7-28 ashland parksASHLAND, Ore. – Ashland Parks & Recreation has hit a snag in the search for a new director after one of their top candidates turned down the job.

The department has been looking for a replacement director for most of the summer after current director Don Robertson announced his retirement.

Over the weekend it looked like they had found their man in current Medford Recreation Superintendent and Ashland City Councilor Rich Rosenthal.

But despite the fact that he had been the one to apply initially, he says he had to turn down the offer.

“I love being a city councilor, and I’m thinking about a year ago this would have been a no-brainer the other way,” said Rosenthal.

The department received 78 applications in total for the director position.

They say they are trying to fill the job as soon as possible, but can’t share any more details until a new director has been appointed.

7-28 fireGOLD HILL, Ore. – The hacking of hand tools and the distant roar of chainsaws can be heard near Gold Hill. A helicopter drops buckets of water as thick plumes of smoke fill the air.

For firefighters on the ground, it’s an easy day in the field.

“The fire wasn’t really doing a whole lot,” said ODF firefighter Mike Fillis. “It was staying in the shade, creeping, smoldering.”

Crews were able to dodge a bullet thanks to calm and favorable morning conditions, helicopters at the ready just miles away, and overall fast response time.

But Monday’s sleeper fire may be a sign that hidden fires are still lingering from lightning earlier in the month.

“The longest lightning holdover I’ve seen was 12 days,” said Fillis. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we picked up a couple more.”

The most severe strikes from these latest storms came on July 22nd, just before the one-year anniversary of the storm that ignited much of Southern Oregon last year.

But while those fires were already turning into sweeping complexes, the fires on the West side of the Cascades this year have held tight at a couple acres at the most.

It’s thanks to a combination of things that have been going right.

“Aggressive firefighting coupled with a bit of luck,” said ODF Fire Prevention Specialist Brian Ballou.

But those lucky breaks — a bit of rain alongside lightning, favorable morning conditions, and easily accessible fire starts — will likely only last so long.

And there’s a lot of dry season left.

“The extended forecast puts us well into October, maybe later for some meaningful rainfall,” said Ballou. “That’s a long way out there.”

While firefighters count their blessings for now, they say they’ll be keeping hand tools and helicopters at the ready so they can be there when luck runs out.

“As long as we get it on quick and fast, we should be able to keep them small,” said Fillis.

sou scienceASHLAND, Ore. – Science professors at Southern Oregon University said they hope a multi-million dollar project on their science building will bring more interest in the program.

The university recently started work on a $21 million renovation project on the science building.

Professors said they hope it will bring more students and faculty into the programs. SOU estimates about 238 students were enrolled in biology programs this year, and about 196 were enrolled in physical sciences.

“To see that kind of investment, it’s ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” said Karen Stone, Vice President of Curriculum Management at SOU. “And I think that it’s truly speaking to that.”

The work on the building is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2015. While the work continues, labs have been relocated to the old Cascade dorms.

drought resistant lawnsASHLAND, Ore – The Ashland Public Works Department has signed up more than 40 homes in its lawn replacement program, as more homeowners attempt to cut down on water use during the current drought conditions.

Ashland launched the program in June and reimburses homeowners who replace their traditional grass lawn with drought-resistant landscaping, including bark mulch, rocks, and some shrubs. As conditions continue to stay hot and dry, officials think more people are becoming interested in conserving water. The city is continuing to accept applications.

“We thought that we’d have a lot of interest, and I think that, because of our drought situation that we were facing this year in Ashland, I think the interest has increased,” said Julie Smitherman, Conservation Specialist for the city of Ashland.

Ashland resident Don Hunsaker, who signed up for the program and replaced his lawn earlier this year, said his water bill has been cut by a third.

“Water bill dropped significantly compared to last year at the same time,” he said. “And in spite of the fact that it’s been much hotter this July.”

For more information on how to sign up for the lawn replacement program, click here.

debra irene johnsMEDFORD, Ore. — Medford Police were able to determine that Debra Irene Johns was responsible for the small fire in the women’s bathroom of the Jackson County Jail lobby on July 24th. Johns is now charged with intentionally setting 3 of the twenty-three fires in Medford since June 25, 2014.

Medford Police suspect said she remains a suspect in several of the other unsolved arson cases. She is currently in the Jackson County Jail on charges of Arson in the Second Degree (2 counts), Reckless Burning, Attempted Burglary Second Degree and Warrants such as Failure to Appear, Endangering, Disorderly Conduct, and Contempt of Court. Her bail is set at $57, 000.

kitzhaberCORVALLIS, Ore. – Governor Kitzhaber visited NuScale Power in Corvallis on Friday to learn about an innovative approach to nuclear power and how the company plans to bring more than 100 jobs to Oregon. NuScale Power was recently awarded a $217 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop small modular reactor technology. The company intends to use the money to fund a rapid expansion in the Corvallis area.

During the tour, Governor Kitzhaber visited NuScale Power’s control room simulator to learn how safety is incorporated into the company’s technology. Instructors gave a demonstration of how a NuScale reactor would be able to withstand a situation similar to the one that struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.

The U.S. Department of Energy has designated NuScale Power as an awardee under the program for “Cost-Shared Development of Innovative Small Modular Reactor Designs.”

Coldwate,JonASHLAND, Ore. — The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office responded to 2253 Highway 99 in Ashland on Sunday for a man threatening others with a machete. Deputies were met by the victim, Isaac Lindsey, 28, of Ashland, who said he and three other people were confronted by Jon Coldwate, 45 of Ashland, over living arrangements.

Coldwate came toward the group swinging a machete and screaming he was going to kill them, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. Lindsey said he stepped in front of the group and was cut by the machete in the palm of his hand. The cut was extremely deep and required stitches.

Coldwate left the area before Deputies arrived, but a K-9 team was called to begin a search for the him. He was located eventually and put in the Jackson County Jail. He is charged with assault and menacing. His bail is set at $1,004,000.

marijuana(CNN) — Doctors in Macon, Georgia, told Janea Cox that her daughter, Haleigh, might not live another three months.

That was the middle of March, when Haleigh’s brain was being short-circuited by hundreds of seizures a day, overrunning the array of five potent drugs meant to control them. Worse, the drugs were damaging Haleigh’s organs.

“She was maxed out,” Cox said. “She’d quit breathing several times a day, and the doctors blamed it on the seizure medications.”

Cox had heard that a form of medical marijuana might help, but it wasn’t available in central Georgia. So a week after hearing the ominous diagnosis, she and Haleigh packed up and moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, Haleigh began a regimen of cannabis oil: four times a day and once at night.

By summer, she was down to just a handful of seizures a day. In less than three months, doctors were able to wean her off Depakote, a powerful medication that had been damaging her liver.

Haleigh had never been able to walk or talk. But freed from seizures in Colorado, “She said ‘Mama’ for the first time,” Cox said. “She’s playing with puzzles; she’s walking. She’s almost being a normal child.”

Despite all the good news, Cox is living in limbo. Her husband, a paramedic, couldn’t afford to leave his job and pension; he still lives and works in Forsyth, Georgia. The family is relying on charity to keep their Colorado apartment for the next few months; beyond that, the future is uncertain.

A bill being introduced Monday in the U.S. House of Representatives could be Cox’s ticket home. The three-page bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act — the federal law that criminalizes marijuana — to exempt plants with an extremely low percentage of THC, the chemical that makes users high.

Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed

If passed, it would be the first time that federal law allows any medical marijuana use.

“No one should face a choice of having their child suffer or moving to Colorado and splitting up their family,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania, the bill’s sponsor. “We live in America, and if there’s something that would make my child better, and they can’t get it because of the government, that’s not right.”

The bill will land in a Congress that may be open to change. Across the country, highly sympathetic patients and a nonintoxicating product have proved a popular mix. This year alone, 11 states have passed legislation loosening regulation of cannabis strains with high cannabidiol and/or minimal THC content.

In this atmosphere, Perry says that once members and their staffs are brought up to speed, he expects the bill to attract “overwhelming” support. “In a time of intractability in Washington, D.C., this is something where we can show some progress.”

Photos: Charlotte’s Web

Dubbed the Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014, the bill is named after Charlotte Figi, a young Colorado girl whose parents have campaigned nationwide for easier access to medical marijuana after successfully controlling their daughter’s seizures with cannabis oil. Since her story became known, a growing number of parents have flocked to Colorado, hoping for similar success.

The Charlotte’s Web cannabis strain, developed by the Realm of Caring nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, is in high demand, in part because of the attention it’s received in the media. Many families wait months for a batch to be grown and processed into cannabis oil. Perry’s bill, however, would apply to any cannabis strain with a THC content of less than 0.3%.

Charlotte’s Web and similar strains not only have minimal THC, they have high levels of cannabidiol, another chemical. A growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabidiol can effectively control seizures, though there are no published studies to support its use.

It’s easy to find critics who say parents should follow a more traditional route.

“There is no evidence for marijuana as a treatment for seizures,” Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, a physician, claimed during a congressional hearing last month. “We hear anecdotal stories, and that’s how myths come about.”

Fleming and others point out that a pharmaceutical version of cannabidiol oil, called Epidiolex, is being tested in clinical trials.But many children aren’t able to get into the trials. Haleigh Cox is disqualified because she has type-1 diabetes. Others aren’t willing to wait several months to be enrolled.

“With Epidiolex, there just aren’t enough seats at the table,” said Mark Knecht, a father from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, whose story helped inspire Perry’s bill.

His daughter Anna, 11, has epilepsy and suffers anywhere from a handful of seizures a day to more than 100, despite her four anti-convulsant medications. Knecht, the chief financial officer of a large Christian medical nonprofit, says Anna has been evaluated at several top hospitals but couldn’t land a spot in the Epidiolex trial.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books allowing medical marijuana for a variety of conditions. But even as states rewrite their regulations, federal law remains the same: Marijuana is illegal to grow, sell or use for any purpose. Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed on Schedule 1, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” To backers of reform, the Catch-22 is familiar: Marijuana is restricted in large part because there is little research to support medical uses; research is difficult to conduct because of tight restrictions.

A series of memos from the Justice Department has said that arresting individual medical marijuana users is not a priority, and a 2013 memo added that federal prosecutors should not target large commercial operations except on a case-by-case basis. But most observers say that shipping or transporting the drug across state lines ups the ante.

“For families like us, the biggest issue is the federal issue. You can’t take it across state lines,” Knecht explained.

His family still lives in Mechanicsburg. But after seeing CNN’s medical marijuana documentary last year, Anna and her mother, Deb, established residency in Colorado, where they obtained a medical marijuana card that let them place an order for a batch cannabis oil, in hopes it will control Anna’s seizures. If Perry’s bill becomes law, Knecht says, “Realm of Caring could just put it in a FedEx package.”

The Food and Drug Administration is conducting a review of scientific evidence to determine whether marijuana warrants looser treatment, but a spokeswoman says there’s no set date to complete the analysis. A review in 2011 ended with the Drug Enforcement Administration leaving marijuana’s status unaltered.

But certain actions in Congress give Perry and his supporters hope.

This month, the House passed a bill allowing banks to handle cash proceeds from dispensaries and other legal marijuana businesses.

The most recent Farm Bill allows industrial hemp — a strain of cannabis without THC — to be grown for academic or research purposes. That didn’t stop the Drug Enforcement Administration from seizing a shipment of hemp seeds bound for the University of Kentucky this spring. In response, the Senate Appropriations Committee, with support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, passed an amendment blocking DEA funds for anti-hemp enforcement.

In May, the House passed a measure blocking money for DEA raids on marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state law.

And just last week, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took it a step further, introducing an amendment to the Jobs Bill that would forbid federal prosecution of doctors and patients whose actions are legal under state medical marijuana laws.

“If states allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, and people are in good faith prescribing medical marijuana, we want to make sure it’s OK and that the federal government doesn’t come in and prosecute somebody,” said Brian Darling, Paul’s communications director.

The amendment seems likely to die amidst wrangling over the Jobs Bill, but Darling says his boss plans to move forward on a standalone measure.

“There are a lot of people who have been locked up on marijuana laws for a long time,” Darling said. “The War on Drugs has gone overboard.”

Knecht doesn’t want to uproot his family to move to Colorado. But he says his hand may be forced. “We’re taking this situation one day at a time.”

That’s where Janea Cox was a few months ago. She hadn’t heard about Perry’s bill until she got a call from a reporter but says she understands where the Pennsylvania families are coming from. She’s angry at home-state lawmakers who failed to push through Georgia’s cannabidiol oil bill this spring.

“I lived in Georgia for 17 years,” she said, “but here in Colorado, I met my child for the first time, at the age of 5.”

lightning venice beach(CNN) — A relaxing day at Southern California’s famed Venice Beach took a deadly turn Sunday afternoon when a powerful lightning bolt struck the water, killing one person and injuring at least 13, emergency officials said.

The sudden lightning strike at Venice Beach caused panic as people tried to get out of the water and off the beach.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed one man in his 20s died at a local hospital after he was rescued from the beach.

But it’s too soon to say whether he died from “a lightning strike, drowning or being trampled by the crowd,” according to John Kades with the coroner’s office.

“The day started out clear, but there were storms in the forecast for the region on Sunday,” CNN meteorologist Sherri Pugh said of the isolated thunderstorms that swept through the Los Angeles area.

The lightning hit the water and the beach at 2:51 p.m. PT (5:51 p.m. ET), according to spokeswoman Katherine Main of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Emergency responders assessed the condition of at least 13 victims — all of whom were either in or near the water — at the scene. Of those, seven adults and one teenager were transported to local hospitals.

One was listed in serious conditions and six were listed in fair condition by late Sunday afternoon

The National Weather Service in Los Angeles tweeted around the time of the strike that “cloud to ground lightning” had been reported in nearby Marina del Rey and at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Witnesses tweeted they saw a huge bolt of lightning strike the area, with one Twitter user describing an explosion that blew off nearby roof tiles.

Lightning also struck Catalina Island on Sunday. Los Angeles County Sheriff Sgt. Robert Berardi said a man was hit by a lightning strike near a golf course. He was taken to a local hospital, treated and later released.

Lightning fatalities are pretty rare in California. Between 1959 and 2012, 31 people died after they were struck by lightning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In comparison, there were 468 deaths from lightning strikes in Florida during the same time period, followed by 215 in Texas.

The National Weather Service has compiled a list of lightning safety tips on its website.

There is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm or when lightning strikes, the agency said. To reduce the risk of injury or even death during severe weather, people planning outdoor activities of any kind should have a safety plan. At the first clap of thunder, the weather service said anybody outdoors should run for shelter or for their vehicles and they should remain sheltered for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder is heard.

When visiting the beach, where there is limited shelter available for taking cover during a thunderstorm, the weather service advises people to run for their cars at the first sign of thunder or lightning in the distance. The agency also warns against taking cover under the beach picnic shelters. It says water, wet items, like ropes and metal objects, including fences and poles, are big dangers during lightning storms because water and metal are both great conductors of electrical currents.

The weather service also offers these tips for minimizing the risk of getting struck by lightning: Avoid open fields and hilltops, stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects, set up camps in lower lying areas and remember tents do not offer protection from lightning.

There is also professional lightning detection equipment available that issues alerts when lightning is approaching an area. The weather service said it’s a good investment for outdoors sports groups or other outside events.

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MEDFORD, Ore. – An animal shelter called the Committed Alliance to Strays, better known as “C.A.T.S.,” was on the verge of closing, when a celebrity Facebook share triggered a surge of donations.

The managers said it would take thousands of donations to survive. C.A.T.S. has a budget of about $15,000 a month. Back in June, the shelter reached out to NewsWatch12 to ask the community for help, fearing many of the strays would not make it if they were forced to close. Just days after the interview, Animal Planet star Jackson Galaxy shared the web article posted to Facebook on his page, liked by nearly a million followers. After, thousands of dollars were sent in to C.A.T.S. from cat lovers across the globe.

“I can honestly say, probably within I think it was an hour, we did have about a thousand dollars of donations that came in. And it’s across the country. It’s from other countries. We’ve got, I think, seven different countries. You know, people from seven different countries that have actually donated. So you know even those five, $10 ones, you’re just going oh my gosh,” C.A.T.S. Shelter Manager Kristina Lanier said.

It’s a surprise even to volunteers like Robert Fowler, who’ve worked to keep the alliance alive for years.

“The response that we got from it just floored me. I was very overwhelmed by the generosity of our community and the community around the country and the world,” Fowler said.

Now C.A.T.S. has enough in donations to get them through the end of the year, but not enough monthly commitments to keep them sustainable for the next year. The shelter cares for more than 80 cats at a time and keeps a long waiting list. The managers said the past few months have been a wake up call, and they’re looking at ways to cut costs.

“We need to look at our own operation and see if there’s ways that we can cut our spending without cutting the care, the level of care that we give to the cats,” Fowler said.

They said one option is using more volunteers. Anyone 12 years old and older can help out in the shelter. C.A.T.S. also has a foster service for many of their kittens, where temporary pet parents can keep the pets healthy for future adoptions.

The local support for C.A.T.S. hasn’t stopped either. On Monday, August 4, Dancin’ Vineyards will host a silent auction. All proceeds will go toward the nonprofit organization. Space is limited. To register, call Kristina Lanier at 541-621-2609. You can also donate to the shelter on their website.

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