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Gender Reveal Stunt Triggers 10,000 Acre Fire in CA, Prompts Tens of Thousands to Evacuate

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  • A smoke bomb at a gender reveal party Saturday sparked a massive wildfire in San Bernardino County, California.
  • Since the reveal, the fire has spread to more than 10,000 acres and is only 16% contained as of Tuesday.
  • More than 21,000 people have had to evacuate their homes because of the stunt.
  • Elsewhere in California, a fire known as the Creek Fire has burned 135,000 since Friday and is still uncontrolled. 
  • Along with California, most of the western United States is at an increased risk for fires, and many are already dealing with some fires because of a combination of dry heat and early-season winds. 

Gender Reveal Party Leads to Wildfire

Since first gaining popularity in 2008, gender reveal parties have grown increasingly complex, and at times, dangerous. The fallout from one reveal in San Bernardino County, California has now led to a massive wildfire that has burned more than 10,000 acres.

That fire, which began Saturday after the expecting family set off a smoke bomb, was only 16% contained as of Tuesday morning. While still largely uncontrolled, that number is up somewhat from 7% on Monday night. 

When that smoke bomb ignited, it also ignited the extremely dry vegetation around it. Reportedly, the couple and their family tried to put out the fire with water bottles, but they were unable to stop it as it quickly spread across four-foot-tall vegetation.

The party and subsequent fire have also forced 21,000 people to evacuate their homes. 

Because of the incident, Cal Fire has reminded people that it is currently fire season and much of the state is under incredibly dry conditions.

“Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible,” Cal Fire said in a warning.

The people involved in the San Bernadino incident, now known as the El Dorado Fire, will likely face at least misdemeanor charges, but they could also face felony charges since the fire has already spread to forest land. 

This is not the first time a gender reveal party has led to disaster or even another wildfire. In 2017, one similarly explosive reveal caused 47,000 acres of land in Arizona to burn. 

Since then, blogger Jenna Myers Karvunidis — the woman who’s been credited with popularizing gender reveal parties — has repeatedly called for expecting parents to stop throwing the increasingly dangerous reveals.

“Stop having these stupid parties,” Karvunidis said on Facebook in reference to the El Dorado Fire. “For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you.”

“It was 116 degrees in Pasadena yesterday and this tool thought it would be smart to light a fire about his kid’s dick. Toxic masculinity is men thinking they need to explode something because simply enjoying a baby party is for sissies.”

“Oh, and of course I’m getting hate messages. Excuse me for having a cake for my family in 2008. Just because I’m the gEnDeR rEvEaL iNVeNtoR doesn’t mean I think people should burn down their communities.”

Others, including affected residents in the proximity of the El Dorado Fire, have also criticized the family who threw the reveal.

“That place, there’s nothing green out there,” resident Patrick Patterson told KABC News. “It’s a meadow of dry, brown, dead grass. Why would you go out there and think that you can light off any kind of firework?”

California Sets Fire Record

On Sunday, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, but it’s far from the only county in the state that is now under an emergency because of raging wildfires.

In fact, wildfires have burned through 2 million acres alone this year in the state, and 2020 has now become California’s most-burned year on record since those records began back in 1987.

Part of that is because of dry conditions throughout the state, as well as the fact that it is fire season, but it’s also because the state has been battling a blistering heat wave. In Los Angeles County, temperatures surged to 121 degrees this past weekend. All of that together has then helped to either create or maintain already-existing fires. 

On Friday night, another fire — known as the Creek Fire — sparked in the Sierra National Forest, which is about 290 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

As of Tuesday morning, the Creek Fire has burned over 143,000 acres and is completely uncontained. The fire is even so big that it has generated what’s known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which later triggered lightning. Weather experts also believe that the fire likely spawned a fire tornado at one point

About 50 hikers were trapped at a wilderness resort for two nights near Fresno because all escape routes had been cut off by the fire. Monday night, rescue crews tried to reach them but were unsuccessful. Officials said those people weren’t in immediate danger, and some of the hikers were later airlifted out of the area on Tuesday morning.

Authorities have also ordered mass evacuations in Fresno County, where the fire rages. Between 25,000 to 30,000 people were ordered to evacuate over the weekend, and a fresh round of evacuations was ordered Tuesday morning.

“This is an unprecedented disaster for Fresno County,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “This is one of the largest and most dangerous fires in the history of Fresno County. I don’t think everyone understands that. Playing that game of ‘how long can I wait’ is just foolish.”

Fires Throughout the West

It’s not just California dealing with this issue. Fires are raging all across the western United States. Much of the West is now under a series of red flag warnings, including parts of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. 

In Malden, Washington, fires have destroyed 80 percent of buildings in the town of 200 — including homes, the fire station, the post office, city hall, and the library. 

In Oregon, winds and dry conditions fueled several different fire outbreaks that have burned through more than 27,000 acres. Those outbreaks then prompted evacuations as those fires creeped toward residential areas.

In other parts of Oregon, almost 100,000 residents lost power last night as winds brought down trees and transformers exploded. To prevent downed power lines from sparking more fires, Portland General Electric preemptively shut off power for 5,000 residents.

This Week’s Wind Predictions and Safety

It’s possible that more fires could pop up or ones that are already raging could get worse as early Santa Ana winds blow through Southern California on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those winds usually don’t appear until the Fall months. 

Because of them, the region could begin to see forced blackouts to prevent power lines from sparking if they’re blown over. That would follow other shutdowns that were seen in the region over the weekend, some of which were still in effect as of Tuesday morning. 

For those in affected areas, whether California or another Western state, make sure to keep up to date on air quality conditions. In many areas, including Los Angeles, the sky is blanketed yellow with a smokey haze.

Because of that, the L.A. Department of Public Health has issued several safety measures for its residents, including keeping windows and doors closed, not smoking, and keeping pets inside.

You can review more safety recommendations by clicking the KTLA link below. 

See what others are saying: (KABC) (The Washington Post) (KTLA 5)

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As Unemployment Claims Rise, CA Officials Report Inmates Collected Millions in Benefits

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  • Unemployment numbers spiked for the second week in a row, marking the highest amount of new claims made since early October with 778,000 people filing. Over 20 million Americans are still collecting some kind of joblessness aid.
  • Experts say this will only get worse as COVID cases continue to rise and states impose more restrictions. However, unlike during the spring shutdowns, struggling Americans and small businesses will likely not have any help from the federal government.
  • Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in California reported that tens of thousands of inmates received upwards of $1 billion in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that officials described as “the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.”

Unemployment Numbers Spike

Another 778,000 Americans filed for unemployment this week, the Department of Labor reported Wednesday, marking the highest spike since early October and the second week in a row that new claims have risen.

According to experts, this data signals that the massive coronavirus spikes the U.S. has seen in recent weeks are slowing the economy once again. On Wednesday, the country reported a record 2 million new cases in the same two weeks that joblessness claims also went up, bringing the official case count to more than 12.6 million Americans infected and over 260,000 dead.

As the COVID-19 spikes continue, and with more state and local governments imposing new restrictions on public gatherings, limiting hours and operations for restaurants and bars, and temporarily closing down some businesses entirely, economists say this situation will get worse before it gets better.

Unlike the first wave of shutdowns this past spring, it seems almost certain that struggling Americans will have to weather these latest closures without any help from the government.

Already, many of the programs that gave trillions of dollars to unemployed Americans and small businesses under the CARES Act have expired, and most of the few remaining programs will run out soon.

That is especially concerning when it comes to unemployment benefits. According to a recent report from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, unless Congress and the White House sign off on a deal to extend key programs, roughly 12 million Americans will lose these benefits entirely the day after Christmas.

But after months of deadlock, any hopes for a new stimulus package petered out when the election came around. Democratic leadership is reportedly attempting to restart those talks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to approve some kind of bill before the end of the year. 

However, it remains unclear how all the problems that had deadlocked the lawmakers for months during the earlier negotiations will be resolved in time.

Inmate Unemployment Fraud

Meanwhile, states are still continuing to struggle with distributing unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.

On Tuesday, a task force lead by nine district attorneys across the state of California reported in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that tens of thousands of prison and jail inmates — including more than 100 people on death row — have collected hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that the officials say “appears to be the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history,”

According to the task force, between March and August, inmates housed in every single California prison and in jails throughout the state filed 35,000 claims totaling at least $140 million in benefits, though the alleged crimes could total as much as $1 billion.

In most cases, officials said that the payments were given out in the form of prepaid debit cards sent to friends or family on the outside who would then later deposit the proceeds to inmate accounts.

In some cases, the joblessness benefits were sent directly to the jails and prisons. Sometimes the inmates used their real names, but other times, they used fake names and fake Social Security numbers.

In fact, prosecutors were tipped off to some of the cases by listening to inmates recorded phone calls, where they bragged about how easy it was the game the system.

As far as how such widespread fraud could happen, law enforcement officials blamed California’s Employment Development Department, which has been swamped with processing more than 16.4 million unemployment claims since March, resulting in a massive backlog of unfilled claims that, according to reports, has totaled upwards of more than 1.6 million people at times.

However, the task force also said that part of the problem was due to the fact that unlike at least 35 other states, California does not have the technology to crosscheck inmate rosters against unemployment claims.

Looking Forward

In their letter, the officials called on Newsom to crack down on the rampant fraud and provide “significant resources” to do so. 

Newsom, for his part, responded in a statement by calling the fraud “absolutely unacceptable,” and ordering the Office of Emergency Services to create a task force to help the prosecutors with their investigation.

However, as The New York Times pointed out, Newsom had already formed a “strike team” a few months ago to help the state’s employment department speed up claims and address other issues, including fraud at correctional facilities.

The district attorneys were still forced to form their own task force with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after the reports of fraud in the employment department continued and the “strike team” failed to uncover the large amounts of fraud the other groups had seen.

Currently, it is unclear how Newsom’s new task force is different from the largely unsuccessful “strike team.” 

California, of course, is not the only state having these issues with unemployment insurance fraud. There have also been similar reports of fraud in Massachusetts, Illinois, Kansas, and other states.

These problems also go beyond unemployment. There have been frequent reports of CARES Act funding being misused, including by people using small business loans to buy luxury cars, as well as large companies or businesses connected to President Donald Trump Trump and members of Congress improperly receiving funding.

As Congress considers another much-needed stimulus package, these issues of transparency and accountability have now become paramount. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today

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COVID-19 Cases Expected To Surge After Thanksgiving

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  • With coronavirus cases already on a steep rise in the U.S, experts are warning that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings will likely make things worse. Canada, for example, saw a jump in cases after its citizens celebrated the holiday last month.
  • Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that Americans should hold out for a vaccine, which is on the horizon, and be safe this Thanksgiving.
  • A family in Texas is also waring against gathering, saying they learned how dangerous it is the hard way. After celebrating a birthday together, all 15 people who attended the party tested positive for the virus.
  • On top of this experts are also warning against thinking a negative test clears you for socialization. In reality, you can test negative for the virus and still have and transmit it.

Warning From Surgeon General 

As Thanksgiving looms closer, warnings against family gatherings are being echoed by experts and everyday people alike. 

Health officials have been vocal about the threat the Thanksgiving holiday poses when it comes to the coronavirus. The U.S. has seen 12.4 million cases and lost 257,000 lives to the virus, and cases have been on a steep increase this month. The CDC has already warned against travel and experts have said that based on the spike Canada saw after its October Thanksgiving, America is set to go down a similar, or even worse path. 

“I want the American people to know that we are at a dire point in our fight with this virus by any measure,”  U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Monday on Good Morning America.Cases, positivity, hospitalizations, deaths. We’re seeing more Americans negatively impacted than ever before.” 

Adams said that with a vaccine on the horizon, Americans should just wait out this homestretch and stay put for the holiday.

“I’m asking Americans, begging you, hold on just a little bit longer,” he said. “Keep Thanksgiving and the celebration small and smart this year.” 

Family in Texas Urges Caution

Health officials are not the only ones preaching this advice. In Arlington, Texas, a family that has lived the consequences of gathering without regard for public health is urging people to not make the same mistake as them. The Aragonez family celebrated a birthday earlier this month indoors without masks or distancing. Now, all 15 people who attended tested positive for the virus. 

“We feel guilty for gathering,” members of the family said in a video encouraging caution. “All this pain that my family is feeling, this loneliness, this sickness, this longing to be healthy could have been prevented.” 

“Please don’t be like my family and ignore the CDC guidelines,” one person said. “By staying apart we can fight this virus together.” 

While most cases in the family were mild, one person was hospitalized for over a week.

“One moment of carelessness has cost us a month of peace, has cost us sleep, has cost us laughs, has cost us a lot of money,” one family member told the Washington Post. 

Testing Negative is Not Enough

Many have still forged on with their gathering plans under the false idea that if everyone tests negative before attending, they are in the clear to socialize. However, experts warn this is far from the case.

Just because a person tests negative does not necessarily mean they do not have the virus. Tests are not 100% accurate and it can take days or even a week to test positive for the virus after exposure. Not to mention, people could come into contract with the virus between their test and the family event. 

“A negative result is a snapshot in time,”  Dr. Paige Larkin, a clinical microbiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago explaining to the New York Times. “It’s telling you that, at that exact second you are tested, the virus was not detected. It does not mean you’re not infected.”

While it might slightly minimize the risk of spread, it certainly does not eliminate it. More than anything, it gives people a false sense of security that they have a free pass to go wherever and see whoever they want, despite the fact that it still poses a large health threat.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)

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Over 1 Million People Traveled Through U.S. Airports Friday, Despite COVID-19 Warnings

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  • Over 1 million people traveled through U.S. airports on Friday, marking the second-highest single day of airport traffic since the coronavirus pandemic began.
  • The new record comes despite the fact that the CDC has issued a warning against travel for Thanksgiving, encouraging people to stay home instead because COVID-19 cases are already on a steep rise.
  • In Canada, cases spiked after the country celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday in October.
  • While cases were already increasing in the country, contact tracing has linked outbreaks to holiday gatherings, which likely accelerated the speed of spread.

Cases and Travel Both Increase

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is expected to worsen the already increasing coronavirus outbreak in the United States. 

Currently, the country has seen over 12.3 million cases and lost more than 256,000 lives to this virus. On Friday, the U.S. broke its record for new cases in a single day, reporting 198,500 cases. The daily average has reached 171,462 cases a day and roughly one-quarter of all cases in the U.S. have come from just the month of November. 

These circumstances paint a grim picture of what could come after all of the traveling and large gatherings that are expected to happen over the holiday, even after repeated warning against doing so.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against traveling and advised that “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

The CDC told travelers to ask themselves questions, like if cases are high in their home or destination, if their method of travel makes social distancing difficult, and if there are travel restrictions in their area. If the answers to any of those questions are yes, people should “consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.”

Despite these warnings, air travel is on the rise in the country. On Friday, more than 1 million people passed through airports, marking the second-busiest day of air travel since the pandemic began. While this is 1.5 million people less than the same day last year, the travel surge troubles health officials who fear the virus could spread as people gather with their families. 

Case Spike After Canada’s Thanksgiving

All the U.S. has to do is look to its neighbor to the North in order to find out just what kind of impact Thanksgiving can have on coronavirus cases. Two weeks after Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, the country saw a spike in cases. While cases were already on the rise at the time, experts believe that holiday gatherings contributed to and accelerated the spread.

“Cases were indeed increasing already, but we definitely saw an increase in the rate of transmission after Thanksgiving. And we know that Thanksgiving is important for a couple of reasons. One is through contact tracing data,” Dr. Laura Rosella, an associate professor and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto told CBS News.

Contact tracing in the country showed a significant transmission from household gatherings stemming from Thanksgiving. 

“One local health unit that reported about 12 people being infected because of a Thanksgiving gathering,” Rosella explained. 

It’s not the only reason the cases are increasing, it’s not the only setting in which transmission is occurring, but definitely when people gathered indoors it did transmit COVID.”

Superspreading Events

Still, people are more likely to feel safe with their family, no matter how high the COVID-19 risk actually is. Superspreading weddings are among the strongest examples of this, as numerous have led to significant outbreaks because couples thought it was safe to gather with friends, family, and other people they trust.

“Many people don’t believe that you can actually catch it from your family and friends. They feel safe when they are around people that they know,” Karen Potts, the director of the Adams County Health Department in eastern Washington explained to NBC News. “And I think that’s why this sort of event happens. People just feel safe, and they go to the event, and it just spreads so rapidly.”

One August wedding in Maine, for instance, was liked to 177 coronavirus cases and 7 deaths. Many of those cases include people who did not attend the wedding. In fact, none of the deaths traced back to the wedding were attendees. 

An October wedding in Cincinnati led to 32 of the 83 guests getting COVID-19, including grandparents of the bride and groom. In Washington, a 300 person wedding earlier this month has led to 17 people getting the virus so far. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NBC News) (Washington Post)

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