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Emery Cowan / Courtesy, Neil Weintraub 

Randy and daughter Caroline at the Flagstaff Four on the Fourth race in 2014. 

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Arizona Daily Sun Editor Randy Wilson talks to participants in the annual Polar Plunge Jan. 1, 2015.

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Kaibab, Coconino to lift most forest closures and restrictions starting Wednesday

Starting Wednesday morning, the Coconino and Kaibab national forests will lift all fire restrictions south of the Grand Canyon and will rescind the seven area closures that have been in effect since May.

Staff on those forests made the call after recent monsoon rains, an increase in humidity and a forecast that predicts even more precipitation. The Coconino National Forest received a half-inch of rain during the weekend and forecasters predict an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain over the next seven to 10 days.

Flagstaff received 0.57 inches of rain between Saturday and Monday and the National Weather Service expects daily rounds of showers and thunderstorms across northern Arizona to continue over the next week.

The storms also brought lightning to the area. From Friday through Sunday, Coconino staff responded to 24 fire starts — all believed to be caused by lightning — plus one illegal, abandoned campfire during the weekend.

On Monday afternoon, one 30-acre wildfire was burning on the north side of the San Francisco Peaks, but crews expected it to be contained by Monday evening, said George Jozens, spokesman for the Coconino.

Officials were also monitoring the 38-acre Wood Fire, a wildfire south of Rattlesnake Canyon above the rim with highly visible smoke. Precipitation from thunderstorms was helping to suppress that blaze but also meant firefighters had to stay away due to lightning hazards, Jozens said.

Campgrounds across the Coconino that were included in area closures will reopen Wednesday as well, though some require reservations and also may temporarily have limited water and other services. Access and reservations to Fossil Creek may also be limited for a short time while operations return to normal.

Due to different weather conditions that delivered less rain to the North Kaibab Ranger District, that part of the forest, which includes much of the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon, will remain in Stage 2 fire restrictions.

Art Gonzales, fire staff officer for the Kaibab National Forest, said both forests have seen an incredibly low number of human-caused wildfire starts, which greatly helps protect public lands and the adjacent communities from the threat of wildfire.

Year to date, the city is still more than two inches of precipitation below the normal average. That follows a snow season of just 38 inches, well underneath the average of 101.7 inches.

Trump taps Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a politically connected conservative judge, for the Supreme Court Monday night, setting up a ferocious confirmation battle with Democrats as he seeks to shift the nation's highest court further to the right.

A favorite of the Republican legal establishment in Washington, Kavanaugh, 53, is a former law clerk for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Like Trump's first nominee last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh would be a young addition who could help remake the court for decades to come with rulings that could restrict abortion, expand gun rights and roll back key parts of Obamacare.

"There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving," said Trump in his prime-time televised address from the White House, calling Kavanaugh "one of the sharpest legal minds of our time."

With Kavanaugh, Trump is replacing a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative. Kavanaugh, who serves on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is expected to be less receptive to abortion and gay rights than Kennedy was. He also has taken an expansive view of executive power and has favored limits on investigating the president.

Speaking at the White House, Kavanaugh pledged to preserve the Constitution and said that "a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret the Constitution as written."

A senior White House official said Trump made his decision on the nomination Sunday evening, then phoned Kavanaugh to inform him. The official said Trump decided on Kavanaugh because of his large body of jurisprudence cited by other courts, describing him as a judge that other judges read.

Top contenders had included federal appeals judges Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman.

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh, questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters have cited his experience and wide range of legal opinions.

With Democrats determined to vigorously oppose Trump's choice, the Senate confirmation battle is expected to dominate the months leading up to November's midterm elections. Senate Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority, leaving them hardly any margin if Democrats hold the line. Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump carried in 2016 will face pressure to back his nominee.

Some Republican senators favored other options. Rand Paul of Kentucky had expressed concerns but tweeted that he looked forward to meeting with Kavanaugh "with an open mind."

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups quickly lined up in opposition. Signaling the fight ahead on abortion rights, Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement: "There's no way to sugarcoat it: With this nomination, the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion in this country is on the line.

Democrats have turned their attention to pressuring two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to oppose any nominee who threatens Roe v. Wade. The two have supported access to abortion services.

Kavanaugh is likely to be more conservative than Justice Kennedy on a range of social issues. At the top of that list is abortion. A more conservative majority could be more willing to uphold state restrictions on abortion, if not overturn the 45-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman's constitutional right.

Kennedy's replacement also could be more willing to allow states to carry out executions and could support undoing earlier court holdings in the areas of racial discrimination in housing and the workplace. Kennedy provided a decisive vote in 2015 on an important fair housing case.

Kavanaugh's many written opinions provide insight into his thinking and also will be fodder for Senate Democrats who will seek to block his confirmation. He has written roughly 300 opinions as a judge, authored several law journal articles, regularly taught law school classes and spoken frequently in public.

Kavanaugh's views on presidential power and abortion are expected to draw particular attention in his confirmation hearing. Drawing on his experience working on the Clinton investigation and then in the Bush White House, he wrote in a 2009 law review article that he favored exempting presidents from facing both civil suits and criminal investigations, including indictment, while in office. That view has particular relevance as special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign played any role in a foreign interference plot.