Saturday News Briefs

October 10, 2014 9:00pm

•  Wildfire evacuees return home

•  Good news for Stanislaus State students

•  And more….

Applegate evacuees return home

While the cause of the “Applegate” fire east of Sacramento officially remains under investigation, the hundreds of firefighters battling it have made enough progress that residents evacuated to safety can return to their homes.

But not all of them. For six property owners, all that’s left of their homes are piles of smoldering ashes and perhaps a brick chimney.

The fire started as five to seven small fires in a line along the shoulder of eastbound I-80. Arson has not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, the state has returned more than 20 of its Grumman S-2T air tankers to service following the crash of one earlier this week while dropping fire retardant on the “Dog Rock” fire near the El Portal entrance to Yosemite National Park. The pilot, Geoffrey Hunt, 62, of San Jose, who was working for a private contractor, was killed. The cause of the crash is being investigated.


Stanislaus State fundraising effort tops half a million dollars

The annual fund drive at California State University, Stanislaus, has brought in $516,000 in pledges.

The money raised through the campaign will be awarded as scholarships in Fall 2015 to CSU Stanislaus students who demonstrate academic excellence.

Two matching gifts have come from John and June Rogers — who were the leaders of the campaign — totaling $100,000.

Corporate donors include a $10,000 gift from Bronco Wine Company, a $10,000 gift from Kaiser Permanente of Modesto and a $5,000 pledge from Modesto law firm Herum Crabtree Suntag.

In addition to the $516,000 raised by volunteers, donors Matt and Maria Swanson made a $250,000 gift in July to establish an endowment to supplement the money raised by volunteers each year.


Modesto business wins high-speed rail right of way engineering and surveying contract

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has approved a right of way engineering and surveying contract with O’Dell Engineering, a Modesto-based company.

Work for the $3.2 million dollar contract will be based out of the firm’s Fresno office and includes support services for engineering and acquisition activity from Fresno to Kern. Engineering is well underway in Fresno, with surveying work in Kern County starting this week.

“This project has significantly strengthened our Central Valley presence and created several new jobs in our Fresno office,” says Dylan Crawford, principal of O’Dell Engineering.

The California high-speed rail is the first system of its kind in the nation. Construction activity for the first segment is underway. As now planned, by 2029 the system is expected to run from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under 3 hours at speeds over 200 miles per hour.


Lithia adds another Central Valley car dealer

Lithia Motors Inc. (NYSE: LAD) has acquired Harris Nissan in Clovis.

The purchase price and other financial terms of the deal were not made public.

The store will be renamed Lithia Nissan of Clovis and will add $25 million in estimated annual revenues, the Medford, Ore,-based car seller says.

"We are pleased to add to our Nissan portfolio in the central valley of California. Lithia Nissan of Clovis will complement our Fresno location as we cluster locations in the greater Fresno market area,” says Bryan DeBoer, Lithia’s president and chief executive officer.

Lithia Motors is the eighth largest automotive retailer in the United States with 129 stores in 14 states. In the Central Valley, the company owns new car dealerships in Stockton, Fresno and Lodi.


State warns of potential botulism risk in a pesto sauce

Maybe you really don’t want to eat that pumpkin seed pesto sauce after all.

California Department of Public Health Director and State Health Officer Ron Chapman is warning consumers not to eat Williams-Sonoma Pumpkin Seed Pesto sauce because it may have been improperly produced, making it susceptible to contamination with Clostridium botulinum.

Ingestion of botulism toxin from improperly processed jarred and canned foods may lead to serious illness and even death.

The maker of the product, California Olive and Vine LLC of Sutter, initiated the voluntary recall after CDPH determined that the product had been improperly processed. The product was packaged in eight-ounce glass jars with screw-on metal lids.

The recalled product can be identified by the following stock keeping unit (SKU) numbers: 6404305 and 6389043.

The Williams-Sonoma Pumpkin Seed Pesto has been sold nationwide at Williams-Sonoma retail stores since September.


Former California Community Colleges chancellor dies

David Mertes, who led the California Community Colleges system for eight years and oversaw a massive influx of students into the system, has died. He was 83 when he died Thursday.

“He was a talented and prescient administrator who foresaw the need to introduce technology into the community colleges to meet the demands of a growing population. The system he left to his successors was immeasurably stronger thanks to his leadership and vision,” says the current chancellor, Brice Harris.

Mr. Mertes served as state chancellor from 1988 to 1996. Before overseeing the then-106 colleges of the system, he led the Los Rios Community College District based in Sacramento. He ran the Santa Barbara Community College District from 1978 to 1981 and was president of the College of San Mateo from 1968 to 1978.

The California Community Colleges system is now the largest system of higher education in the nation composed of 72 districts and 112 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year.


Oh, thrill. It’s a tarantula race

Community festivals come and community festivals go. But there must be something special about Coarsegold’s, as it’s now in its 17th year.

Saturday, October 25, heralds the return of the Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival.

The small town celebrates the autumnal population surge as the eight-legged creatures come out of their burrows in search of a mate before they hunker down over the winter.

Townspeople say that tarantula sightings forecast both cooler temperatures and the approaching rainy season, something Central Valley and foothill communities welcome.

While some people may shy away from them, the tarantulas are harmless, the festival organizer say, and an important part of the local ecosystem. One of the purposes of the event is to educate people on the importance of tarantulas.

“I’ve had hundreds of people who say they spared the life of a tarantula because of the festival. People report they now gently move them from places they’re not wanted, instead of resorting to a shoe or bug spray,” says Diane Boland, creator of the event.

Ms. Boland was prompted to start the event when she accidentally ran over a tarantula and was admonished by her neighbor.

“I wanted to make people aware of how interesting tarantulas are, how they really are good for the environment, unique to the mountains and really a lot of fun,” she says.

The event features numerous activities including the ever-popular tarantula races, hairiest leg contests for both men and women, as well as costume contests, baking contests and art activities for kids. There are also various vendors and the chance for kids to learn about tarantulas from experts, and even hold one. A tarantula, that is, not an expert.

The festival starts at 10:30 a.m. with the final tarantula race starting at 5 p.m.

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