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Dozens Trapped By California Fires, Rescue Attempt Underway; Extreme Heat Fueling California Fires; Pyrotechnic Device at Gender Reveal Party Sparked Wildfire; U.S. Goes Back to School During Pandemic; What Science Says About Kids and Virus as Schools Open; Trump Attacks U.S. Military Leadership He Appointed. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 8, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN, I'm Robyn Curnow.

So, just ahead on the show, zero percent contained. Raging wildfires trapped hikers on a mountain in California. We'll have rescue effort updates from a fire official on the ground.

Then also, back to school for millions of American students. We'll tell you what scientists know about the COVID risks to children as parents make hard choices between in-person and online education.

And then also, U.S. President Donald Trump picks a very public fight with military leaders he appointed. Accusing them of wagging war for monetary reasons.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: This hour, dozens of people are stranded on a California mountain surrounded by flames. A fire official tells me those people are in a safe zone and in no immediate danger for now. That conversation coming up in just a few minutes' time. Just to give you an update. That same fire known as the Creek Fire is burning out of control, zero percent contained.

A local official says it's grown into unprecedented disaster and forcing mandatory evacuations in two counties. But this is just one of more than 20 wildfires currently burning in the state. Now the whole of California is impacted, even places that aren't burning right now are taking measures to avoid adding to the crisis. Tens of thousands of Californians could also face power cuts, as officials try to prevent electrical equipment from sparing more fires. Well, Dan Simon is in California for us and he was at the scene of this Creek Fire earlier -- Dan.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fire is getting dangerously close to some of these mountain communities. The town of Auberry, which has about 2,500 people, had to evacuate as the flames basically took over a hillside above that town. For the most part though, this fire is burning in the rugged Sierra National Forest.

But you do have, of course, a lot of campers who use this area for recreation and that's why you have all of those people who are at the boat launch. Who have to be air lifted to safety, about ten or so people suffered moderate injuries. But hopefully everyone will be OK.

In the meantime, we're getting more information about that so called gender reveal party in Southern California in San Bernardino County. You did have this couple that went to a nearby park to basically announce the gender of their baby and they had a pyrotechnic device and you light it off, and it either goes pink or blue. Well, in any event, set this wildfire in motion.

Dan Simon, CNN, Auberry, California.


CURNOW: Thanks, Dan, for that.

So, we told you there about the stranded hikers and campers trapped by the Creek fire and they're waiting rescue right now. We can't exactly know what they're experiencing. But this should give you an idea. Take a look.


JEREMY REMINGTON, RESCUED FROM WILDFIRES: Just wanted to show you, if we make it out of this, this fire on all sides, all around us. All of the roads are burnt. A bunch of us are stranded here. And supposedly there's a -- well, we have no cell phone reception. And supposedly there's nobody coming. Anyway ...


CURNOW: Well, that was Jeremy Remington who is stranded, as you can see, surrounded on all sides by flames. But he was able to later record this video that you're looking at now, of his rescue, thank goodness, along with many others.

Well, let's go now to Alex Olow, the public information officer for the Sierra National Forest. Sir, good to have you with us. Just talk us through about folks who are stranded at the moment where you are. What needs to be done? How are they doing? Can you get to them?

ALEX OLOW, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST: Well, presently we do have some folks that had been stranded by the fire. These were individuals that were in higher elevations and/or in wilderness areas trekking, or hiking, and enjoying their time on the forest. And of course, the fire burning below them has now created an issue where they can't come down off of the mountain at this time. It's not safe for them to do so. But we do have about three locations on the mountain that are referred to as safe zones. Where they've been -- be safe from the fire. And at this time, they're not in any immediate danger.


However, if the conditions were to change, they do have plans and they've been in discussion to figure out how they can go in and get these people safely off of the mountain and then of course back to where they can get to their homes. Most likely they would use what they did the other day, the Army National Guard that's stationed out of the city of Fresno, and they assisted with a rescue the other day. And that's how these people would come off the mountain.

CURNOW: Yes, that was certainly pretty dramatic stuff. Just talk us through that. And also, you know, if you are planning more rescues, how dense is the smog or the smoke and how does that impact potential helicopter rescues?

OLOW: Well, there is a big impact because with the inversion that keeps the smoke down over the mountain range or the drainages, of course impairs the ability for a pilot to see where he's going. So right now, as we said, the people that are there are safe. They're not in any immediate danger. And unfortunately, we may have to wait a little bit for the inversion to lift and when the smoke starts to lift up during the day, then the helicopter pilot will be able to get in.

CURNOW: What's the situation on the ground right now? If you can just give us a status report.

OLOW: Certainly. As of now, the fire -- the Creek fire burning here on the Sierra National Forest has burned 135,523 acres. That's the report we got this evening. Unfortunately, we're at zero containment. The fire is burning in very extreme ways.

CURNOW: The nature of this fire, you say there's zero containment. How do you see the next few days, next few weeks playing out? I mean, are firefighters -- are they able to sustain their battle against these claims?

OLOW: The next couple of days, hopefully, we can get some footing and get that anchor point that's necessary to really start getting lines around the fire. But, again, with these high temperatures we've been experiencing, the low humidity, and then the wind, this evening they're expecting what's called the Mono Wind which is a wind that comes down out of the northeast. And so, they're definitely keeping an eye on that and hoping that the wind this evening won't push the fire any larger or creating a more need for evacuation.

But isn't an unusual fire in many ways. This forest is the forest that has a high degree of tree mortality based on drought and beetle kill over the last almost 10 years. So, it's very ripe for a fire, I guess, and once the fire got its footing, it's really just continuing to burn. But we're doing everything we can, we're throwing everything at it. And everybody is trying to stay focused at the end and making sure that we get those mitigation times, rest cycles and then going back out and work.

CURNOW: Alex, thank you so much for joining us. I need to get you back to work to go and do what you need to do, continue with the coordination. God bless to you all and I hope we have some good news soon. Thank you, sir.

OLOW: Thank you, Robyn. Thank you.

CURNOW: So, I want to go now to Pedram Javaheri. Pedram, I know you're covering and monitoring all of the winds and just the intense heat. What can you tell us?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, the heat certainly is still there, Robyn. At least are beginning to see a little bit of a transition out of the extreme nature of the heat. In fact, some of those temperatures ranging between 45 to 50 degrees Celsius. Set all- time records. These are in degrees Fahrenheit across the Los Angeles County area from Woodland Hills. On Sunday it peaked at 121 degrees.

For perspective, essentially Los Angeles warmer than Baghdad on Sunday and Baghdad experiencing its own incredible heat into the upper 40s but even warmer in Southern California. But all of this connected, we often talk about the teleconnections and people often take the weather pattern in your area is specific only to your area. But what was happening across portions of Asia in recent days, in fact, with the multiple typhoons that we've seen in part to kind of displace the jet stream and create this broad area of high pressure into the Western U.S. that led to the excessive heat and of course, now the powerful winds that are in place there fanning the flames that are being experienced.

But notice this, the fire weather concerns still critical to elevated. That's going into Tuesday afternoon. Parts of Northern California even as far south as interior areas of Southern California dealing with this. And it's not just 76 large, active fires in place across the state of California -- but across the Western U.S. I should say, with 23 of them located in the state of California. And you kind of notice where the thermal signatures of these fires are and very few spots of the state left out of the damage zone here.


We've got fires to the north, south, east, and west of the state. And the drought monitor shows you how excessive the situation has been here as far as drought is concerned. In fact, parts of California, some of the major cities there, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento, all about 40 to 50 percent of normal for the rainfall. So, all of this adds additional fuel to these fires. And of course, the winds don't help, Robyn, where we're forecasting them to reach as high as 50 or 60 kilometers per hour in the height of the afternoon hours for the next couple of days. We'll follow that story as it progresses -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK, will do. Thank you so much, Pedram. Appreciate it, good to see you.

So, one of the largest fires in California began at a park during a so-called gender reveal party as we were explaining a little bit earlier. Now officials say this pyrotechnic device is used to announce basically the sex of a new baby. But when it ignited, the device sparked a fire that quickly grew out of control and spread to surrounding areas. Take a look.


BENNETT MILLOY, FIRE CAPTAIN, CAL FIRE: Saturday morning near 10:30, the fire started somewhere behind us here in El Dorado Ranch Park in the city of Yucaipa. A family had come out here to do a gender reveal thing for the family, a photo opportunity. During that they used a pyrotechnic device which emits smoke and heat. That was placed directly in some seasonal grass which is no longer behind us. That grass ignited and the fire rapidly spread to the ridge line you see behind us here.

But after the fire began the family attempted suppression on their own. They tried to use water bottles which in four foot high grass you're never going to capture a grass fire with that, but I mean, they're not the fire department. I come with engines and hoses and those types of things.

So, they did call 911 and then they remained at scene until fire resources and law enforcement arrived. And even after law enforcement arrived, they provided a statement, they cooperated with us, provided us photos that will all be included in our investigation.


CURNOW: Well, the woman widely credited with inventing this gender party thing is now calling for an end to these celebration. Saying that things have gone too far. She says in part, stop it. Toxic masculinity is men thinking they need to explode something simply because enjoying a baby party is for sissies. Well, wow. OK.

Nearly 190,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus and another spike could be on the way. The Labor Day holiday is wrapping up. School is starting. You know that. And Nick Watt tells us that could be a dangerous combination.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is this the spark for another surge or this or this? We'll find out in a few weeks.

FRANCIS SUAREZ, MIAMI, FLORIDA, MAYOR: Things have stabilized. Things are much better, but we have seen as you mentioned spikes after long weekends.

WATT: In part, due to Memorial Day crowd celebrating the start of summer, new case count soared from around 20,000 a day mid-May to over 70,000, a little more than a month later. And Labor Day, we're starting from a much higher baseline.

PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: I don't think it will take much to really bring us back up to 70,000 new cases a day. WATT: This weekend of course also marked the unofficial start of fall when people will be moving more indoors when infection risks rises and --

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: People are exhausted. That's another challenge. Trying to keep up our vigilance at a time when we know that this can spread more aggressively.

WATT: It's also back to school time. Colleges now in every single state dealing with outbreaks. Eleven northeastern students just kicked out for the entire semester without refunds after allegedly gathering in a hotel room. Nine hundred students have now tested positive at Iowa State. Now when student athletes first returned after Memorial Day --

DR. JOHN PASCHEN, STORY COUNTY, IOWA BOARD OF HEALTH CHAIRMAN, STORY COUNTY: It took about three weeks before it started to spread into the general population. It then got into a local nursing home and 10 people died.

WATT: Twenty-nine states right now are seeing 5 percent or more tests coming back positive, a bad sign. Past few days, West Virginia and North Dakota, seeing record infection rates, Missouri and Puerto Rico seeing record death tolls.

Meanwhile, as we near election day, the President says we have turned the corner.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before our very special date. You know what date I'm talking about.

GOTTLIEB: I think the likelihood that we're going to have a vaccine for widespread use in 2020 is extremely low.

WATT: At least three potential vaccine producers, rivals, reportedly now preparing a joint statement that they will not seek government approval until they know for sure the vaccine is safe and effective, this, according to the "Wall Street Journal."

HOTEZ: The facts that we are seeing the pharmaceutical companies sort of protecting the U.S. population from the government is something I've never seen before.


WATT (on camera): And we are tracking the 101 largest school districts in America. Of them, 16 are starting their new school year Tuesday morning of the 16, 14 online only. Despite the President's pleas for as many brick and mortar schools to open as possible.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CURNOW: Nick mentioning there, U.S. schools returning to a new academic year in his report. Well there are over millions of U.S. students starting school fully online. And in some districts, parents must choose all online or all in person. It's a difficult decision and scientists really are still coming to understand the risk of COVID-19 on children of all ages. Here's Brian Todd with what we would now right now.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The University of West Virginia suspending more than two dozen students and shifting most classes to online only following a weekend of holiday parties, as many students from college age to kindergarten start classes in earnest following Labor Day.

An alarming new report adds to the concern among top doctors about COVID cases among children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, COVID cases among children shot up more than 17 percent between August 13th, and 27th, with more than 70,000 new child cases in that time span across the U.S.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CHIEF OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: We know that there have been numerous outbreaks on those college campuses leading to hundreds of cases on even individual campuses. So, I think that this is really in the context of kids acting a little bit less safe and as well as the college campuses and the K to 12's opening

TODD: Video obtained by CNN shows a large outdoor gathering at Penn State University recently. Many students not wearing masks or distancing. It prompted a strong warning from the university's president bluntly asking students, quote, do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?

ERIC BARRON, PRESIDENT, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: Right now, the key to Penn State staying open is the behavior of every single one of us.

TODD: At Ohio State University, more than 200 students were recently suspended for breaking the school's COVID-19 rules on socializing. And NC State University recently announced, it's reducing its on campus housing population because of a rising number of coronavirus cases there. In Georgia, Mississippi and Utah, thousands of students and hundreds of teachers have recently been asked to quarantine because of exposure to coronavirus.

Experts say the increase in child cases could also be a result of more children being tested in recent months. The new report says despite the climbing numbers, severe illness from the virus is still rare among children.

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The bad news is that when a child gets sick with COVID-19 and winds up in the hospital, one in three of those children needs the ICU because of how severely ill that they get with the disease. Especially if they have a whole body inflammatory response, where their immune system just really goes out of control and causes widespread illness. TODD: Experts say even with this new information, they're still at least one crucial set of data that is unknown regarding children and the virus.

WALENSKY: What we still don't understand is how much kids are a vector for this and how much they are the index case in a given household. So, in fact, we don't know how much kids transmit this disease.

TODD (on camera): So, given this new report, is it now times for school systems across the U.S. to start shutting down en masse. Experts say not really. They say in communities with low rates of the virus schools can be kept open safely as long as rules on distancing and mass wearing are strictly enforced. But they say in places with high rates of coronavirus, like some communities in the southern U.S. right now, is simply not time to have kids back in class.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CURNOW: You're watching CNN. So still to come, Joe Biden gets even tougher on President Donald Trump as the race for the White House enters a critical stretch. Stay with us, you're watching CNN.



CURNOW: To the White House now where Donald Trump spent the Labor Day holiday wanting an attack on U.S. military leadership.


TRUMP: ... saying the military is in love with me, the soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren't because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. But we're getting out of the endless wars.


CURNOW: It's important to note there that Mr. Trump is now targeting leaders he appointed, and he continues to tout military spending as one of his biggest accomplishments. Let's get more from Barbara Starr -- Barbara.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Just as President Trump has been trying to convince the world he's has not made disparaging remarks about the troops. He suddenly Monday launched an unprecedented attack on his own military commanders and the Defense Secretary here in Washington.

The President saying that these commanders just want to stay at war to help benefit defense contractors. Look, you know, presidents often chafe when the Pentagon says just a few more months and we'll have victory. The President today did something very different, he tied military advice to trying to benefit defense contractors. And that is something that I don't know any military person that wouldn't find offensive.

In this country, the U.S. military goes to war at the direction of the president of the United States and stays at war because the president tells them to. There was no indication of presidential responsibility in Mr. Trump's remarks. So, where it all goes from here is unclear. Because Washington is on edge waiting to see if more information comes out, more revelations about what Mr. Trump may have said in the past about the U.S. troops.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


CURNOW: Thanks, Barbara, for that.

Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden is stepping up his attacks on President Trump as he tries to muster support in key battleground states.


CNN's Arlette Saenz reports now from Pennsylvania.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe Biden spent Labor Day in the battleground state of Pennsylvania as he once again slammed President Trump for his comments reportedly made denigrating veterans and those who were killed in battle. Biden calling the President's comments un-American. Take a listen.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: And none of the veterans you know were losers or suckers. No president has ever talked about our service men and women in that way. Sorry if I'm coming close to losing my temper, but the simple truth is if that's how you talk about our veterans, you have no business being President of the United States of America. Period.

SAENZ: While here in Pennsylvania Joe Biden also met with union workers, including three who are also veterans. This coming as Biden continues to hammer away at the President over those comments he made about veterans.

Now as the President has floated the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine coming before election day, Joe Biden said he was open to the possibility of taking such a vaccine but only if it went through a transparent process that was backed by scientists. Biden spent Labor Day in Pennsylvania, a state President Trump won back there 2016 and Democrats are hoping to pick up wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. All three states that the President won, as they are looking to defeat Donald Trump in November. Joe Biden heading to Michigan on Wednesday. Arlette Saenz, CNN, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


CURNOW: Still to come here at CNN, Kamala Harris talks to Jason Blake's family about the Kenosha police shooting that sparked days of protests and unrest.


CURNOW: Welcome back.