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KUNR Today: Caldor Fire caused by arson, Nevada seniors facing food insecurity

An image of a firefighter looking up with a chainsaw.
Courtesy Joe Bradshaw
Bureau of Land Management
A firefighter who worked on the Caldor Fire near South Lake Tahoe.

Read or listen to the morning news headlines for Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.

Father, son arrested in wildfire that threatened Lake Tahoe
ByThe Associated Press

A father and son have been arrested on suspicion of starting a massive California wildfire that forced tens of thousands to flee the Lake Tahoe area earlier this year. The El Dorado County District Attorney's office said Wednesday that David Scott Smith and his son Travis Shane Smith are accused of reckless arson in a warrant issued before formal charges are filed.

Mark Reichel is the attorney for both men and says reckless arson includes starting a blaze by accident but "to such a degree that it was considered reckless." The fire burned more than 300 square miles to the Nevada border. It threatened ski resorts and other recreational areas.

Daily COVID cases plateauing at high levels in Washoe County
By Lucia Starbuck

Daily COVID-19 cases are plateauing at high levels in Washoe County. There have been roughly 87 cases per day over the last week.

“You know, I guess I feel fortunate so far that we haven’t seen a significant, big increase from the Thanksgiving holiday and travel, but we’ll be watching that over the next week or so, as we could still expect to see some impacts,” Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said.

Dick is again pleading with community members to get vaccinated.

“I think that the primary reason that we’re plateauing, and continuing along at this this level, is because of the number of unvaccinated people that we still have in our community,” Dick said.

A little over 61% of Washoe County residents five years and older are fully vaccinated. That’s the second highest county rate in Nevada, following Carson City.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations in Nevada or view the state COVID-19 dashboard.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Proposal underway to extend and expand federal radiation exposure compensation program
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

A federal fund that compensates people sickened by radiation from nuclear weapons testing is set to expire next year, but proposed changes to the The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act would not only extend the program, but also allow far more people to seek aid. That includes people in Montana, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico, as well as more people in Utah and Nevada.

Supporters say government officials should have been more transparent about what they knew: materials and fallout could cause illness, cancer and death. Republican Representative Burgess Owens of Utah said the weapons tests were done when wind was blowing away from Las Vegas, but towards many other communities.

“Between 1945 and 1992, the United States conducted 206 above-ground nuclear weapon tests, releasing harmful radiation dust into the air and literally blanketing parts of the United States, including Utah, with poisonous air,” Owens said.

The proposal also includes aid for uranium miners who provided materials for weapons testing. Many belonged to nearby tribes, including the Navajo Nation. The proposal passed out of a House committee Wednesday with bipartisan support, but it needs more approvals to become law.

Student denied emergency relief in Nevada vaccination suit
By The Associated Press

A Nevada college student who argues he’s immune from COVID-19 because he was previously infected has lost his bid for an emergency court order in his legal battle over vaccination mandates.

Eighteen-year-old Jacob Gold was seeking a temporary restraining order that would have allowed him to register for classes while he presses his federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the University of Nevada, Reno’s mandatory vaccination policy.

The judge ruled Gold has failed to establish a fundamental constitutional right to refuse vaccination. He says the school has a right to try to protect the campus community from a deadly infectious disease.

Seniors across region facing high rates of food insecurity
By Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

When it comes to people 60 and older without access to nutritious food, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado residents are near the top.

Craig Gundersen directs a hunger and poverty initiative at Baylor University. He said New Mexico struggles with food insecurity across the board because of its high Native American population, a group that has long been marginalized. But what about seniors living in Nevada and Colorado?

"In at least some of these instances, they've been displaced from more expensive states like California, so it could be that they were struggling to get by in California, and, so, they move to somewhere like Colorado," Gundersen said.

Gundersen’s latest numbers looked at seniors during 2019. He said he doesn’t expect a huge increase in food insecurity from the pandemic. That’s thanks to measures like the federal pandemic relief packages and a permanent increase to federal food aid.

South Lake Tahoe affordable housing project receives more than $3 million
By KUNR Staff

An affordable housing project called the Sugar Pine Village in South Lake Tahoe has received more than $3 million, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

The funding comes from the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The department was awarded a total of nearly $158 million for infrastructure improvements that are necessary for affordable and mixed-income housing developments, such as Sugar Pine Village.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports construction will likely start in 2023.

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