- Unprecedented fires have been raging across the West Coast, with California, Oregon, and Washington particularly affected.
- Currently, more than 100 large fires are blazing in the West, and more than half are in the three coastal states alone.
- In California, more than three million acres have been burned, a record for a single year.
- The governor of Oregon said Thursday that the state had never seen so many uncontained fires. As of Friday, 500,000 people — more than 10% of the state’s population — had been forced to evacuate their homes.
- Washington, too, is dealing with record-breaking blazes, as well as massive plumes of smoke that have migrated north from California and Oregon, creating dangerous air conditions.
Dozens of fires continue to tear up and down the West Coast as California, Oregon, and Washington endure a historic wildfire season.
As of Friday morning, there were at least 100 large fires burning across 12 western states, and more than half of the fires were just in the three coastal states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
At least 15 people have died, though officials expect the toll to rise. Entire towns have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands have had to evacuate, and thousands of homes have been lost.
Pictures of apocalyptic orange skies and hazy cityscapes continued to circulate as smoke from the persistent blazes created dangerous air conditions for millions of people.
On Friday, four of the five cities with the worst air quality indexes in the world were Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco, the air quality monitoring website IQAir.com reported.
California currently has the most active large fires, with at least 24 current blazes, per the NIFC.
More than three million acres have been burned in California, a record for a single year. Reportedly, an estimated 64,000 people are under evacuation orders.
One of the worst blazes, the August Complex in Northern California, is now considered the biggest fire in the state’s recorded history, according to the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire. The complex of multiple fires has been burning in the Mendocino National Forest since Aug. 17 when it was started by lightning.
The fires, which doubled in size this week, have burnt 471,185 acres and are only 24% contained.
Several other large fires have also been raging across the northern parts of the state with little containment. Dozens are missing and thousands of homes and structures are believed to have been damaged or destroyed.
The Bear Fire, which turned the skies of San Francisco orange earlier this week, has forced thousands to evacuate and reportedly damaged around 2,000 structures. Meanwhile, in Southern California, fires also blazed in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.
In Los Angeles, some residents are warily watching the Bobcat Fire, which has burnt around 24,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest just 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles, prompting evacuation warnings for a number of populous areas, including the city of Pasadena.
In a statement on Twitter, California Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized the historic magnitude of this year’s fire season and pleaded with residents to obey evacuation orders.
“6 of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020,” he wrote. “If you are asked to evacuate please do so immediately. Listen to your local authorities and stay safe.”
Just north of California, blazes are spreading rapidly in Oregon, which has never seen so many uncontained fires, according to the state’s governor, Kate Brown.
More than 900,000 acres have burned in the recent fires, nearly double the average of 500,000 a year the state has seen for the last decade.
“I want to be up front in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Brown said during a press conference Thursday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
So far, more than 500,000 people in Oregon — over 10% of the state’s population — have been forced to evacuate.
As the fires spread further North, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the city Thursday night. Pictures showed packed, smoke-filled highways as residents fled the approaching infernos.
In addition to the fires, officials in the state are also dealing with widespread misinformation. Several law enforcement agencies have to contradict false rumors that either far-left or far-right groups had purposely started some of the blazes.
Many of the rumors appear to center around false claims that the far-left group Antifa was responsible for intentionally causing several fires.
Numerous law enforcement officials in multiple jurisdictions have fervently disputed those claims, including the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which asked that community members stop spreading the misinformation in a post on Facebook.
“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” the post said. “THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems. Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS!”
Washington state is also experiencing unprecedented fires. As of Friday, 16 major fires had scorched around 625,000 acres, the NIFC reported.
“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity and the destruction are unequal in Washington state history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday,
In addition to the fallout from their own fires, huge masses of smoke from the wildfires in
Oregon and California have also been migrating north. On Thursday evening, the National Weather Service warned that a huge cloud of smoke would descend on Washington Friday, creating dangerous air conditions across the state.
That same day, the Bureau of Land Management of Oregon and Washington shared satellite images on Twitter of massive smoke plumes along the coast.
Officials in all three states continue to worry as they try to contain the historic fires all along the coastal states. Right now, at least seven weeks remain in the prime fire season, and experts say that conditions may be made worse by the La Niña climate pattern, which often brings dry weather and winds across parts of California and the Southwest.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (USA Today)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.