Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won election to a second term representing Nevada on Saturday, defeating Republican Adam Laxalt to clinch the party’s control of the chamber for the next two years of Joe Biden’s presidency. With Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s victory in Arizona on Friday, Democrats now hold a 50-49 edge in the Senate. The party will retain control of the chamber, no matter how next month’s Georgia runoff plays out, by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Democrats’ hold on the Senate is a blow to Republicans’ high hopes of wresting away control of Congress in a midterm election that typically favors the party out of power. It was still unclear which party would control the House of Representatives as counting continued in razor-tight races in California and a smattering of other states. Cortez Masto, the first Latina in the Senate, was considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the midterm elections, and the Republican Party had high hopes of flipping the seat. But despite an influx of spending on attack ads from national GOP groups, Cortez Masto managed to secure her reelection bid. Read more: Senate control may come down to Nevada as count nears end Nevada’s vote count took several days partly because of the mail voting system created by the state Legislature in 2020 that requires counties to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day if they arrive up to four days later. Laxalt had an early lead that dwindled after late-counted ballots came in from the state’s population centers in Las Vegas and Reno. Cortez Masto, the state’s former two-term attorney general, focused her Senate campaign on the increasing threat to abortion access nationwide and worked to court the state’s Spanish-speaking residents and hourly wage earners, pointing out her support of a permanent pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” and regularly visiting union halls and workers’ groups. Her fundraising far outpaced Laxalt’s. She spent nearly $47 million and had more than $6 million in cash on hand through mid-October, according to OpenSecrets. Laxalt spent nearly $13 million and had about $3 million remaining during the same time. Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general himself who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018, focused on rising inflation and a struggling economy for much of his campaign, attempting to tie voters’ financial woes to policies advanced by Democrats in Congress and Biden. Former President Donald Trump, who twice lost Nevada in his White House runs, came to the state twice to rally for Laxalt and other Republican candidates. Democrats had an uphill battle given the nation’s turbulent economy, and Nevada exemplified the party’s challenges. The state is one of the most diverse in the nation, and its largely working class population often lives paycheck to paycheck and has struggled with both inflation and the aftershocks of the shutdown of Las Vegas’ tourist-based economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and about 5 in 10 called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters. Read more: Democrats hold small but shrinking lead in key Arizona races Voters viewed the economy negatively, with VoteCast finding nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor. Only about 2 in 10 called the economy excellent or good. And about a third of voters said their families are falling behind financially. But that didn’t necessarily translate into anger at President Joe Biden or his party. About half considered inflation the most important issue facing the U.S., but they were evenly split over whether they think higher prices are due to Biden’s policies or factors outside his control. Nevada is also a famously live-and-let-live state, and Cortez Masto’s message on preserving abortion rights resonated. According to VoteCast, 7 in 10 wanted the procedure kept legal in all or most cases.
Control of the U.S. Senate may come down to Nevada, where a slow ballot count entered its final act Saturday in the nail-biter contest between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. Saturday is the last day that mail ballots can arrive and be counted under the state's new voting law. Election officials were hustling to get through a backlog of tens of thousands of ballots to determine the race's winner, with the state's largest county saying it hoped to be effectively done by the evening. The Nevada race took on added importance after Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly was declared the winner of his reelection campaign in Arizona on Friday night, giving his party 49 seats in the chamber. Republicans also have 49. If Cortez Masto wins, Democrats would maintain their control of the Senate given Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote. If Laxalt wins, the Georgia Senate runoff next month would determine which party has the single-vote Senate edge. Cortez Masto was only a few hundred votes behind Laxalt, with most of the remaining uncounted ballots in heavily Democratic Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. Democrats were confident those ballots would vault their candidate into the lead. Laxalt has said he expects to maintain his advantage and be declared the victor. But on Saturday he acknowledged in a tweet that the calculus has changed because Cortez Masto had performed better than Republicans expected in Clark County ballots counted over the past few days. Read more: Democrats hold small but shrinking lead in key Arizona races “This has narrowed our victory window,” he tweeted, acknowledging the race comes down to the final Clark County ballots. “If they are GOP precincts or slightly DEM leaning then we can still win,” Laxalt tweeted. “If they continue to trend heavy DEM then she will overtake us.” If a winner isn't clear by the end of the day on Saturday, attention would shift to a few thousand more ballots that could be added to the totals early next week. Mail ballots with clerical errors can be “cured” by voters until the end of the day Monday, and then added to the totals. And a few thousand provisional ballots also remain, votes that election officials must double-check are legally countable by Tuesday before they can be tallied. “We know that this is a serious count. There are people nationwide who are looking to these results,” Joe Gloria, the registrar in Clark County, said at a press conference Saturday. “We know that people need to see that count. We're not going to delay it any further.” Gloria said all 22,000-plus remaining ballots would be tabulated by Saturday evening. “They’re all being counted,” Gloria said. “My vaults are empty.” Still, state law requires a relative handful of ballots to linger. In Clark County, there are also 7,100 ballots being “cured” and 5,555 provisional ballots. The county accounts for three-quarters of Nevada's population. Gloria noted that it takes a couple of cycles to adjust ballot-counting to the all-mail system that Nevada switched to during the 2020 pandemic. He also noted that state law requires him to accept ballots until Saturday. “We couldn't be done any earlier, even if we wanted to,” Gloria said. In another key race, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak lost his reelection bid to his Republican challenger, sheriff Joe Lombardo, on Friday night. Nevada, a closely divided swing state, is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, a working class state whose residents have been especially hard hit by inflation and other economic turmoil. Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and about 5 in 10 called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters. Read more: GOP moves closer to winning the House; the Senate's fate may depend on a runoff Voters viewed the economy negatively, with VoteCast finding nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor. Only about 2 in 10 called the economy excellent or good. And about a third of voters said their families are falling behind financially. But that didn’t necessarily translate into anger at President Joe Biden or his party. About half considered inflation the most important issue facing the U.S., but they were evenly split over whether they think higher prices are due to Biden’s policies or factors outside his control. According to VoteCast, 7 in 10 voters in Nevada wanted abortion kept legal in all or most cases, and Cortez Masto and other Democrats made preserving the right a centerpiece of their campaigns. Republicans, however, relentlessly hammered the economic argument, contending it was time for a leadership change. They also sought to capitalize on lingering frustrations about pandemic shutdowns that devastated Las Vegas’ tourist-centric economy in 2020. On Thursday morning, The Associated Press declared Republican Stavros Anthony the winner in the lieutenant governor race, while Republican Andy Mathews was elected state controller. The state’s lone Republican congressman, Mark Amodei, easily won reelection in his mostly rural district in northern Nevada. The state’s three Las Vegas-area Democratic members of the House were also reelected.
A Northern California fire that gutted hundreds of homes advanced toward Lake Tahoe on Wednesday as thousands of firefighters tried to box in the flames, and a thick yellow haze of the nation’s worst air enveloped tourists. In Southern California, at least a dozen homes and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed after a fire broke out Wednesday afternoon and quickly ran through tinder-dry brush in mountains northeast of Los Angeles. Evacuations were ordered for about 1,000 people. Crews mounted an air attack to keep the South Fire from the tiny communities of Lytle Creek and Scotland near the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County. By nightfall, the fire appeared to be mostly contained. To the north, a new fire erupted in the Sierra Nevada foothills and quickly burned at least 1,000 acres of land near New Melones Lake in Calaveras County, prompting evacuations. Read: Pristine Lake Tahoe shrouded in smoke from threatening fire Meanwhile, the Caldor Fire spread to within 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Lake Tahoe, eating its way through rugged timberlands and “knocking on the door” of the basin that straddles the California-Nevada state line, California’s state fire chief Thom Porter warned this week. Ash rained down and tourists ducked into cafes, outdoor gear shops and casinos on Lake Tahoe Boulevard for a respite from the unhealthy air. South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City on the west shore had the nation’s worst air pollution at midmorning Wednesday, reaching 334, in the “hazardous” category of the 0-500 Air Quality Index, according to AirNow, a partnership of federal, state and local air agencies. South of Tahoe, Rick Nelson and his wife, Diane, had planned to host a weekend wedding at Fallen Leaf Lake, where his daughter and her fiance had met. However, the smoke caused most of the community to leave. The sun was an eerie blood orange, and the floats and boats in the lake were obscured by haze Tuesday. In the end, the Nelsons spent two days arranging to have the wedding moved from the glacial lake several hours southwest to the San Francisco Bay Area. “Everybody’s trying to make accommodations for the smoke. And I think it’s becoming a reality for us, unfortunately,” Diane Nelson said. “I just think that the smoke and the fires have gotten bigger, hotter and faster-moving.” Climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists. Although there were no evacuations ordered for Lake Tahoe, it was impossible to ignore a blanket of haze so thick and vast that it closed schools for two days in Reno, Nevada, which is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the fire. Read: Winds threaten to fan destructive California wildfire The school district that includes Reno reopened most schools on Wednesday, citing improved air quality conditions. However, the Washoe County School District’s schools in Incline Village on the north shore of Lake Tahoe remained closed, the district said in a statement. The Caldor fire has scorched more than 197 square miles (510 square kilometers) and destroyed at least 461 homes since Aug. 14 in the Sierra Nevada southwest of the lake. It was 11% contained and threatened more than 17,000 structures. The western side of the blaze continued to threaten more than a dozen small communities and wineries. On the fire’s eastern side, crews bulldozed fire lines, opened up narrow logging roads and cleared ridgetops in hopes of stopping its advance, fire officials said. More than 2,500 firefighters were on the line and more resources were streaming in, including big firefighting aircraft, fire officials said. Meanwhile, California’s Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history at 1,148 square miles (2,973 square kilometers), was burning only about 65 miles (104 kilometers) to the north. New evacuations were ordered after winds pushed the blaze to the northeast on Wednesday, as flames crossed State Route 44 and headed toward campgrounds near Eagle Lake. The Dixie Fire, which broke out July 13, was 43% contained. At least 682 homes were among more than 1,270 buildings that have been destroyed. In the southern Sierra Nevada, there was growing concern after the French Fire expanded near Lake Isabella, a popular fishing and boating destination. “The fire really made a big push and put up a huge column of smoke,” fire spokesman Alex Olow said Wednesday. Because flames were still active, assessment teams have been unable to get into neighborhoods to see if any homes were damaged, he said. Read: California wildfires destroy homes; winds hamper containment About 10 communities were under evacuation orders. The fire has blackened 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) since Aug. 18. Nationally, 92 large fires were burning in a dozen mainly Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Northern California has experienced a series of disastrous blazes that have burned hundreds of homes, and many remain uncontained. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden declared that a major disaster exists in California and ordered federal aid made available to local governments, agencies and fire victims in four northern counties ravaged by blazes dating back to July 14.
A wildfire raged through a small Northern California forest town Tuesday, burning dozens of homes as dangerously dry and windy weather also continued to fuel other massive blazes and prompted the nation’s largest utility to begin shutting off power to 51,000 customers. The Caldor fire in the northern Sierra Nevada had burned an estimated 50 homes in and around Grizzly Flats, a town of about 1,200 people, fire officials said at a community meeting. Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for El Dorado County because of the blaze, which tripled in size between Monday and Tuesday afternoon to nearly 50 square miles (129 square kilometers), To the north the Dixie Fire — the largest of some 100 active wildfires in more than a dozen Western states — was advancing toward Susanville, population about 18,000. Read:Thunderstorms, heat fuel wildfires burning across West Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric announced it had begun shutting off power to some 51,000 customers in small portions of 18 northern counties to prevent winds from knocking down or fouling power lines and sparking new blazes. The utility said the precautionary shutoffs were focused in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the North Coast, the North Valley and the North Bay mountains and could last into Wednesday afternoon. Very few homes were left standing in Grizzly Flats, where streets were littered with downed power lines and poles. Houses were reduced to smoldering ash and twisted metal with only chimneys rising above the ruins. A post office and elementary school were also destroyed. Two people with serious or severe injuries were airlifted to hospitals from the Grizzly Flats area, fire officials said. Derek Shaves and Tracy Jackson were helping their friend salvage food and other supplies from the Grizzly Pub & Grub, a business in the evacuation zone that wasn’t touched by the blaze. Shaves said he visited Grizzly Flats Tuesday and saw his home and most of the houses in his neighborhood had been destroyed by the fire. “It’s a pile of ash,” he said. “Everybody on my block is a pile of ash and every block that I visited — but for five separate homes that were safe — was totally devastated.” At the Dixie Fire, numerous resources were put into the Susanville area, where residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, said Mark Brunton, an operations section chief. “It’s not out of play, and the next 24 hours are going to be crucial to watch as to what the fire is going to do there,” he told an online briefing. Read: Climate-fueled wildfires take toll on tropical Pacific isles To the east, spot fires became established south of the small community of Janesville, which had been ordered evacuated. Some structures were lost there — images captured by The Associated Press showed a home consumed by flames — but a surge of firefighters was able to herd the fire around the majority of the town, Brunton said. The Dixie Fire, which had burned some 600 homes, is the largest of the major wildfires burning in Western U.S. states that have seen historic drought and weeks of high temperatures and dry weather that have left trees, brush and grasslands as flammable as tinder. Climate change has made the U.S. West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists. Susanville is the seat of Lassen County and the largest city that the Dixie Fire, named for the road where it started, has approached since it broke out last month. The former Sierra Nevada logging and mining town has two state prisons, a nearby federal lockup and a casino. Ash fell from the advancing fire, and a police statement urged residents “to be alert and be ready to evacuate” if the fire threatens the city. The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 940 square miles (2,434 square kilometers) in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades since it ignited on July 13 and eventually merged with a smaller blaze. It’s less than a third contained. Investigations are continuing, but PG&E has notified utility regulators that the Dixie and Fly fires may have been caused by trees falling into its power lines. The Dixie Fire began near the town of Paradise, which was devastated by a 2018 wildfire ignited by PG&E equipment during strong winds. Eighty-five people died. Ongoing damage surveys have counted more than 1,100 buildings destroyed, including 630 homes, and more than 16,000 structures remained threatened. Numerous evacuation orders were in effect. Near the Caldor Fire, people were offering assistance to evacuees, including the four-footed kind. Susan Collins of Placerville used her horse trailer to help move two horses Tuesday after offering help on an El Dorado County Facebook page. “I know not everybody is prepared when something like this happens, and my purpose in life is to be there to help people,” she said. Read: Wildfires in Algeria leave 42 dead, including 25 soldiers Across the state line in Nevada, school administrators delayed start times in the Reno-Sparks because of a cloak of wildfire smoke from the Dixie Fire blanketing the region. Smoke plumes from the Caldor Fire were also visible from northern Nevada. Two dozen fires were burning in Montana and nearly 50 more in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, according to the National Fire Interagency Center. In Montana, authorities ordered evacuations on Tuesday for several remote communities in north- central Montana as strong winds propelled a large wildfire toward inhabited areas. The mandatory evacuation covered Lodge Pole, a town of about 300 people on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, and the former mining town of Zortman, which has about two dozen people, KOJM reported.
Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding Northern California wildfire under blazing temperatures as another heat wave blanketed the West, prompting an excessive heat warning for inland and desert areas. Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 Celsius) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the location reached 130 F (54 C). If confirmed as accurate, the 130-degree reading would be the hottest high recorded there since July 1913, when Furnace Creek desert hit 1,34 F (57 C), considered the highest measured temperature on Earth. About 300 miles (483 kilometers) northwest of the sizzling desert, the largest wildfire of the year in California was raging along the border with Nevada. The Beckwourth Complex Fire — a combination of two lightning-caused fires burning 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Lake Tahoe — showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday. Read: Study: Northwest heat wave impossible without climate change Late Saturday, flames jumped Interstate 395 and was threatening properties in Nevada’s Washoe County. “Take immediate steps to protect large animals and livestock,” the The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District tweeted. The blaze, which was only 8% contained, increased dramatically to 86 square miles (222 square kilometers) as firefighters sweltered in 100-degree temperatures. It was one of several threatening homes across Western states that were expected to see triple-digit heat through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region. Pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in southern Oregon doubled in size to 120 square miles (311 square kilometers) Saturday as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the Klamath County town of Sprague River. The National Weather Service warned the dangerous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses, while California’s power grid operator issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to avoid disruptions and rolling blackouts. Read:Hundreds believed dead in heat wave despite efforts to help in Northwest The California Independent System Operator warned of potential power shortage, not only because of mounting heat, but because a wildfire in southern Oregon was threatening transmission lines that carry imported power to California. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation on Friday suspending rules to allow for more power capacity, and the ISO requested emergency assistance from other states. On Saturday, Newsom issued another proclamation allowing the emergency use of auxiliary ship engines to relieve pressure on the electric grid. Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 120 F (49 C) Saturday. It was the fourth time temperatures have reached 120 degrees so far this year, the Desert Sun reported. In California’s agricultural Central Valley, 100-degree temperatures blanketed the region, with Fresno reaching 111 degrees F (44 C), just one degree short of the all-time high for the date, Las Vegas late Saturday afternoon tied the all-time record high of 117 F (47 C), the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record-high temperature four other times, most recently in June 2017. NV Energy, Nevada’s largest power provider, also urged customers to conserve electricity Saturday and Sunday evenings because of the heat wave and wildfires affecting transmission lines throughout the region. Read:Blackouts in US Northwest due to heat wave, deaths reported In Southern California, a brush fire sparked by a burning big rig in eastern San Diego County forced evacuations of two Native American reservations Saturday. In north-central Arizona, Yavapai County on Saturday lifted an evacuation warning for Black Canyon City, an unincorporated town 43 miles (66 kilometers) north of Phoenix, after a fire in nearby mountains no longer posed a threat. In Mohave County, Arizona, two firefighters died Saturday after a aircraft they were in to respond to a small wildfire crashed, local media reported. A wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) as it blackened grass and timber while it moved into the Umatilla National Forest. In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.