting the facility," he said, though he added that Jager is an alumnus of St. Bernard's. Jager said Tuesday while he realized it was a bit unusual to host a gun sale at an elementary school, he chose St. Bernard's because it is near the coroner's office, which is tight for space. "There is a room next door at Mental Health, but they didn't like the idea of having a bunch of guns there and I agree with them," he said.

Humboldt County Office of Education Executive Assistant Janet Frost said Tuesday she does not believe that public schools are permitted to sell guns on campus, though a separate entity might be able to sell guns to benefit the school off school property. "It's similar to having alcohol or smoking on school grounds," she explained.

Oh, that reminds us! Save the date -- Friday, Sept. 15 -- for St. Bernie's next big event, Oysters and Ale. The school fundraiser includes two pints from Lost Coast, oyster shooters, live auction and root beer floats. Admission is $25. 21+ Call for tickets. 443-0641.

--Helen Sanderson


INFRARUPTURE: Saturday afternoon, just as you were finally getting around to throwing a little soap and hot water on that sinkful of dirty dishes, an announcement on the radio released you from the chore. A break in a natural gas line, out Highway 36/Mad River way, necessitated sudden conservation by residents. Turns out a 15-foot section of Line 177, the main, 12-inch pipeline that brings gas to Humboldt from Red Bluff, had separated. That triggered the gas alarms placed along the pipeline, says Lisa Randle, spokesperson for PG&E. PG&E called it "a significant leak," although repairs were made by Sunday afternoon. About 40 customers a few miles from the rupture had their service interrupted. The normally gas-fired Humboldt Bay Power Plant temporarily switched to using fuel oil. And the rest of us got off guilt-free from doing the dishes -- until Sunday afternoon. PG&E is investigating the leak, but doesn't think earth movement, of the seismic or landslide kind, had anything to do with it.

The next infrastructure excitement came on Monday afternoon in Arcata, as city officials and cops cordoned off a watery section of town north of the Plaza. Broken water main.

-- Heidi Walters


While you were out


Hi, students and profs. Nice to see you.

While you were away, we too had a heat wave. Southern Humboldt -- ridiculously triple-digit. And up in Arcata, we melted. One day -- it was maybe 68 or 70 degrees -- some people missed a showing of Clerks II one evening at the Minor, when the theater's projection room overheated. Sure, we know some of you would have been content just to sit in the warm, silent dark and secondhand sniff the pot smoke seeping down from the apartment above. But anyway.

While you were away, we had the usual summer flings: 4th of July, gay pride, kinetic sculpture race, oyster bash, umpteen Grange benefits -- you missed it, ha ha.

While you were away, we voted: Measure T passed, Gallegos won, some supervisor candidates advanced to the fall showdown. We'll spare you the details.

While you were away, life went on.


On June 21 around 9 p.m., as the bats -- considered good luck -- stirred from their nap under the protective mantle of the New Fortune restaurant's mansard roof and the people in the dining area opened their fortune cookies, a fire started. It burned and burned, everyone escaped unharmed, people cried. Fire investigators said it started somewhere around the water heater. Today the establishment stands charred-roof empty up there in Northtown, and the number in the phone book is disconnected.

Later in the summer, lightning stabbed the inland mountain region repeatedly, starting fires which over time merged into rampaging behemoths of smoke, flame and doom. They're still burning. Up there, cough, ash, rolling trees and skedaddle. Down here, barbecued sunsets.


Two particularly big-hearted men died this summer, activists who worked to make the planet a better place for everyone, mentors referred to as "mountains" by their friends and colleagues.

On June 26, Humboldt State University education professor Eric Rofes died of a heart attack in Provincetown, Mass., where he was finishing work on his 13th book. Rofes was a leader in the gay rights community -- in Los Angeles, in San Francisco, in the world -- and in raising awareness of gay men's health issues, "building a gay men's health movement that expanded beyond HIV and AIDS," as the June 28 San Francisco Chronicle put it. "He organized conferences and summits that have led new health agencies to form in cities across the country and internationally." And he was funny, say his friends. A memorial for Rofes will be held this Friday, Aug. 25, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in the Founders Courtyard at HSU.

On July 30, long-time Northcoast Environmental Center executive director Tim McKay died of a heart attack while birding at Stone Lagoon. McKay is remembered fondly for his packrat's diligence in collecting information, his passionate love and devoted defense of nature and the North Coast environment, his larger-than-life gentle persona and the many battles the NEC has engaged in over the years. This Thursday, Aug. 24, at 1 p.m., KHSU is hosting a special report on McKay's life, with interviews of friends and excerpts from "The Econews Report," which McKay hosted and produced for the radio station for more than 25 years. The program will re-air Wednesday, Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m.


Yeah, you saw 'em. More beloved "gates" that arose in your absence to flank numerous entrances to the Humboldt State University campus. Curved, buttery stucco elegance exclaiming "Here stands an Institution of Higher Learning" -- or cruel architectural reminders of missionary oppression of native people? You decide. Have fun.


Earlier this August, two cloned mules clip-clopped into local headlines as they prepared to race in the Humboldt County Fair. Idaho Gem and Idaho Star, born in May and July respectively, of 2003, to surrogate mares, had already raced through other Cali-town news pages, spreading the story of their arrival on this planet as harbingers of hope for cancer patients and as really fast mules whupping the other mules on the California racing circuit. The mules are clones of a fetus from the union of a quarter horse mare named Mesmerizer and a jack donkey named Coalee McGee, who've also produced a number of other swift racers, the natural way, over the years. The cloned mules were created by a team of University of Idaho and Utah State University scientists to further research into calcium regulation in human cells. And to win races.


The gleeful, record stats: 42 wins, 13 losses. New manager Matthew F. Nutter stepped in to replace Ken "Shorty" Ames, who retired last year. Nutter was a Crabs pitcher and a member of the Crabs Board of Directors. The Crabs also have a new president, Randy Robertson, who takes over from John Fesler. And, after the last game of the summer, after the band stopped sending happy notes reverberating into the hilltop neighborhood above the ball field, the grass was scraped away. They're hoping for improvements for next year. New bleachers? New lights? New snack shack? New dugouts? Better traffic control around the snack stand? They're "skeptical," as their website says, and yet full of giddy hope.


They gathered in beaky droves, those pelicans, accompanied by flocks of gulls. All along the coast and sloughs they soared in long regimental lines, low above the waves and beach, casting predatory shadows. They splashed and stabbed the water of the Mad River Slough and crowded each other on half-submerged snags, gobbling up anchovies and sardines smothered in marshy green sauce.

Meanwhile, the people who spy on birds filed surreptitious little reports with the Northwest California Bird Alert. One agent reported, for instance, that on July 6 he saw seven grasshopper sparrows on the south side of Bear River Ridge. And on July 9, another agent noted the appearance of 56 marbled murrelets in the "big water area" north of King Salmon, consorting with two rhinoceros auklets. Meanwhile, same day, a Tennessee warbler appeared by the Eel River downstream of Rio Dell, while up on Table Bluff a Pacific loon was sighted. And on July 13, on the South Spit, a crested caracara stood brazenly on the waveslope, eating a juvenile river otter.


Wherever you were, most of you weren't rowing across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States to the United Kingdom. Local bird expert Ron LeValley's son, Dylan, was, however, doing just that. He and his team left New York Harbor on June 10 and rowed 3,100 nautical miles, bumping into the shore at Falmouth, England on Aug. 22. They and their trusty rowboat beat three other teams to win the Shepherd Ocean Fours Rowing Race.


The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence raised loads of cash to bring us the play Hedwig and the Angry Inch (see this week's calendar section ). Be thankful, be impressed. Meanwhile, down on the river, Reggae on the River hosted record crowds in its expanded venue which includes the new spot at Dimmick Ranch. On the club scene, Kelly O'Brien's in Eureka closed and reopened as the Red Fox Tavern, Muddy Waters coffee house in North Arcata changed hands and, for the time being (until the paper comes off the windows), is selling coffee from a cart on the front stoop. We hear it was bought by a puppeteer -- yay!!! Oh, and Northtown Books changed hands, with Dante now at the helm. Jambalaya also changed hands, and the new owners are returning it to some semblance of its long-ago self -- a place to hear live bands.



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