Unprecedented rescue: More than 200 campers in California’s Sierra National Forest had to be rescued by helicopter over the Labor Day weekend when a wildfire cut off the only road out of the popular recreation area, Alex Wigglesworth reports for the Los Angeles Times. The dramatic rescue occurred against a backdrop of California fires that have been raging for weeks, burning a record 2 million acres with much of the fire season still to come. In the Fresno County incident, two people had life-threatening injuries and at least 19 others needed hospital care. “The fire completely engulfed everything, all around us,” Jeremy Remington told ABC30. “In my career with the Army National Guard, I have not seen an evacuation of this size nor have I heard of anything similar with regards to a fire incident,” Col. Dave Hall, commander of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which flew the mission, told the Times. But, it probably won’t be the last: “We do believe there will be more rescues,” Hall said. “We are posturing crews day and night to support potential rescues. What is unique about the terrain up there is it is a very, very popular camping site and also backpacking site. And because the fire travels very quickly, it is very possible for backpackers and hikers to potentially be stranded.” However, in another year, it might have been a lot worse. If there hadn’t been a pandemic that closed multiple campgrounds, there could have been up to 10,000 people that needed to be rescued.
Pyrotechnics: The El Dorado fire in San Bernardino County, California, which has burned more than 7,000 acres, was started by a smoke-emitting pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party, Jaclyn Cosgrove and Alex Wigglesworth report for the Los Angeles Times. These explosives shoot out blue or pink smoke to announce the gender of an expected child. “Cal Fire reminds the public that with the dry conditions and critical fire weather, it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement. The fire has forced 21,000 people to evacuate, Katie Shepherd writes for The Washington Post. A similar stunt at a gender reveal party in 2017 started a 47,000-acre wildfire in southern Arizona, and last year one started a brush fire in Florida. Now, the woman widely credited with starting the trend wants people to quit. “Stop having these stupid parties,” blogger Jenna Myers Karvunidis said in a Facebook post on Monday after learning about the El Dorado Fire. “For the love of God, stop burning things down.”
Smoke hazards: Shortly after lightning storms ignited massive wildfires in northern California, Stanford researcher Bibek Paudel noticed that hospital admissions for asthma to the university’s healthcare system rose by 10 percent and cerebrovascular incidents (like strokes) jumped by 23 percent, Erin McCormick reports for The Guardian. “Wildfire smoke can affect the health almost immediately,” Dr Jiayun Angela Yao, an environmental health researcher in Canada, told McCormick. Yao has observed a similar phenomenon in Vancouver, and co-authored a paper that showed that only an hour after smoke descended upon the area during recent wildfires, the number of ambulance calls for asthma, chronic lung disease and cardiac events increased by 10 percent.
- Also: Los Angeles County hit 121 degrees this weekend, the highest temperature ever recorded, Matthew Schwartz reports for NPR. The National Weather Service blamed the “kiln-like” heat on a high-pressure system and a weak sea breeze. A 41-year-old hiker died from a heat-related seizure after hiking in Malibu Creek State Park for several hours, sheriff’s officials told CNN, prompting them to close all hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains through Monday.
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College hot spots: The New York Times reports that coronavirus cases have spiked in some 100 university and college communities around the country, as students converge on small cities and towns. Of the 203 counties in the U.S. where students make up at least 10 percent of the population, about half have seen their worst weeks of the pandemic since the beginning of August. Although there hasn’t yet been an increase in deaths, perhaps because young adults are the primary vector, public health experts worry that it will spread to older adults within the communities soon. Some colleges have responded by sending students back home, but that could create new outbreaks around the country, Melissa Korn writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Shipping the problem back to the community, where they can further spread, just doesn’t seem like the right answer,” A. David Paltiel, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Journal. “Just because a kid is asymptomatic doesn’t mean it’s safe to send that kid home … They could be in fact a ticking time bomb.”
- Also: There are more than 6.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., with more than 189,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Globally, there have been more than 27.3 million cases with more than 893,000 deaths.
Home testing: More than a dozen experts interviewed by The New York Times said that quick at-home coronavirus tests are nice in theory but might not work in practice, Katherine J. Wu reports for The New York Times, and once they come to market are unlikely to be what stems the tide of the pandemic. To start, they’re bad at picking up low-level infections, which means someone could think they’re in the clear when they aren’t. Complicating that, researchers don’t know how much virus one needs to have to be contagious, or if you can be contagious even if you test negative. “We just don’t have any proof that a negative test result means you’re not infectious,” Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, told The Times. What’s more, these quick at-home tests would face the same hurdles as other Covid tests: widespread public skepticism and supply chain issues. “There’s no reason to believe that the supply chain issues we’ve encountered with all other coronavirus testing will not still be an issue here, too,” said April Abbott, microbiology director at Deaconess Health System in Indiana. “We can’t build new product lines overnight.”
Team of rivals: Rival pharmaceutical companies working on developing a coronavirus vaccine jointly pledged Tuesday not to seek government approval until the vaccines have been proven safe and effective amidst public concern that the vaccine approval process will be politicized, Christopher Rowland reported in The Washington Post. The companies include Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna. “The American people can rest assured that any approval will maintain the FDA’s gold standard for safety and testing to ensure a vaccine or therapeutic is effective,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Post in an email.
Another scourge: In many parts of the world, reports of domestic abuse have spiked during the pandemic, Anthony Faiola and Ana Vanessa Herrero report for The Washington Post. But experts have reason to believe that domestic violence is increasing even in places where reports have fallen. “Sometimes, reported abuse cases are falling dramatically and you would think that violence is going down, but it’s just the opposite,” said Christina Wegs, the global advocacy director for sexual and reproductive health and rights for CARE. “The drop is reflecting that women and vulnerable people are not able to report what’s happening.”
Puff puff: The e-cigarette maker Juul has canceled plans to add a feature for users to count the number of “puffs” they take, which some had hoped would help wean people off of nicotine, Jennifer Maloney reports for The Wall Street Journal. In trials of the feature in the U.K. and Canada, users could set a daily alert on their phones to notify them when they had reached a certain number of “puffs,” but the pilot ended in April with no sign it will be reintroduced in the near future. The move comes amid drastic cuts to the company’s workforce and other budgetary constraints. But the company says the feature is still a part of its long-term plans. “For adult smokers, we have a product road map years into the future, including potential features like the usage monitor,” a spokesman said.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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