Rockies draft Benny Montgomery: How the national media graded Colorado’s first-round pick in the MLB draft

For the second straight year, the Rockies picked an outfielder out of high school with their top selection in the MLB draft.

Colorado selected Benny Montgomery out of Red Land High School in Lewisberry, Pa., on Sunday with the No. 8 overall pick at Bellco Theatre in Denver. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound 18-year-old is ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the draft, according to MLB Pipeline.

The Rockies drafted outfielder Zac Veen with the No. 9 overall pick last year.

Some, including Denver Post sportswriter Kyle Newman, felt that the selection was the wrong choice for Colorado. In his analysis, Newman felt that the Rockies should have chosen Vanderbilt right-handed pitcher Kumar Rocker: “With Rocker’s raw talent — and with his proclivity for pitching well in big games — the Rockies shouldn’t have been fazed by the right-hander’s recent drop down the board.”

How was the pick looked at by the national media outlets? Here’s a look at what several other analysts thought of the Rockies’ first-round pick:

The Athletic’s Keith Law: “Benny Montgomery is such a Rockies pick. He’s extremely athletic and projectable, has several plus tools, and has swing and miss concerns, something that never deters the Rockies from taking a player in whose tools they really believe. He’s an upside play with risk — he has a big hitch in his swing and he is going to strike out a lot in pro ball until that’s tightened up. But they took a similar toolsy outfielder with some swing and miss in Zac Veen last year, and that’s worked out well so far.” See the full draft analysis.

Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter (Grade: C): “In terms of raw tools, Montgomery stacks up to any player in the 2021 draft class. He has top-of-the-scale speed and tantalizing raw power in an athletic 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame that offers significant physical projection. However, his ability to make consistent contact against pro pitching remains a question mark. He was described as a ‘long-armed hitter with a hitch in his swing, with a lack of timing and balance’ by Baseball America, and while he has made strides to clean things up, there’s still significant boom-or-bust potential.” See the full draft analysis.

CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa: “Montgomery has near-elite footspeed and a strong arm that should help him stick in center. He possesses big-time power potential at the plate as well, though evaluators are concerned about his ability to make consistent contact.” See the full draft analysis.

ESPN’s Dan Mullen: “For the second straight year, the Rockies go prep outfielder with their first pick after taking Zac Veen at No. 9 overall last year. If Montgomery can adjust the hand hitch in his swing and grow into his raw power, the Rockies just added a center fielder with 25-30 home run potential — but there is a lot of risk in a toolsy prep player with an unorthodox swing.” See the full draft analysis.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo: “In terms of complete toolsets, there aren’t many better position players in this class than Montgomery. He has tremendous speed and raw power and has the chance to be a plus defender. Some scouts were concerned about his unorthodox mechanics at the plate, but I like the upside pick here.” See the full draft analysis.

Mark Redwine’s defense rests without addressing sordid photos at heart of prosecution’s murder case

Dylan Redwine

Mark Redwine’s defense team rested its case Wednesday without addressing the sordid photos that prosecutors allege motivated Redwine to kill his 13-year-old son, Dylan Redwine.

Redwine, 59, is accused of killing Dylan while the boy was visiting his father’s Vallecito home over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2012. The murder trial is in the fourth week of testimony and the jury is expected to begin deliberations this week.

Prosecutors have argued that Redwine killed his son in a fit of rage when Dylan confronted his father over photographs that depict Redwine dressed in a bra and eating feces from a diaper. Redwine’s defense attorneys argued that Dylan ran away from home and may have been killed by a wild animal.

Redwine’s public defenders did not address the sordid photographs as they presented their case, though they did establish during the prosecution’s case that Dylan’s older brother had confronted their father about the photos while Dylan and Redwine were on a trip together, and that Dylan was not harmed at that time.

Redwine said in court Wednesday that he would not take the stand in his own defense.

“I have decided not to testify, your honor,” Redwine told Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Jeffrey Wilson, who accepted the decision.

Redwine’s defense team instead focused on undermining key pieces of evidence against their client.

Prosecutors said a cadaver dog alerted to the scent of human remains in Redwine’s truck; defense witnesses questioned the reliability of the dogs. Prosecutors said traces of Dylan’s blood were found in Redwine’s living room; defense witnesses cast doubt on whether that blood belonged to Dylan and suggested the small amount of blood found could be present whether or not a crime was committed. Redwine’s ex-girlfriend testified that Dylan cut his finger in the home and dropped blood on the floor a year before he disappeared.

“It doesn’t always mean someone was killed there, if you see blood,” forensic scientist Richard Eikelenboom testified Tuesday. “You have to put it into the bigger picture of the crime.”

Investigators believe Dylan was killed on the night of Nov. 18, 2012, but a mail carrier testified for the defense that she saw a boy who could have been Dylan walking on the afternoon of Nov. 19, 2012.

Initially, she told investigators she was absolutely certain she’d seen Dylan, testimony revealed, but she later said she was only 50% sure. She told investigators the boy she saw was wearing a black backpack.

Some of Dylan’s belongings, including a black backpack, were never found.

Prosecutors characterized the mail carrier’s observations as one of hundreds of tips in Dylan’s case that were thoroughly investigated and found to be false.

The trial continues Wednesday afternoon.

Rockies Insider: Why Colorado should’ve picked Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker at No. 8 overall

The Rockies Insider.

There is a dearth of projectable starting pitchers in the Rockies’ minor league system. So why didn’t Colorado address that pressing need with its No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft?

With their first-round choice, the Rockies selected prep outfielder Benny Montgomery, a tool-laden right-handed hitter with pop. Montgomery, who has a good chance of starting at Coors Field one day, was the safe pick in a draft where the Rockies needed to be bold and aggressive.

Instead of Montgomery, Colorado should’ve taken Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker at No. 8. Rocker, who went at No. 10 to the Mets, was the mostly highly-touted college pitcher in the class besides his teammate Jack Leiter, taken at No. 2 by Texas.

Rocker has a plus-fastball that runs in the high-90s along with a wipeout slider and decent curveball, but his stock fell heading into the draft because of concerns about his command. Even so, Rocker led Division I with 14 wins in 2021 and also tied Leiter for the lead with 179 strikeouts. The Rockies are also familiar with him, having drafted him in the 38th round in 2018 out of North Oconee High in Georgia.

With Rocker’s raw talent — and with his proclivity for pitching well in big games — the Rockies shouldn’t have been fazed by the right-hander’s recent drop down the board.

But instead, interim GM Bill Schmidt made the conservative pick with Montgomery, even though outfield prospects are a dime-a-dozen and not one of Colorado’s most pressing needs on the farm. Also of note: The Rockies used last year’s first-round selection on a high school outfielder, taking Zac Veen at No. 9 overall.

Beyond the first round, Colorado should’ve taken the Angels’ route and picked even more hurlers. The Rockies took college pitchers with 11 of their 20 draft picks, starting with LSU right-hander Jaden Hill in Round 2 at No. 44 overall. But with attrition factored in, the argument can be made that number wasn’t enough.

The Angels used all 20 of their picks on pitchers (19 of them from college), becoming just the second team to do so following the Marlins in last year’s condensed five-round draft. The Angels weren’t the only team to take that approach in a draft that was pitching-heavy because of the additional year of eligibility that the NCAA granted players due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cleveland took 19 pitchers out of its 21 selections, while the Dodgers didn’t draft a position player until the 16th round, with 17 of their 19 picks pitchers. The Giants followed that same blueprint, taking pitchers with their first nine selections, eight of them out of college.

Those are unconventional approaches, but that’s what the Rockies need right now while attempting to re-stock their minor-league cupboard. Sticking to a status-quo draft approach isn’t going to bring pitching-needy, draft-and-build Colorado anything but more bottom-half finishes in the National League West.

— Kyle Newman, The Denver Post


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Tay Anderson says he will resume day-to-day responsibilities as a Denver school board member

Denver Public Schools Director Tay Anderson informed his fellow school board members Wednesday morning that he will return to his elected duties after taking a seven-week hiatus while a sexual assault investigation was pending.

Although that investigation is not complete, Anderson wrote in a letter to his colleagues that no credible evidence against him has emerged and he has waited long enough.

He voluntarily stepped back in late May after the DPS-initiated outside investigation was expanded to include additional allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Although I remain committed to engaging in a transparent and fair process, I can no longer wait for this process to conclude to initiate my return to serving the families of the Denver Public Schools. Today I am emailing to inform you that I am returning to my full duties as a duly elected member of the Denver School Board. This is effective immediately,” Anderson wrote in his letter, provided to The Denver Post by Denver Public Schools.

Anderson is holding a news conference at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss his decision. He declined to talk about his plans in advance when contacted by The Post.

The school board does not have any scheduled meetings in July but will resume in August. Classes start Aug. 23.

Anderson has been embroiled in controversy over sexual assault allegations since late March when Black Lives Matter 5280 posted a statement on social media saying the organization was speaking out on behalf of a woman who said Anderson had sexually assaulted her. The group did not name the woman or offer specifics of the alleged attack.

Anderson denies that he ever assaulted anyone.

In April, the school board announced it had hired Investigations Law Group to look into the claims against Anderson, and Anderson pledged to cooperate with that investigation. The investigation was expected to conclude by the end of June.

However, the school board said the investigation would be extended after Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming, a parent of three DPS students, appeared before a state legislative committee in late May to say there was a predator within the school system who was targeting students. She did not name the alleged predator.

The Denver Public Schools board later acknowledged Brooks Fleming was talking about Anderson and said that district officials had notified the investigative team about the new claims, and that Denver police also were aware. That led Investigations Law Group to expand its scope and announce the review would extend through the summer.

At that point, Anderson announced he would step back from day-to-day school board duties, although he participated in the vote to hire new Superintendent Alex Marrero.

On Wednesday morning, DPS said it would not tell the independent law firm to end its investigation early and that it was up to the investigators to decide when they had gathered and reviewed all available evidence.

The board hired the outside firm because “we believed a young Black man deserved due process and a fair evaluation of anonymous allegations that were made on social media,” according to an emailed statement provided by Will Jones, the district’s spokesman.

“It’s also important to note that the board does not have authority to suspend Director Anderson from his duties,” the statement said.  “Director Anderson voluntarily agreed to step back from his duties during the remainder of the investigation. The board has taken no action that would prevent him from attending and participating in all the board meetings in August.”


Tay Anderson’s letter to his colleagues

Colorado’s Bowen Yang, an “SNL” cast member, makes Emmy history with nomination

Colorado native Bowen Yang on Tuesday made history by becoming one of the first Chinese-Americans and the first-ever “Saturday Night Live” featured player to be nominated for an acting Emmy.

The nominations, announced July 13, singled out Aurora-raised Yang as a top contender for the Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category.

While other full “SNL” cast members have been nominated for Emmys in the past, Yang is considered a featured player — the term used for cast members during their first two, prove-it-or-lose-it seasons. They typically become regular cast members if they make it to a third season.

Yang joined the show in 2019 as the show’s first Chinese-American cast member, and only its third openly LGBTQ+ player (after Terry Sweeney and John Milhiser). At the time, Yang’s alma mater was quick to congratulate him on Twitter.

“The class of 2008 knew this day would come,” Smoky Hill High School tweeted, along with a photo of Yang’s senior superlative: “Most Likely to Be a Cast Member on Saturday Night Live.”

Asian representation has been largely absent at the Emmys for decades, and diverse names have only arrived relatively recently. In 2018, Sandra Oh became the first Asian American woman to be nominated as lead actress, for “Killing Eve,” according to NBC News. Archie Panjabi and Riz Ahmed have both won Emmys, in 2010 and 2017 respectively, and in 2017, Chinese American actor B.D. Wong was nominated for outstanding guest actor in a drama series for “Mr. Robot.”

Comedy, which is often snubbed at the Oscars, also sees its full bloom at the Emmy awards, given the diverse slate of comedic shows on TV (stand-up, sketch, variety, etc.). Yang is a great example of someone who deserves more attention.

He co-hosts the Las Culturistas podcast with Matt Rogers and lives in New York City, but started out in Smoky Hill’s improv troupe, Spontaneous Combustion, which was formed by veteran teacher Adrian Holguin. He’s lately become an indispensable character actor on “SNL’s” Weekend Update, where his bits often go viral — like playing the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.

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Brokers marketing Esquire Theatre in Denver nab it for $2.1M

Two brokers at a Denver commercial real estate firm have purchased the Esquire Theatre building along 6th Avenue after being hired to market it for sale.

Tim Finholm and Sam Leger of Unique Properties bought the theater at 590 N. Downing St. for $2.1 million, according to public records. Their firm originally listed the property for $3.3 million last summer.

“After walking numerous people through the building and showing the property numerous times, we decided it was a nice asset to purchase,” Finholm said.

The theater was built in 1927, opening with one screen as the Hiawatha Theatre. It now has two screens and was most recently renovated in 2019. The Landmark Theatres chain has leased the Esquire since 1980.

The 9,175-square-foot building on a 0.39-acre lot was sold by Esquire LLC, which paid $850,000 for it in 2015, records show.

Finholm said the previous owner decided to sell because Landmark had not paid rent since April 2020, when the pandemic forced businesses, such as movie theaters, to close. The theater reopened in May of this year, according to the Denver Post.

Finholm said the property received multiple offers, but sold for well under the asking price because Landmark’s lease extends through 2024.

“Most people looked at wanting to redevelop the property but there was too much lease term left on the lease for a developer,” Finholm said. “They wanted to go around and redevelop the property now rather than wait out the tenant.”

Finholm said what happens with the property after 2024 will depend on whether Landmark wants to stay.

Landmark also operates the Mayan, Landmark Greenwood Village and Chez Artiste theaters in the Denver metro area.

Olympic athletes to put on own medals at Tokyo ceremonies

TOKYO — Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics will put their medals around their own necks to protect against spreading the coronavirus.

The “very significant change” to traditional medal ceremonies in the 339 events was revealed Wednesday by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

“The medals will not be given around the neck,” Bach told international media on a conference call from Tokyo. “They will be presented to the athlete on a tray and then the athlete will take the medal him or herself.”

“It will be made sure that the person who will put the medal on tray will do so only with disinfected gloves so that the athlete can be sure that nobody touched them before,” Bach added.

The Olympic approach is different to soccer in Europe where UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has personally hung medals around the necks of players at competition finals in recent weeks.

Ceferin also shook hands with Italy’s standout goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma at the Euro 2020 medal and trophy presentation in London on Sunday. Donnarumma’s save in a penalty shootout clinched the title for Italy against England.

Bach confirmed Wednesday that in Tokyo “there will be no shake hands and there will be no hugs there during the ceremony.”

Olympic medals are typically presented by an IOC member or a leading official in a sport’s governing body.

The IOC had previously said medalists and ceremony officials would have to wear masks.

The Tokyo Olympics open July 23 in a state of emergency and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the city.

UMS 2021: Pinegrove, Remi Wolf, Wildermiss, Allah-las lead return to South Broadway

Denver’s Underground Music Showcase on Wednesday announced the 100-plus national and local acts that will play its multi-stage festival, Aug. 27-29, along the South Broadway corridor in the Baker neighborhood.

The festival, which transformed into an online fundraiser last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, returns in-person with headlining sets from national and local indie acts at a dozen venues. Visiting names such as Pinegrove, Remi Wolf, Allah-las, Shannon & the Clams and Neil Frances will join notable Colorado bands Wildermiss, DespAIR Jordan, The Still Tide, Los Mocochetes, bellhoss, iZCALLi, Heavy Diamond Ring and many more.

“After 20 years of Underground Music Showcase, we were thrilled to be able to carry-on our tradition virtually last year by raising $75,000 for independent musicians,” wrote Casey Berry, owner of the festival, in a press statement. “With that said, we couldn’t be happier to be in-person for 2021 to not only support live music and local bands, but to support more than a dozen independent bars and restaurants on Broadway!”

Co-founded by Denver Post arts critics John Moore and Ricardo Baca, The UMS has long been one of the biggest weekends of the year for businesses along Denver’s South Broadway corridor between Sixth and Alameda avenues. Many of them survived on PPP loans last year, although a couple of mainstays have closed or changed hands, such as 3 Kings Tavern and the Skylark Lounge (respectively; the latter was not sold because of the pandemic, Westword reported).

This year’s festival will take place later than its usual late-July weekend to give organizers more time to plan, according to the press statement.

“This extra time will lead to a safer and more impactful event for Denver, while still getting music lovers back to Broadway as soon as possible,” organizers wrote. Safety measures may include reduced indoor capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure proper distancing.

Tickets went on sale in May and cost $60 for a weekend pass, and $55 for weekend passes in a 4-pack (or $220 total). Visit undergroundmusicshowcase.com for details.

Click the poster below to zoom in on the full roster.

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Demolishing the old I-70 viaduct brings noise — and a lot of dust — to northeast Denver residents

The jack hammer-like pounding reverberated throughout the neighborhood below — ricocheting down the alley and bouncing off houses a block away, almost making it unclear from which direction it originated.

Workers using excavators and other equipment tore apart concrete and steel rebar above Josephine Street on a recent hot afternoon — producing a grating cacophony that’s moved through northeast Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood for seven weeks. The demolition of the old Interstate 70 viaduct has been the most consistently noisy stage of the $1.3 billion Central 70 project, a necessary step to replace the now-defunct structure with a 1.8-mile section of new highway.

But what has bothered some neighbors most hasn’t been the racket so much as the fine-grained dust kicked up by the destruction.

“I want to say dust,” said Yadira Sanchez, 44, who lives two blocks north of I-70, “but ‘dust’ isn’t appropriate because ‘dust’ refers to dirt — and it isn’t dirt that’s flying around. It’s cement. It affects your health. My asthma and my kids’ asthma hasn’t been very well for the last weeks. It’s already compromised (during the project) as it is. If you add more, it just makes it 10 times as hard.”

Across the neighborhood, many have been eager to see the death of the longtime eyesore and barrier, which has divided the neighborhood for 57 years. But the visceral effects of the demolition — dust collecting on car windshields and making residents cough, the bangs clanging in their ears — have made this summer tough.

The good news: Crews are making quick progress.

Stacia Sellers, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Central 70 project spokeswoman, said more than half of the viaduct is already down, and most segments adjacent to residential blocks should be done in the next several weeks.

“It’s moving a lot faster than we had originally scheduled,” Sellers said.

Still, a few tricky sections will take until September to finish, as originally planned, according to the latest schedule. They involve spans above railroad tracks and some of the new cross-street bridges built during the project.

The project is widening I-70 for nearly 10 miles between Interstate 25 and Chambers Road in Aurora, with plans to add a tolled express lane in each direction. The project’s east section is done and the central section is wrapping up soon, with final paving this month. But the west zone, where the viaduct is coming down, has more than a year of intensive construction to go.

Through Elyria-Swansea, CDOT’s contractors, led by Kiewit Construction, are building a mostly open-air roadway that’s depressed below ground level between Brighton and Colorado boulevards. The northern half is done and now carries both directions of traffic. The southern half — the eventual eastbound side — will be dug where the viaduct’s remnants stand, with major work finishing up in late 2022.

Yadira Sanchez who has been resident ...
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Yadira Sanchez who has been a resident of Elyria-Swansea neighborhood for 15 years, poses for a portrait by the site of demolition of the old Interstate 70 viaduct near Steele Street in Denver on Friday, July 9, 2021.

Mixed reviews for demo mitigations

During the demolition, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment says it’s received no noise complaints. But nearly three years into the project’s disruption of the neighborhood, that appears to be more a reflection of noise fatigue than a sign of tranquility.

Sanchez and her family, who own the Panaderia Sanchez bakery and restaurant just south of the viaduct at Thompson Court, are among those who have used informal routes to lodge complaints. The project has a 24-hour hotline and email box. At times, people have leaned on Kiewit, as well as CDOT’s project office, to amp up the use of water spray crews and misting equipment to wet viaduct debris and tamp down the dust.

Sellers confirmed that such prodding has resulted in adjustments to mitigation efforts in recent weeks.

Demolition crews typically work on multiple sections at once. Project leaders have said they aim to finish work in a given area within a week or two so that neighbors aren’t affected for too long.

Overall, residents who spoke to The Denver Post gave Kiewit and CDOT mixed reviews.

Drew Dutcher, the president of the Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association, said the noise didn’t turn out to be a big problem, especially since most work has occurred during the day. Kiewit put him and the other nearest residents up in hotels when noisy work was planned overnight, as required by its city noise variance, which is up for renewal next month.

But Dutcher called the dust “a very significant issue.”

“There were frequently large plumes/clouds of fugitive dust throughout the neighborhood,” he wrote in an email. “All of our cars, houses and yards were covered in a layer of dust. That has somewhat subsided,” he added, since the demolition moved past his area in June. He lives on High Street less than a block north of the project zone.

Sellers said the CDOT office has tried to ensure nobody near a section that’s coming up for demolition is caught off guard. Car-wash vouchers also have been available.

“We’ve done significant outreach with all our demolition,” she said. “From the residents, we really have not heard any complaints. Obviously, they want us out of the area as soon as possible.”

Sanchez said her family’s restaurant has struggled during the demolition, despite a couple large taco orders from construction crews. The disruption has been tough for several businesses along 46th Avenue, which had run under the viaduct, and those that lease their buildings still must pay their monthly rent, she said.

CDOT offers assistance to property owners when crews need access to their land, as required by law, but Sanchez suggested the agency should provide small businesses with help, too. Sellers said that occurs only in rare cases when road access is closed due to project needs.

Shovel cars demolish the old Interstate ...
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Excavators demolish the old Interstate 70 viaduct near Josephine Street in Denver on Friday, July 9, 2021. The new I-70 lanes are visible at the bottom of the photo.

Bittersweet feelings about viaduct’s demise

For families who have lived in Elyria and Swansea for generations, the viaduct was the original sin of the construction of I-70 — so its demise isn’t mourned by many.

Provided by Colorado Department of Transportation

A rendering shows the section of the expanded Interstate 70 that will have a 4-acre cover on top, roughly between Columbine and Clayton streets.

But some have complicated feelings about it, centered on the change the project is bringing. The side-by-side neighborhoods, still a patchwork of industrial and residential blocks and now home mostly to Latinos, were divided by the vertical barrier when the highway was bulldozed through Denver in the 1960s.

At the same time, it’s been part of the neighborhood’s fabric. Alfonso Espino, 25, remembers walking underneath the viaduct nearly every day during his childhood.

Tearing it down comes at the cost of a much wider highway that required the bulldozing of 56 homes and 17 businesses to make room for it. That makes Espino, now a community organizer with the Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition, shrug off the disruptiveness of the demolition.

“To be honest, at this point, to me, the whole work is less concerning than just the reality and the consequences of a billion-dollar project in your neighborhood happening,” he said. “It’s whatever at this point, honestly.”

After the project is done, part of I-70 will be covered by a park. But it still will ferry thousands of exhaust-emitting vehicles a day through the neighborhood. Espino and others worry about the health consequences.

Dutcher said the construction noise hasn’t been as concerning as the recurring use of bone-rattling “Jake Brakes,” or engine brakes, by semitrailer drivers on I-70 and area streets. That problem predates the project and should be targeted for enforcement, he said.

“As I am typing I can hear trucks through my house,” Dutcher wrote in his email. “I actually think they are noisier now because they are closer and at ground level.”

Looking ahead, Espino sees the removal of the viaduct as the latest marker of change, portending a likely wave of gentrification.

He calls the demolition “almost the perfect visual for what’s going on,” with speculators known to offer cash to buy houses in the neighborhood. Another major government-led project is underway on the west side of Elyria-Swansea, where the city is building out the National Western Center, complete with a stop on the new N-Line commuter rail.

He wonders who will be able to afford to live in Elyria-Swansea in a few years.

“You can tell it’s finally coming,” Espino said. The neighborhood is “being reintegrated into the city. But us, the working class — we’re being left behind.”

Western fires threaten parched American Indian tribal lands

By NATHAN HOWARD and SARA CLINE, Associated Press

BLY, Ore. — Fierce wildfires in the northwest are threatening American Indian tribal lands that already are struggling to conserve water and preserve traditional hunting grounds in the face of a Western drought.

Blazes in Oregon and Washington were among some 60 large, active wildfires that have destroyed homes and burned through close to a million acres (1,562 square miles, 4,047 square kilometers) in a dozen mostly Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In north-central Washington, hundreds of people in the town of Nespelem on the Colville Indian Agency were ordered to leave because of “imminent and life-threatening” danger as the largest of five wildfires caused by dozens of Monday night lightning strikes tore through grass, sagebrush and timber.

Seven homes burned but four were vacant and the entire town evacuated safely before the fire arrived, said Andrew Joseph Jr., chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation that includes more than 9,000 descendants of a dozen tribes.

Monte Piatote and his wife grabbed their pets and managed to flee but watched the fire burn the home where he’d lived since he was a child.

“I told my wife, I told her, ‘Watch.’ Then boom, there it was,” Piatote told KREM-TV.

The confederation declared a state of emergency Tuesday and said the reservation was closed to the public and to industrial activity. The declaration said weather forecasts called for possible triple-digit temperatures and 25-mph (40-kph) winds on Wednesday into Thursday that could drive the flames.

In Oregon, the lightning-sparked Bootleg Fire that had destroyed at least 20 homes was raging through lands near the California border on Wednesday. At least 2,000 homes were threatened by the fire.

Mark Enty, a spokesman for the Northwest Incident Management Team 10 that is working to contain the fire, said that since he arrived to the area last week the Bootleg Fire has doubled in size each day.

“That’s sort of like having a new fire every day,” Enty said.

The blaze had spread over 315 square miles, an area larger than New York City. Firefighters for the third day in a row had to back off occasionally for their safety and “weather isn’t going to change for the foreseeable future,” said Rob Allen, an incident commander.

Crews were facing above-normal temperatures and bone-dry humidity coupled with afternoon gusts that were expected to create dangerous fire conditions through Wednesday, officials said. Members of the Oregon National Guard were expected to be deployed to help with road closures and traffic control in fire-affected areas.

The fire disrupted three transmission lines that provide electricity to California and the state’s power grid operator asked for voluntary power conservation Monday. The California Independent System Operator said Tuesday that the grid was stable and with the forecast for cooler temperatures another call for conservation was not expected.

The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest was burning through a region where the Klamath Tribes — comprised of three distinct indigenous peoples — have lived for millennia.

“There is definitely extensive damage to the forest where we have our treaty rights,” said Don Gentry, the chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council in Chiloquin, Oregon, which is located about 25 miles west of the Bootleg Fire.

“I am sure we have lost a number of deer to the fire,” he said. “We are definitely concerned. I know there are cultural resource areas and sensitive areas that are likely the fire is going through.”

The Klamath Tribes have been impacted by wildfires before, including one that burned 23 square miles in southern Oregon last September. That fire damaged land where many of the Klamath tribal members hunt, fish and gather. The fire also burned the tribes’ cemetery and at least one tribal member’s house, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported in September.

The tribes are struggling with drought-caused problems. In past decades, they have fought to preserve minimum water levels in Upper Klamath Lake to preserve two species of federally endangered sucker fish that are central to their culture and heritage. Farmers draw much of their irrigation water from the same lake that’s critical to the fish. Even before the fire erupted, extreme drought in southern Oregon had reduced water flows to historic lows.

In California, progress was reported on the state’s largest fire so far this year. The Beckwourth Complex, a combined pair of lighting-ignited blazes, was almost 50% contained after blackening more than 145 square miles near the Nevada state line.

Damage was still being tallied in the small rural community of Doyle, California, where flames swept in during the weekend and destroyed several homes, including Beverly Houdyshell’s.

The 79-year-old said Tuesday that she’s too old and too poor to rebuild and isn’t sure what her future holds.

“What chance do I have to build another house, to have another home?” Houdyshell said. “No chance at all.”

“I can’t just buy another house, boom like that. I had insurance. I haven’t heard from them yet. I called them but I haven’t heard nothing.”

A fire that began Sunday in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park grew to nearly 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) but containment increased to 15%. Four unspecified buildings were destroyed.

Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier, and they warn that weather will get wilder as the world warms. They say extreme conditions are often from a combination of unusually random, short-term and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate change. However, special studies are needed to determine how much global warming is to blame, if at all, for a single extreme weather event.

Cline reported from Salem, Oregon. She is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Associated Press journalists Chris Grygiel in Seattle; Paul Davenport in Phoenix; Julie Walker in New York; Haven Daley in Doyle, California; and Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.