Your Weekend Reads: Oroville Dam, Shark Attacks and Bumpass Hell

A view of Bumpass Hell from an overlook with blue boiling pools, steaming fumaroles, and Lake Almanor in the distance. (Diane Buckley-Maidt)

We know it can be hard to keep up with everything that’s going on in the world, the country and your community. So here are five stories from the past week that you may have missed but really shouldn’t.

1. How did those cracks get there? Didn’t you just build this thing?

The California Department of Water Resources says extensive steel reinforcement and other measures intended to make Oroville Dam’s rebuilt spillway stronger have resulted in cracking of the spillway concrete. DWR says the small cracks should not affect the spillway’s integrity. (Ken James/ California Department of Water Resources)

The most popular story on our site this week chronicled the latest chapter in the effort to rebuild the Oroville Dam spillway, which failed last February and led to mass evacuations. Federal regulators asked state water officials to explain small cracks that were found in some of the spillway’s newly built concrete slabs.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources said the cracks were the result of efforts to make the spillway stronger and were to be expected in concrete slabs of that size. But Robert Bea, a veteran analyst of structure failures, isn’t quite convinced:

“Cracking in high-strength reinforced concrete structures is never ‘to be expected,’ ” Bea said in an email. Even small cracks could increase stresses in the concrete when it is under “service loading” — for instance, when large volumes of water hurtle down the structure at speeds approaching 90 mph.

2. Beyond politics: understanding why the jury got to ‘not guilty’

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who is also known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, enters court for an arraignment on July 7, 2015 in San Francisco.
Defendant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who is also known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, enters court for an arraignment on July 7, 2015, in San Francisco. (Michael Macor-Pool/Getty Images)

A San Francisco jury has acquitted Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on murder and manslaughter charges in the 2015 death of Kathryn Steinle. Many people around the country — including President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — have put a spotlight on the defendant’s undocumented status and San Francisco’s status as a so-called sanctuary city. But there was a lot more to this case:

  • The bullet that killed Steinle ricocheted off the ground before traveling 78 feet and hitting Stenile, suggesting an accidental discharge.
  • The prosecution was unable to present a motive for why Garcia Zarate would intentionally kill Steinle.
  • The gun used in the killing was stolen from the car of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger four days earlier. The ranger was later promoted.

3. Sharks don’t find you that tasty … seals are yummier!

White Shark breaching in an attack.
White Shark breaching in an attack. (USO/iStockphoto)

Good news! The risk of being attacked by a shark on the California coast has dropped by more than 91 percent since 1950, according to Stanford researchers. Their best guess for the change is the resurgence of seals, sea lions and elephant seals, which provide sharks an attractive menu far from the California coastline.

4. Northern California fires claim 44th Victim

Michel Azarian, photographed during a recent trip. Azarian lived outside Santa Rosa and died Nov. 26 as the result of burns suffered during the Tubbs Fire in October. (Courtesy of Khachik Papanyan)

Michel Azarian, 41, died last Sunday at UC Davis Medical Center from extensive burns he suffered when the Tubbs Fire trapped him outside his home on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. He is the 44th person to have died as a result of the October wildfires that devastated huge swaths of the North Bay and other Northern California communities.

“For those of you who had the pleasure of knowing Michel, he had the kindest heart and an incredible lust for life,” wrote Mihran Aroian, parish counsel chairman for the Armenian Church of Austin, in an announcement of Azarian’s death. “He was also an active globetrotter and a brilliant photographer. He had a robust appreciation both for the quiet beauty in nature along with fun adventures and laughter with friends.”

5. Caution: Ground is hot

A sign on the boardwalk at Bumpass Hell warns visitors to stay on the path.
A sign on the boardwalk at Bumpass Hell warns visitors to stay on the path. (Karen Haner)

In 1865, Kendall Bumpass was leading a tour around the hot pools in what we know today as Lassen Volcanic National Park.

“Kendall was warning everyone to be careful of where they put their feet and stepped because he knew how crumbly the ground could be,” says Karen Haner, the chief of interpretation and education at Lassen. “Unfortunately, he took a misstep, and his leg plunged into the boiling, acidic water. It burned him very severely.”

And so, Bumpass Hell was born.

Before you go…

This weekend marks one year since the Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 Bay Area artists at an Oakland warehouse.

Your Weekend Reads: Oroville Dam, Shark Attacks and Bumpass Hell 3 December,2017Ryan Levi


Ryan Levi

Ryan Levi is a reporter and producer at KQED News and the host of the weekly Q’ed Up podcast. Ryan started at KQED as an intern where he reported on-air and online for The California Report, The California Report Magazine and KQED’s daily newscasts. Prior to joining KQED in 2016, Ryan was a general assignment reporter and producer at KBIA-FM, the NPR member station in Columbia, Missouri. Ryan reported on Columbia’s renewed fight against homelessness as well as coordinating the station’s coverage of the annual True/False Film Fest, one of the top documentary film festivals in the country. Ryan has also written about film, food, books, religion, theater and other topics for various publications. You can find Ryan on Twitter @ryan_levi.

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