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West Coast Wildfires Raging; New Woodward Tapes Released; Interview With Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA); Trump Told Woodward, Nothing More Could Have Been Done On COVID; Hurricane Sally Strengthens To Category 2, Rapidly Intensifies To 100 MPH Winds As It Nears Gulf Coast; At Least 35 Dead In California, Oregon, Washington From Historic Wildfires; Florida Governor Under Fire For Keeping Data On School Infections Hidden As Cases In Children Increase. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 18:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are following breaking news on American lives in danger on multiple fronts right now.

In the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. death toll has now surpassed 194,000, as we're now learning more about President Trump's failure to acknowledge the reality of that enormous loss.

A recording of his August phone call with the journalist Bob Woodward reveals Mr. Trump insisted nothing more could have been done to fight the pandemic. The president stressing gains in the U.S. stock market on a day more than 1,300 Americans died.

Also breaking, at least 35 people killed in Western wildfires that now blacken an area of California about the size of Connecticut.

And the Gulf Coast is bracing for Hurricane Sally. It just strengthened to a Category 2 storm, with 100-mile-an-hour winds and rapidly intensifying. Expected to reach landfall late tomorrow or early Wednesday.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president is out West tonight in Phoenix, Arizona, once again completely ignoring the science of the pandemic, as well as climate change, for that matter.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is the new abnormal on the campaign trail for President Trump.

The president is on his way to a Latinos for Trump event in Phoenix at this hour. That event appears to be yet again another potential health risk for supporters, as there will not be -- we can show you these pictures right now -- not be much social distancing going on.

You can see from pictures of the audience that many of his supporters are not going to be wearing masks. It has been going on several days now. It is going to happen again tonight.

In the meantime, the president just received a briefing on the catastrophic wildfires in California, where he dismissed concerns over climate change, but, of course, the president being accused of ignoring another disaster in the U.S. -- that is the coronavirus pandemic -- as he continues to hold rallies with big crowds.

The president says he's not worried about catching the virus, as he's positioned -- quote -- "very far away from his own supporters."


ACOSTA (voice-over): Fifty days before the election, President Trump sounds confident he understands science better than the experts. But, in California, when the president brushed off pleas from state officials to try to understand the effects of climate change on the devastating wildfires out West, he got some pushback.



TRUMP: You just -- you just watch.

CROWFOOT: I wish science agreed with you.


TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows.

ACOSTA: The president is also dismissing warnings from health experts about his crowded rallies. His latest in Nevada violated state restrictions, luring his supporters indoors, where there was no social distancing with few masks in sight.

But Mr. Trump insisted his health is not in jeopardy.

TRUMP: Because you know why? I'm on a stage. It's very far away. And so I'm not at all concerned.

ACOSTA: One of the nation's top cardiologists, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, told CNN, that's not the point, accusing Mr. Trump of jeopardizing the safety of his rally-goers.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Negligent homicide? What else could you call an act that, because of its negligence, results in the deaths of others?

ACOSTA: And yet the president insisted to author Bob Woodward he's done everything possible to stop the virus.


TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.


TRUMP: I acted early. I acted early.

WOODWARD: We will -- we will make -- this will...

TRUMP: We will see.

ACOSTA: Still, one-time GOP official tweeted: "It's Joe Biden who can't run from his disastrous record responding to the coronavirus. The truth hurts, Joe," arguing the president handled the pandemic perfectly.

RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Think of what would have happened if he'd have gone out and said, this is awful, we should all be afraid, we don't have a plan. It would have been a run on the banks. It would have been on a run on the hospitals. It would have been a run on the grocery stores.

ACOSTA: A senior official on COVID-19 at the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, is coming under intense scrutiny, after "The New York Times" reported he accused government scientists of -- quote -- "sedition" and being part of a resistance unit on his Facebook page.

In a statement, Caputo said: "Since joining the administration, my family and I have been continually threatened and in and out of criminal court dealing with harassment prosecutions. This weighs heavily on us and we deeply appreciate the friendship and support of President Trump as we address these matters and keep our children safe."

As for the fires out West, Biden said, the president just doesn't get it.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump maintains good forest management would solve the problem.

TRUMP: With regard to the forests, when trees fall down, after a short period of time, about 18 months, they become very dry. They become really like a matchstick. And they get up -- there's no more water pouring through, and they become very, very -- they just explode. They can explode.


[18:05:18] ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's comments on the wildfires, he's again claiming that the forests in California, Oregon, and Washington state simply aren't maintained well enough, echoing some controversial comments he's made before, when he said raking the forests can prevent these forest fires, instead of paying attention to the issue of climate change.

The president is scheduled to speak at a Latinos for Trump event in Phoenix in just a short while from now. We just showed you these pictures. We can show you the pictures one more time, because it bears repeating.

These Trump supporters are gathered indoors for a Latinos for Trump event. They are not social distancing. They are not wearing masks. Wolf, this keeps happening over and over again. The president appears not to care that some of his own supporters might catch the coronavirus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The second day in a row, an indoor event like this, a lot of people gathered, most of them not wearing masks, no social distancing at all, very, very disturbing and potentially extremely dangerous to all those folks inside.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN Special Correspondent, Jamie Gangel, who's been doing amazing, excellent reporting on the revelations in the journalist Bob Woodward's brand-new book.

Jamie, in this final a phone conversation between the president and Bob Woodward, what does the president want to know? Tell us about that.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, just for context, this call happens on August 14, a month ago.

And what the president has found out is that Woodward's book is done. And he's really calling to try to find out how he's portrayed.

But his focus is not on the virus. It's on the stock market. And Woodward tells him -- quote -- "The book is going to be tough."


WOODWARD: It's a tough book, sir. And you have your say, and they're going to be -- there's going to be a lot of controversy about it, I expect.

The whole business with the COVID and dealing with that is laid out. And so it's close to the bone, and you helped me get there, and I appreciate that.

TRUMP: All right. Well, we have done better than most countries with COVID. You're starting to see that.

WOODWARD: I mean, there are parts of the book you're not going to like. And...

TRUMP: What won't I like, Bob?

WOODWARD: Well, just there is -- it's tough times. The virus, as you repeatedly told me and as you have said publicly, it's derailed things.

And it's a -- it's a big reality in people's lives, as you know.

So, I will get it to you. And...

TRUMP: You know, the market is coming back very strong. You do know that?

WOODWARD: Yes, of course. And...

TRUMP: Did you cover that in the book?

WOODWARD: Yes, oh, sure.


GANGEL: Wolf, he just doesn't seem to get it. He keeps talking about the stock market, on a day when 1,300 more Americans have died.

And that was a month ago. We are still losing more than 1,000 Americans a day.

BLITZER: You know, as we heard in that clip, Jamie, Woodward tells the president there will be parts of the book he won't like. We all know that by now.

What more can you tell us about the president's reaction to that news from him?

GANGEL: So, we have another recording for -- a new recording from the interview.

And, this time, Woodward is really trying to explain to the president that he has to focus on the virus.


WOODWARD: It's going to be a contest between you and Biden.

It's going to be a contest between both of you and the virus. The virus is -- because it's in real people's lives, all those tens of millions of people who don't have jobs, who don't have that income.

TRUMP: I know.

WOODWARD: Listen, I mean, you and I...

TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.


TRUMP: I acted early. I acted early.

WOODWARD: We will -- we will make -- this will...

TRUMP: We will see.

WOODWARD: This will be the history that we start the first draft of, and it will continue.

TRUMP: So, you think the virus totally supersedes the economy?

WOODWARD: Oh, sure. But they're related, as you know.

TRUMP: A little bit, yes.

WOODWARD: Oh, a little bit? I mean...

TRUMP: I mean, more than a little bit. But the economy is doing -- look, we're close to a new stock market record.


GANGEL: "Nothing more could have been done."

Wolf, we know that's simply not true. And a month later, he's holding indoor rallies, with his supporters not wearing masks and social distancing. It's just astonishing.


BLITZER: And more than 194,000 Americans have now died over these past six months from coronavirus, nearly 200,000, approaching that awful number.

Some of the projections say that number could double by the end of this year. It's an awful, awful situation.

Jamie, thank you very much for your terrific reporting. We're grateful to you.

Let's talk more about the president's response to the pandemic, also to the Western wildfire crisis unfolding right now.

We're joined by the governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee.

Governor Inslee, thank you so much for joining us.

You have described these wildfires in your state, in Oregon and California as apocalyptic. Can you tell us a little bit more, more detail what your state is facing tonight?

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): Well, at the moment, virtually our entire state is covered by a cloud of smoke that is unbelievably irritating and downright unhealthy and dangerous. So, people literally can't go outside of their homes to care for our

health. We have had dozens and dozens and dozens of homes burned down. We have had entire home -- entire towns destroyed, like Malden.

We have been -- we have lost one beautiful young child, and that itself is a tragedy. We know Oregon and California have had more fatalities than we have had.

And this is such a disaster in any dimension, but it's a particular disaster because we have had our state turned into a tinderbox by climate change. We have grass right now that's almost like gasoline. A spark made it explode. And we have these fires that just it created walls of fire 20-, 30-feet high just from grass and sagebrush.

And those fires of grass and sagebrush have consumed whole towns in our state. And that's why, frankly, it is so infuriating that we have a president that, instead of helping us lead solutions to this climate change that has caused these climate fires -- they're not just wildfires. They are climate fires.

They're not caused by an act of God. They're caused by climate change that we have created through our activities as humans. But, instead of helping us solve that problem, he continues to make excuses. And excuses are not what people want.

Look it, it's so dry, the only moisture in my state today in Eastern Washington are the tears from people who've lost their homes falling into the ashes. And they deserve better.


What do the first responders, Governor, what do the residents in your state, what do they need right now, as they encounter these truly historic fires?

INSLEE: Well, they need short-term relief, which is basic food and clothing and shelter. And I have dug into our emergency supplies in my emergency fund to get them some cash assistance. They need shelter.

We have tried to help but to make sure we can coordinate with the Red Cross to get them shelter. That's just short term. Their communities need help rebuilding. Some of these communities had all their public infrastructure burned out. And then we will look to see if we can obtain a federal disaster declaration to help with some of the rebuilding potentially for some of the uninsured losses we have had in houses and the like.

We were very disappointed the Trump administration did not allow a previous request in our last catastrophic fires. We hope we could fare better in this situation.

But they need something that we all need. We need a federal government that will work with the states to build clean energy jobs, to put people to work building clean energy, so that we don't lose more towns in the West Coast and soon the rest of the United States. That's what we really need. And I can't overstate how traumatic this

is for my state. People yesterday were sort of clinically depressed, under this pall of sort of blood red smoke. And this has created a recognition that we face conditions that are apocalyptic.

This is like sort of a Hollywood movie. It deserves a response to stop this from taking over our nation.

BLITZER: You know, and it's not just Washington state. It's Oregon and California, other states out West as well.

People are reluctant to even leave their homes right now, if they still have homes. You clearly have been outspoken about the role climate change plays in allowing these fires to spread at this truly alarming and historic rate.

You have said the president's denial of that fact is maddening. I want you to elaborate a little bit more on the impact about denying this climate science, this climate change science. What's the impact of that right now?


INSLEE: Well, look, I have seen this. I have had a bellyful of seeing the suffering of people in my state, and have a president who is actively trying to create and enhance conditions that cause their grief.

I remember I was flying over a fire a few years ago in a helicopter, and I looked down at this farm, and it had been all burned out. And I saw this couple standing literally in the middle of their home, what was the remains of their home -- it was just burned to the foundation -- just hugging each other.

And they didn't know we were going -- coming over, this -- just sitting there trying to cling to something to have some hope. And people in those conditions deserve a president who are going to help them. And they're not getting help from this president.


INSLEE: Today, he said that the problem were leaves on the forest floor.

What a bunch of ignorance. And for the president to try to tell us we're not managing our forests, I don't think he could find which end of an axe to hold or pitch a tent without an instructional manual.

It's not leaves on the forest floor. It is hundreds of thousands of acres of cheatgrass and sagebrush that is now so dry that it's basically like an inch of gasoline across the surface of the state of Washington. And he continues -- in fact, he expressed some pride in taking us out of the Paris climate agreement that might have helped us do something about that.

BLITZER: All right. INSLEE: Now, when you have (AUDIO GAP) suffering as I have, that is maddening, and I think that's justified.

BLITZER: Very quickly, because we're out of time, you're wearing the mask because of the fumes that are coming in from the fires or because of the coronavirus?

INSLEE: Well, mostly for the coronavirus, but people are masking. It does help them a little bit with the smoke, but not enough.

People still need to stay inside. And that is very difficult. For young people, we have tried to get them to get exercise. We deserve a federal government that will help us breathe. I don't think that's asking too much from a president.

BLITZER: Governor Inslee, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks out West. We're hoping for the best.

I know this is an awful, awful situation. Thank you so much for joining us.

INSLEE: Take care.

BLITZER: Just ahead: As the nation struggles with schools reopening, we're getting new information on the prevalence of coronavirus among children.

And the former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton is standing by. I will get his take on the president's failed attempt to convince Bob Woodward that he did all he could to fight coronavirus.

We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on the coronavirus crisis.

As the U.S. death fell inches closer and closer to 200,000, we just learned that more than half-a-million children here in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak began some six, seven months ago.

CNN national correspondent Athena Jones has more on the state of this pandemic.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A major warning on the vaccine front, the world's largest vaccine maker telling the financial times there won't be enough vaccines available to inoculate everyone in the world until the end of 2024, at the earliest, if two doses are needed to provide immunity.

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNIST: All of the studies are showing that to get an adequate immune response, it is going to require two doses, probably spaced a month apart.


RODRIGUEZ: What we need to keep in mind is that it may not require, first and foremost, everyone in the world to get vaccinated to slow down or even stop this spread.

JONES: Meanwhile, a bold prediction from vaccine maker Pfizer, which is already manufacturing hundreds of thousands of doses, in the hopes its COVID vaccine is deemed safe and effective.

ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: We will know if the product works by the end of October.

JONES: Six months after the president declared a state of emergency to combat COVID-19, still a mixed picture across the United States, with 24 states showing a downward trend in new infections, 16 states holding steady, and 10 states and Puerto Rico on the rise, new infections up 55 percent in Wyoming, 36 percent in Wisconsin, and 10 percent in Connecticut.

Texas now behind just New York and New Jersey in the total number of COVID-19 deaths. In California, where cases are falling, San Francisco today reopening hair and nail salons and gyms with limited capacity and face coverings required.

COVID spread and higher education remains a concern, with more than 45,000 cases reported at colleges and universities in all 50 states, one reason scenes like this one near NYU over the weekend are raising eyebrows.

And there are new concerns about politics impacting U.S. agencies' scientific guidance, a federal official telling CNN Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Caputo and his team have been altering the CDC's weekly science reports, so they don't undermine President Trump's optimistic political messaging on the virus.

REINER: They're trying to craft the message from our scientific organizations. This is not about the message. This is about science.

JONES: In fact, "The New York Times" reports Caputo accused CDC scientists of sedition Facebook, stating, without evidence, the agency was harboring a resistance unit determined to undermine the president.


JONES: We also learned today that the iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is going to look very different this year. There will be no live parade due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, the organizers are -- quote -- "reinventing the event for this moment in history," according to New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Athena Jones in New York for us, thank you.

Joining us now, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, thanks so much for joining us.

And, as you heard, we just reported -- hard to believe -- nearly 550,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic started. And that includes a 15 percent increase in cases reported in children over two weeks, from August 27 to September 10, another 70 -- almost 73,000 children in those few weeks alone.

What does that tell you? What does this data tell you?


I think there are a couple of key points. One is certainly that children are not immune, despite what you have heard from some of our political leaders, and, second, that especially older children are a source of spread of the virus.

So, we have got to be careful about children and not be cavalier and continue to track what's happening with them in terms of this infection.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a real problem.

The world's largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, is now warning that, if people need two doses of a coronavirus vaccine -- and, presumably, they will -- the world simply won't have enough doses available, they say, until 2024.

Does that seem -- does that timeline, Dr. Jha, seem realistic to you?

JHA: Well, Wolf, I think we're all hoping it's going to be better than that.

But it does point out the difficulty of making billions of doses of a new vaccine, the complexity of the supply chains. It is going to take a while. Anybody who thinks this can be done overnight, I think, is unfortunately being unrealistic. It's going to be a while. I'm hoping it'll be better than 2024, but it will at least take a year or two to get this all done.

BLITZER: So disturbing.

We understand there are thousands and thousands, more than 45,000, we're told, cases of coronavirus among students and staff at various colleges and universities across the country. What do you recommend for schools that are now trying to contain outbreaks?

JHA: Right.

So, first of all, most schools or many schools have not done a good job with testing their students and staff. They have got to have a really vigorous testing program in place.

And then the key is, if you find the students who are infected, don't send them home. Keep them there, quarantine them, isolate them, let them get better. We don't want to be sending all these kids home to spread the infection to their parents and grandparents.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

JHA: We have got to be responsible.


Dr. Ashish Jha, as usual, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead: my interview with the former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton. After his book on the president, what does he have to say about Bob Woodward's new revelations? There you see him. We will speak live. That's coming up.

And I will also talk to a top California fire official on the truly historic and deadly disasters that are unfolding out West right now.



BLITZER: So we're breaking down the new revelations from Bob Woodward's final recorded interview with President Trump as coronavirus was surging in August.

We're joined now by the former national security adviser, John Bolton. He is the author of the new book, The Room Where It Happened, his memoir on his time in the Trump White House. Ambassador, thanks, once again, for joining us.

Let's talk about some of these Woodward taped conversations. In mid- August, the president told Bob Woodward, quote, nothing more could have been done to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll at that point was, what, around a 168,000 here in the U.S. You worked with the president. You know how he operates. Do you think he truly believes nothing more could have been done or is that simply damage control on his part?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think it is both. I think he believes it at the time, whether it is true or not. I think the history of the eight months that preceded that is very clear that the government reacted late largely because in the early days of the virus, the president simply didn't want to hear about it.

He didn't want anything in the way of the trade deal with China that he signed in January or anything that indicated a problem for the U.S. economy, which he saw as his ticket to re-election. So, precious months were lost when this pandemic could have been mitigated substantially. BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about some of the other issues that are going on right now. I want you to watch how a key impeachment witness, Lieutenant Coronel Alex Vindman, responded to the president's suggestion that he is a, quote, never Trumper. Listen to this.


LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: Regardless of what administration, I would just try to do the best I could to advance national security interests. But I think as the president has attacked and politicized me directly and in taking a very sober view of where this president is taking this country, the divisions, the catering to our adversaries, the undermining of our national security interests, that I am absolutely a never Trumper.


BLITZER: I assume you worked closely with Lieutenant Coronel Vindman when you were the National Security Adviser to the president. He worked on the National Security Council himself. Do you consider by yourself -- do you consider yourself now a never Trumper?


BOLTON: No, I don't look at it that way at all. And I don't think when Alex or his twin brother, Yev, worked for me at the National Security Council, there were any discussions about politics or anything like that. I think both of them did their job. And, unfortunately, they paid for it because the president didn't like their telling the truth.

BLITZER: Yes, and we all remember that testimony during the hearing.

Lieutenant Colonel Vindman also told The Atlantic Magazine that President Trump is Vladimir Putin, in his word, useful idiot. He used the phrase, useful idiot. Do you agree with that characterization?

BOLTON: Well, that's Vladimir Lenin's phrase to describe capitalists who don't understand what the communists were up to. And I think in the same article, he used the phrase, free chicken, that's just chicken that comes to you, and Trump is Putin's free chicken. I think that's a pretty good assessment, actually.

BLITZER: So, elaborate what you mean by that. And I want you to think about what Bob Woodward writes in his new book that the former director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, himself, harbored what was described in the book as a secret belief that Putin, quote, had something on Trump, despite never seeing proof of his suspicion. He was the director of National Intelligence. What do you think?

BOLTON: Well, I think it's perfectly understandable why people would have that suspicion. I have yet to see any evidence of it. I think the American people would be justifiably appalled if such evidence existed.

My own view was that Trump just despised any indication that somehow Russia had influenced his election in 2016 because he felt it would delegitimize it. I thought that was the wrong way to approach it. Russia tried to intervene. The president should have stood up to it. But he was simply in denial about it because he thought it would undercut his current position.

As far as him being a useful idiot in the communist sense, really, it is a statement that the person involved doesn't fully understand the consequences of his actions. And I think that describes Donald Trump in many, many respects.

BLITZER: So you agree with Vindman that President Trump is a Russian useful idiot?

BOLTON: Well, I think his behavior almost across the board in international affairs betrays a lack of analysis, a lack of consideration of the consequences of what he does, whether it is Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping of China or Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

BLITZER: But you have a good explanation why the president has been so reluctant to really criticize Putin?

BOLTON: Well, as I say, I think he worries that any admission that Russia tried to tilt the scales or effect the 2016 election is an admission of Russian collusion. I think that's wrong. But I also think that the president enjoys being with authoritarian leaders. He said before departing in June of 2019 for the NATO summit, a summit with Theresa May in London, and the famous summit with Putin, Helsinki, I think the conversation with Putin may be the easiest one. Who would think that? Well the answer, the only person who would think that would be Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, I was in Helsinki, at that summit, between President Trump and President Putin, at which point at that news conference, and you remember, President Trump sided with Putin against Dan Coats, his national -- his director of National Intelligence, on Russian interference. It was an amazing moment, right?

BOLTON: Well, I was frozen to my chair. And I talked to Dan Coats from Air Force One on the way back to Washington. I really thought at that point, he was on the verge of resigning because of the president's attack on the intelligence community.

BLITZER: It was an amazing moment indeed. You side with the Russians as opposed to the U.S. Intelligence Community and you do that publicly. I'll never forget that moment myself. Ambassador Bolton, thanks so much for joining us.

BOLTON: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Once again, his new book, is entitled, The Room Where It Happened. There's you see the book cover. It has got a lot of information about the Trump national security situation.

Just ahead, out of control wildfires are decimating western states, killing at least 35 people, destroying millions and millions of acres. Plus, Florida's governor is facing increasing pressure to disclose data he has hidden on coronavirus cases in schools. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Hurricane Sally is rapidly intensifying with winds of 100 miles per hour. It could make landfall tomorrow as a Category 3, Category 3 storm. Parts of the Gulf Coast are now under mandatory evacuation orders as concern grows of the dangerous and life-threatening storm surge.

We are also following the truly devastating west coast wildfires, which have killed at least 35 people, forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate. For more, let's bring in the Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director, Daniel Berlant. Director, thank you so much for joining us.

How many fires are you currently battling right now? How dire is the situation?

DANIEL BERLANT, ASST. DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CAL FIRE: Well, here in California right now we have 28 large major wildfires. That does not count anywhere from 30 to 50 new wildfires we are responding to every single day.


Now, firefighters are making good progress. In fact, on a number of fires, we are nearing containment. But on several others, unfortunately, the weather continues in those areas not to cooperate and fires have continued to grow in size in those areas.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The fires across the West, not just California, Oregon, Washington state, other states, they have been really deadly. We're told at least 24 deaths in California.

What's making these fires? Could you elaborate a little? So dangerous, and how quickly are they moving?

BERLANT: Well, wildfires are not new to California. Fire has been part of California before modern history. However, what we're seeing is a real changing weather, and severe weather. In fact, last month had thunderstorm systems that came through, sparking hundreds of wildfires, and at the same time, those thunderstorms came with no rain, and it was triple digit temperatures.

So, severe, extreme, high, hot temperatures, lightning, coupled with dry conditions really allowed those fires to grow, and then you fan them by gusty winds and it's just a perfect combination for these major wildfires.

BLITZER: How much longer are you bracing for these fires to continue? BERLANT: Well, as busy as it has already been, it's historically

September and October when we experience our largest, most damaging wildfires here in California, and looking at our long term weather forecast, some parts of California could see above normal fire potential, all the way into the winter months. So it is likely that we will continue to be responding to wildfires for months to come.

BLITZER: Cal Fire assistant deputy director, Daniel Berlant, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone fighting these fires out there. We are so grateful for everything you're doing. Thanks so much for joining us.

BERLANT: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Florida's governor is refusing to release key coronavirus data on kids, even as cases among children in that state are rising.



BLITZER: As coronavirus cases among children in Florida rise, Governor Ron DeSantis is resisting calls to release hidden data on infections in schools. But tonight, there is mounting pressure on him to reverse course.

CNN's Rosa Flores has more.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Classrooms like these are what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been pushing for for months.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Because the risk fortunately for kids is extremely, extremely low.

FLORES: But he did not present a statewide safety plan and more than a month into face-to-face learning he has not released COVID-19 data on schools. For families like the Richardsons, the lack of information made it difficult to decide between virtual and in-person schooling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was stressful.

REESE RICHARDSON, STUDENT, MARTIN COUNTY: It was -- even up to the last second, I was still having second thoughts.

FLORES: Reese Richardson started 7th grade in person at Martin County Public Schools, one of the first districts to reopen in the state. One day after reopening, an entire classroom in the district was placed under quarantine and hundreds more students just days later. CNN was given access to Jensen Beach Elementary School where there has not been an outbreak. The halls are marked to facilitate social distancing. The dining area is disinfected after every use.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, guys. FLORES: But the desks are not six feet apart because there is not

enough room.

JAMIE MCNEALY, MARTIN COUNTY TEACHER: If we took the book shelves and things out I might be able to space them out more.

FLORES: The superintendent says parents were warned.

LAURIE GAYLORD, SUPERINTENDENT, MARTIN COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Yes. That was information put out right up front.

FLORES: Unlike the state, the Martin County school district does release its own COVID-19 data. So far, it's reported 23 positive or presumed positive cases and has quarantined about 510 students.

(on camera): Why has the state not released a statewide COVID-19 death --

DESANTIS: Every single day, when you get the daily report -- excuse me --

FLORES: but specifically for school districts, Governor.

DESANTIS: Excuse me. When you get the daily report, you can see by age how every new positive case has broken out.

FLORES (voice-over): State data shows a 26 percent increase in cases among children under 18 since classes started. And the overall positivity rate is 14.3 percent.

The pandemic has also killed eight children in Florida including a 9- year-old with no preexisting conditions.

Now Florida's largest teachers union is running TV ads to pressure DeSantis to release the data.

ANDREW SPAR, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: When we deny that information it just causes the spread to grow much faster.

FLORES: Reese stopped going in to school after a week and a half.

RICHARDSON: Kids were taking off their masks, they were touching, they were close in the halls.

FLORES: Last week, 40 students at her school were quarantined. Until Florida gets a handle on the COVID-19 situation in schools, the Richardsons say they're staying home.


FLORES: Now, we did find one school district who said that when they tried to release this COVID-19 data, they got pushed back from the state but, Wolf, as you saw in this piece school districts are releasing the data anyway -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Rosa Flores in Miami for us -- Rosa, thank you very much. We're going to have more news just ahead.



BLITZER: Finally, our nightly tribute to some of the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clarence Bruce of New York was 85 years old. He was an aeronautical engineer who held a patented connection with his work on TV and computer technology. His niece says he was known for his deep voice, his amazing wardrobe, and his love for his wife of nearly 65 years Minerva.

Calvin Schoenfeld of New Jersey was 83. He was a commercial artist married to Sheila for 60 years with two children and four grandchildren. His daughter says Cal loved going to museums and making people laugh with his jokes.

May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.