/ Modified oct 8, 2020 4:51 p.m.

News roundup: Ecological impacts of Bighorn Fire, campaigns in battleground Arizona

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Oct. 8.

Cases 223,401 | Deaths 5,743

On Thursday, Oct. 8, Arizona reported 863 new COVID-19 cases and 10 additional deaths. According to state data, intensive care bed usage by patients with COVID-19 has been rising slightly throughout October, but is far below the peak it reached in mid-July.

Bighorn Fire marks familiar cycle of renewal amid new chapter of bigger burns


At the start of June, a lighting strike in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness set off what became known as the Bighorn Fire. Crews battled the fire for seven weeks, as it burned nearly 120,000 acres, including much-loved areas like Mt. Lemmon and the upper Sabino Canyon watershed.

From the vantage point of Tucson, the Bighorn's evacuation orders, smoke and visible flames compounded the feelings of this apocalyptic year. But from a fire standpoint, it burned like most others — in an uneven pattern of low-to-severe intensity.

Joshua Taiz, district wildlife biologist with the Santa Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, said the good news is only a small percentage of the total footprint was severely burned. That was helped by the fact that the wildland firefighting crews were working to manage the fire and minimize impacts where possible, including aerial drops of water and retardant to lower the intensity of the blaze.

Learn more here.

Latest lawsuit against Fort Huachuca over San Pedro water use seeks documents


The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity is again suing Fort Huachuca for what it describes as a failure to protect the San Pedro River.

The center has filed lawsuits against the fort for years, arguing the Army's water use is overdrawing the aquifer the nearby San Pedro River depends upon. On Wednesday, the Center filed another suit against the Fort, U.S. Army and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not releasing public records tied to what they allege is a cover-up of a 2010 report showing groundwater pumping from Fort Huachuca was harming the San Pedro River and endangered species.

Learn more here.

Biden, Harris aim to tip battleground Arizona for Democrats


PHOENIX — Arizona is in the presidential battleground spotlight Thursday after spending decades firmly in the Republican column. Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, are campaigning together for the first time since the Democratic National Convention in August. Vice President Mike Pence will campaign across town in the Phoenix area.

A decade ago, Arizona was at the center of Republicans' push against illegal immigration. It's now the nation's newest battleground thanks to a combination of demographic and political changes. Democrats from California and elsewhere are planting roots in the Phoenix area. Young Latinos have organized and are reaching voting age. And suburban women are turning away from President Donald Trump in increasing numbers.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation extends weekend curfews through Oct. 21

Fronteras Desk

The Navajo Nation will continue its 57-hour weekend lockdowns, which started last Friday, through at least Oct. 21.

The Navajo Nation saw a spike in COVID-19 cases following a couple of Labor Day weekend parties. President Jonathan Nez said there’s been some improvement since then.

“And because of staying at home, wearing our masks, reminding each other not to gather, we brought the number down," Nez said.

The weekend curfew begins Friday nights at 8 and remains in effect through Monday mornings. The Navajo Nation is also enforcing an 8 p.m. curfew on weeknights. Violating a curfew could mean fines of up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail.

Fight continues over mail-in ballot deadline for Navajo voters

Fronteras Desk

Ballots are already being sent out to Arizona voters, but the state is facing a lawsuit over access to voting by mail. Members of the Navajo Nation say they need extra time for their mail-in ballots to be received.

Six members of the Navajo Nation sued Arizona’s Secretary of State’s Office in August saying, when it comes to voting by mail, Navajo voters have a disadvantage. Most who live on the large, rural reservation and the time it takes for ballots mailed from the Nation to be delivered to the election facility can also be longer than from urban areas. The suit asks for a 10-day grace period for Navajo voters’ ballots if they are received after Election Day.

A district court judge in September denied the request, saying Navajo voters face challenges, but not because the state’s vote-by-mail deadline is discriminatory. The Navajo voters in the case appealed that decision. The appeal is expected to go before a three-judge panel next week.

The state this week called for the appeal to be dismissed. In the response, attorneys for the Secretary of State's Office say the plaintiffs have not shown that Navajo vote-by-mail ballots had been rejected in the past and that changing deadlines now would confuse voters.

Arizona hospitalizations for COVID up, but far below peak


PHOENIX — Arizona is reporting 863 additional known COVID-19 cases with 10 more deaths amid a recent gradual increase in virus-related hospitalizations. Department of Health Services figures released Thursday increased totals to 223,401 cases and 5,743 deaths.

Some COVID-19 metrics released by the department show gradual increases in inpatient hospitalizations and usage of intensive care beds since lows in late September. However, the latest levels remained far below peaks seen in July when Arizona was a national hotspot.

Meanwhile, seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths in Arizona both decreased in the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Learn more hre.

Arizona lawmaker off ventilator amid coronavirus fight

AP PHOENIX — An Arizona lawmaker who was on a ventilator at a Maryland hospital’s intensive care unit ill with COVID-19 is now breathing on his own.

The developments came after Democratic Rep. Lorenzo Sierra of Avondale spent several days unable to breathe without the mechanical device. Sierra's wife, Rhonda Cagle, tweeted Thursday that “Miracles do happen" but said her husband is still in critical condition. She thanked God and asked for continued prayers.

Sierra and Cagle were visiting family in Washington when they both fell ill. He was hospitalized Sunday.

More here.

Navajo Nation reports 27 new COVID-19 cases, 2 more deaths


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation health officials report 27 new cases of COVID-19 with two additional deaths. The latest numbers released Wednesday night bring the total number of cases to 10,546 including 18 additional cases that were previously unreported due to delayed reporting or reconciliation. The death toll now stands at 562 since the pandemic began.

Tribal health officials say 110,405 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested for the coronavirus and 7,301 have recovered.

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

Learn more.

Voter registration extension in Arizona remains in place


PHOENIX — The court-ordered extension of Arizona’s voter registration deadline remains in place, at least for now.

An appeals court rejected a bid by Republican organizations to put on hold a ruling that pushed back the deadline from Monday to Oct. 23 because of the pandemic. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it had doubts about the GOP groups' ability as private parties to try to get the lower-court ruling put on hold while they appeal it.

The court will reconsider the request after it rules on the state of Arizona’s request to join the Republican groups in the appeal.

Learn more here.

Facebook removes fake accounts linked to conservative group


Facebook has removed more than 275 accounts that used fake profiles to pose as conservative Americans.

The platform announced Thursday that it's also banned an Arizona-based marketing firm that its investigation found was behind the fake accounts. Facebook says the firm, Rally Forge, was working for Turning Point USA, a conservative youth organization. Last month The Washington Post reported that Turning Point Action, a political action committee created by the founder of Turning Point USA, had hired teenagers to post coordinated pro-Trump content, a violation of the platform's rules.

Rally Forge and Turning Point USA did not immediately respond to messages on Thursday.

More here.

Companies say body cameras on loan to Arizona, not donated


PHOENIX — Representatives for Arizona's governor billed a package of 150 body cameras as a “donation," which the Arizona Republic reports is actually a pilot program that could result in a lucrative contract for one of the two suppliers donating the cameras.

Axon and WatchGuard will each provide about 75 body cameras for a chance at a government contract down the line. The Arizona Department of Public Safety says after an evaluation period, it plans on purchasing equipment from one company and sending back the equipment from the other.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office had previously described the cameras as a “donation” during a September announcement.

Learn more here.

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