Record-Breaking Wildfires and Heat on the West Coast & Global News

by Debra Brown

California Wildfires

Each Wednesday, we recap the most important headlines from our global community to keep you up to speed on world news.


Record-Breaking Wildfires and Heat on the West Coast & Global News

Amid unprecedented weather conditions linked to climate change, numerous fast-moving heat and wind-fueled wildfires in multiple western states have in recent days burned hundreds of thousands of acres, besieged countless communities, blanketed the region with hazardous smoke, and in the case of one fire in California, necessitated multiple dramatic helicopter rescues of groups of fire-encircled campers.

Los Angeles County hit its highest temperature ever recorded, 121 degrees, as the state experiences a heatwave that has helped intensify the most devastating wildfire season California has experienced in years. The record temperature was measured in Woodland Hills, northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

California firefighters are battling dozens of active blazes that have so far consumed more than 1.8 million acres, damaged over 3,800 structures, and killed seven people. Many of the fires were caused by lightning strikes, but the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County was caused by “a smoke generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

2020 has now seen the most acres burned in California than any other year during the modern era, according to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

Before the pandemic, thousands of the state’s wildfire crews came from state prisons, incarcerated people can make around $1 an hour containing fires, clearing brush, and doing other dangerous labor. But since COVID, many incarcerated firefighters have been released early.

That shortage has called attention to the state’s reliance on prison labor to fight fires, and to a longstanding critique of the program: how hard it is for those same people to become professional firefighters once they’re free. Jobs in city fire departments often require a stringent background check. Getting hired in wildland firefighting, while not off-limits, is a challenge for people navigating re-entry on top of probation or parole.


Brazil Court Decision Could Hand Indigenous Land to Farmers

A Supreme Court decision that could allow the municipality that oversees the Apyterewa reservation to legalize the presence of farmers already encroaching on the land.

Land rights activists say the proposal, which would make indigenous protected areas available for development, is unconstitutional.

The negotiations – referred to by the court as a conciliation – could set a precedent for the reduction of other indigenous territories across the country. 

“Rights to (indigenous) territories, as provided in the constitution itself, are non-disposable rights – they are not subject to any type of negotiation,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, a lawyer at APIB, Brazil’s main indigenous federation.

Eloy and other indigenous rights advocates say the Parakana were not initially asked to participate in the negotiations about their own land.

For more than three decades, the Parakana people have been fighting to protect their land in the Apyterewa reservation

Covering 730,000 hectares (1.8 million acres), Apyterewa had the second-highest level of deforestation amongst indigenous territories in 2019, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks deforestation in Brazil.

The tree loss is driven mainly by forest being cleared for cattle ranching, soy cultivation, and illegal gold mining and logging.

Forests are vital for curbing climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide.

The Amazon forest also plays a crucial role in producing moisture that falls as rainfall in the southern agricultural heartlands of Brazil and Argentina – areas hit by heavy drought in recent years as the forest disappears.

Under Brazil’s current constitution, enacted in 1988, indigenous lands belong to the state, which grants indigenous peoples the permanent right to live and work on them.


Police Shoot 13-year-old Boy With Autism

A 13-year-old boy with autism was shot several times by police officers who responded to his home in Salt Lake City after his mother called for help.

Golda Barton told KUTV she called 911 to request a crisis intervention team because her son, who has Asperger’s syndrome, was having an episode caused by “bad separation anxiety” as his mother went to work for the first time in more than a year. 

“I said, ‘He’s unarmed, he doesn’t have anything, he just gets mad and he starts yelling and screaming,’” she said. 

She added: “They’re supposed to come out and be able to de-escalate a situation using the most minimal force possible.”

Two officers went through the front door of the home and in less than five minutes were yelling “get down on the ground” before firing several shots.

Barton launched a fundraiser to cover her son’s medical bills. She described Cameron as a typical young boy who loves “video games, four-wheeling, and long-boarding”. She also demanded answers about why her son was not subdued.

Across the US, killings of unarmed civilians by police, especially Americans of color, have raised alarm among community groups and stoked ongoing protests. Many say law enforcement responses to public health crises often put the mentally ill at risk.

Protests erupted in Rochester, New York, after body-camera video from March showed police responding to a call about a mental health episode mocking 29-year-old Daniel Prude and putting a hood on his head. Prude, who was Black, died of asphyxiation.


Covid-19 Updates from Around the World 

More than 27.5 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 897,383 have died. More than 18.5 million people have recovered.

Nine leading United States and European vaccine developers have pledged to uphold the scientific standards their experimental immunizations will be held against in the global race to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

India has been reporting the world’s largest single-day increases in cases for more than a month. Its death toll has also been rising by at least 1,000 a day for eight days straight.

The United Nations says disruptions caused to health services because of the pandemic could reverse decades of progress in reducing child mortality and put millions of lives at risk worldwide.

Last year around 5.2 million children died due to preventable illness, compared with 12.5 million in 1990. But the UN says the pandemic could undo the progress made because the routine child and maternal health services were being disrupted.


Congress Launches Investigation Into Fort Hood Deaths

Congress is launching an investigation into a series of deaths at Fort Hood in Texas. The investigation will look into whether the recent tragedies “may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and moral deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command.” It will be carried out jointly by the Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, and the Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

Nearly 30 soldiers have died at the base this year, at least nine of them under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Among them is Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was found dead in July after she told her family she was being sexually harassed at the base.

The House investigation will be one of several government investigations into events at the base in Killeen, Texas. Earlier this month, the Army expanded its own probe into Guillén’s killing and rolled together a few different investigations.

In late July, the Army also announced that it was convening an independent panel to conduct a review of the culture on the base.

The Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus had also called for a congressional investigation into the base.


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