Trump administration denies California request for more wildfire aid

By Nichola Groom

(Reuters) – The Trump administration has denied a request by California for additional wildfire recovery relief, saying the September blazes, part of the state’s record-setting fire year, were not severe enough.

“The early September fires were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies,” Federal Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said in an emailed statement on Friday.

More than 4.1 million acres have burned in California this year, shattering a previous record.

President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration for some parts of the state in August. California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent him a request on Sept. 28 seeking another major disaster declaration for seven counties affected by fires that ignited earlier that month.

A major disaster declaration provides federal assistance for individuals, infrastructure and emergency and permanent work, according to FEMA’s web site.

“The more recent and separate California submission was not supported by the relevant data that States must provide for approval and the President concurred with the FEMA Administrator’s recommendation,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email.

California officials were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio)

Wildfires rage in California, stoked by extreme heat in U.S. West

(Reuters) – Three large wildfires burned in California and a fourth was growing quickly on Monday as a weekend heat wave lingered across large swaths of the western United States.

The Creek Fire, which has engulfed the Fresno area in central California and caused the emergency evacuation over the weekend of more than 200 people vacationing at a popular reservoir, was still not contained as of Monday afternoon, fire officials said.

The blaze, growing under “extreme weather conditions,” had devoured nearly 79,000 acres (32,000 hectares) of land, while a cause remained under investigation, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said in a statement.

Officials in Madera County issued evacuation orders and urged the county’s 157,000 residents to leave if they felt unsafe.

A hiker who had just embarked on a multi-day trip when the Creek Fire broke out and had to find a way out of the blaze shared the harrowing experience on social media.

“We’re safe and we’re out, but wow, we hiked our way out of the #CreekFire yesterday,” Asha Karim posted on Twitter.

The Oak Fire in Mendocino County started burning around 1:26 pm on Monday afternoon, according to CalFire, and three hours later it had already torched 1,000 acres (400 hectares) and destroyed one structure.

Videos on social media showed the fire consuming pick-up trucks as it spread along Highway 101 near Willits, California.

“If you’re trying to get out of an evacuation area please call 911 for help. Don’t delay!” the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter.

San Francisco-based power provider PG&E said late on Monday that it began turning off power in “high fire-threat” areas. The outages will impact 172,000 customers in 22 counties, mostly in the Sierra Foothills, PG&E said, adding the shut off was a safety measure due to the extreme high and dry winds.

The California Independent Systems Operator, which runs most of the state’s power grid, again urged consumers to cut back on energy consumption and said it was monitoring wildfires throughout the state threatening power lines.

In Southern California, east of San Diego, more than 400 firefighters battled the Valley Fire, which burned more than 17,000 acres (6,900 hectares)in Cleveland National Forest. Video shared on social media showed firefighters dousing the flames, the air thick with ash and fire embers.

The blaze was 3% contained on Monday evening. Officials announced the deployment of military aircraft on Monday afternoon to help fight the flames.

A fire in San Bernardino County, southeast of Los Angeles, that officials said was caused by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, kept burning through the night and was 7% contained as of Monday morning.

On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the wildfires, which also prompted the U.S. Forest Service to temporarily close some national forests including the Sierra National Forest, the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Leslie Adler, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

‘Lightning siege’ sparks wildfires across California wine country

By Steven Lam

VACAVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – Dozens of lightning-sparked wildfires caused thousands of evacuations in Northern California’s wine country on Wednesday, and Colorado battled its second-largest fire ever as a heat wave supercharged blazes across the U.S. West.

A group of fires in Northern California covering over 46,000 acres (18,615 hectares) has destroyed at least 50 structures in a hill and mountain area near Vacaville in Solano County, authorities said.

The city of 100,000, about 30 miles southwest of Sacramento, was under a partial evacuation order after flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fire raced through homesteads and ranches on its west flank. Social media videos showed a number of houses on fire, and residents were forced to flee their homes during the night.

The blazes follow devastating fires across Northern California in 2017 that killed 44, wiped out numerous wineries and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and other structures.

“In the last 72 hours we’ve experienced an historic lightning siege with 10,849 strikes causing more than 367 new fires,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Lynnette Round.

So-called red flag high winds are fanning flames caused by the lightning in scrub and woodland parched by record-breaking heat and low humidity.

Another group of fires called the SCU Lightning Complex more than doubled in size overnight, and is now burning over 85,000 acres, while the CZU August Lightning Complex has grown to over 10,000 acres and forced evacuations in Santa Cruz County.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency on Tuesday and California requested 375 fire engines from out of state to fight the blazes.

To the east, at least four large wildfires burned in drought-stricken Colorado. The state’s Pine Gulch Fire grew to over 125,000 acres overnight to become the second largest in Colorado’s history, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. The fire remains at 7% containment, according to the InciWeb fire data site.

(Reporting by Steven Lam, additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Steve Orlofsky and Andrea Ricci)

California reports nearly 12,000 COVID cases, biggest increase since pandemic started

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – California reported a record increase of more than 11,800 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally of county data, as the Trump administration pushes for schools to reopen to help businesses return to normal.

If California were a country, it would be rank fifth in the world for total cases at nearly 400,000, behind the United States, Brazil, India and Russia.

This is the first time California has reported over 10,000 new infections since setting a record with 10,861 cases on July 14.

Florida has reported over 10,000 new cases a day for the last six days in a row and Texas has reported over 10,000 cases for five out of the last seven days.

California’s daily increases have already surpassed the highest daily tally reported by any European country during the height of the pandemic there.

The biggest outbreak in the state is in Los Angeles County, which has nearly 160,000 total cases on Monday. Hospitals are filling with COVID patients and Los Angeles reported record numbers of currently hospitalized coronavirus patients for the second day in a row on Monday.

To combat the pandemic, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is shutting down California again.

In addition to closing bars, he ordered restaurants, movie theaters, zoos and museums to cease indoor operations. Gyms, churches and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.

State prisons are releasing up to 8,000 inmates early to reduce the risk of virus transmission after large outbreaks in several correctional facilities.

California is home to both tech companies in Silicon Valley, Hollywood movie studios and Walt Disney Co’s Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

The entertainment company has indefinitely suspended plans to reopen the California theme park but it did reopen Disney World in Florida on July 11.

(Reporting by Christine Chan in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Restrictions reimposed across Asia-Pacific region

From Melbourne to Manila, Hong Kong and India’s tech capital Bengaluru, lockdowns and strict social distancing restrictions are being reimposed across the Asia-Pacific after a surge in new coronavirus cases fanned fears of a second wave of infections.

Many parts of Asia, the region first hit by the coronavirus that emerged in central China late last year, are finding cause to pause the reopening of their economies, some after winning praise for their initial responses to the outbreak.

The number of coronavirus infections around the world hit 13 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, climbing by a million in just five days. Reuters’ global tally, which is based on government reports, shows COVID-19 accelerating fastest in Latin America, the number of deaths there exceeding the figure for North America for the first time on Monday.

Shutdown in California

California’s governor on Monday clamped new restrictions on businesses as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations soared, and the state’s two largest school districts, in Los Angeles and San Diego, said children would be made to stay home in August.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, ordered bars closed and restaurants, movie theaters, zoos and museums across the nation’s most populous state to cease indoor operations. Gyms, churches and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy,” Newsom said at a news briefing.

The decision to cancel in-person classes puts the districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said he might withhold federal funding or remove tax-exempt status from school systems that refuse to reopen.

‘Worst-case’ winter toll

Britain faces a potentially more deadly second wave of COVID-19 in the coming winter that could kill up to 120,000 people over nine months in a worst-case scenario, health experts said on Tuesday.

With COVID-19 more likely to spread in winter as people spend more time together in enclosed spaces, a second wave of the pandemic “could be more serious than the one we’ve just been through,” said Stephen Holgate, a professor and co-lead author of a report by Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences.

“This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,” Holgate told an online briefing. “Deaths could be higher with a new wave of COVID-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.”

The United Kingdom’s current death toll from confirmed cases of COVID-19 is around 45,000, the highest in Europe.

Good news from hard-hit Belgium

Belgium, which has reined in the coronavirus after becoming the worst-hit mid-sized country in the world, reported zero new coronavirus-related deaths in 24 hours on Tuesday for the first time since March 10.

As in many European countries that were hard-hit by the pandemic in March and April, Belgium sharply reduced infections by imposing a lockdown, which is now being lifted.

The total number of deaths reported by the national public health institute Sciensano remained at 9,787. In the country of 11.5 million people, that works out to around 850 deaths per million, the worst in the world apart from the tiny city state of San Marino. The peak daily death toll was 343 on April 12.

Bastille Day with a difference

France held a scaled-down annual Bastille Day celebration on Tuesday, with none of the usual tanks and troops parading down Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue, in a concession to the COVID-19 epidemic still stalking Europe.

Instead, President Emmanuel Macron, standing in the back of a military jeep, reviewed ranks of socially-distanced troops on the Place de la Concorde square after a flypast by military aircraft.

“I wish, with all the French, with the armies themselves, to pay a vibrant tribute to health workers and those who, in all sectors, have enabled public, social and economic life to continue,” Macron said in message released ahead of the parade.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes and Karishma Singh; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)