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Courtesy of Albert Yurgal, James Sponsler

When James Sponsler and two close friends set out on a backpacking trip Friday night over Labor Day Weekend, they didn’t know the Creek Fire had started 30 miles away.

 

“Just about lunch time on Saturday was when we noticed the massive thunderhead,” says Sponsler. “Unbeknownst to us, this was the fire itself.”

EPA AirNow

 

So far in 2020, thousands of wildfires have torched a record-setting 3.2 million acres in California. If that makes this wildfire season unprecedented, here and throughout the West Coast, so is our region’s resulting smog. In a press conference on Monday, Valley air officials said: Don’t expect the air to clear for at least a few more days, and possibly longer.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

With the devastation caused by the Creek Fire, the chairperson of Big Sandy Rancheria calls herself a messenger for her community. So far, most of the 170-member tribe have evacuated.

Elizabeth Kipp is the Auberry tribe’s chairperson. Since evacuating to Fresno, she’s made multiple trips back up Highway 168 to attend early morning logistics meetings with CalFire and sheriff’s deputies.

CalFire - Fresno County District Twitter

More than 30,000 people in Fresno County have had to leave their homes due to the Creek Fire. 

Sharon Souza is one of them. She left Tollhouse Tuesday morning, but spent the weekend deciding what items would stay and what would go. She says she tried to be practical rather than sentimental.  

“At some point, when I realized ‘I can’t take everything with me,’ I actually, one night, went around and took pictures of my pictures on the wall,” she says. “I took pictures of family favorite recipes, I did things like that.”

sierrausd.org / Sierra Unified School Distrcit Website

Sierra Unified School District in the Fresno County foothills is suspending online instruction for the week due to the Creek Fire burning in the Sierra National Forest. 

Superintendent Alan Harris estimates up to 75 percent of district staff and students are being evacuated or have already been displaced by the fire. 

“We need to get to safety, and get to security,” says Harris. “Once we do, then we’ll settle back into what’s happening with the learning.”

Courtesy of Tony Botti, Fresno County Sheriff's Office / Fresno County Sheriff's Office

 

UPDATE 12:53 pm 9/19/20

The Creek Fire is now 22% contained and has burned 248,256 acres. 

 

Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Baseball legend and Fresno native Tom Seaver passed away Monday at the age of 75. The celebrated pitcher was considered the epitome of a Hall of Famer. 

  He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 for his 20-year career in the Major Leagues. His early years with the New York Mets set him apart right away.

 

As of Sept. 1, some small businesses hit hard by the pandemic can receive financial relief through new grants from Fresno County. Fresno County approved $250,000 in grants for minority and women-owned businesses. The money comes from the CARES Act.

Dora Westerlund is president of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation. She's spearheading the initiative and said some businesses have already reached out for help.  

 

Andrew Nixon - file photo / Capital Public Radio

Most counties in the San Joaquin Valley have been on the state’s COVID-19 watch list for months, and are still restricted under the state’s new rating system.

On Monday, the Fresno Police Reform Commission announced a new community survey that will assist it in making informed recommendations to the city of Fresno and its police department.

The survey asks community members questions like how comfortable would they be calling the Fresno Police for help and whether the community should have a say in the department's funding. D'Aungillique Jackson, the chair of the community input subcommittee, says the goal is to include responses from underrepresented communities. 

 

Joe Moore (file photo) / Valley Public Radio

Fresno and Tulare Counties declared local emergencies Thursday after rendering plant Baker Commodities in Kerman stopped accepting livestock carcasses. 

Jimmy Andreoli, a spokesman with the company, says it has reached its limit in how many animals it can process according to its permit with the state Air Resources Board. If it surpasses that limit, it could be fined. 

Christopher Greer, the assistant agricultural commissioner in Tulare County says the summer heat kills more cows.  

Almost half the people tested for COVID-19 last Wednesday at Mesa Verde had positive results. 

Thirty two out of 70 people tested positive. Asif Qazi, who’s been detained at Mesa Verde since February, says he’s not surprised.

“It’s not possible to social distance in a place where you have to use the same sinks, toilets and showers as other people,” Qazi said. “When you line up it’s not like your lining up six feet apart. It’s shoulder to shoulder.”  

 

Some essential workers in Fresno can now get childcare vouchers through the city in collaboration with the Central Valley Children’s Service Network. 

The program will support about 190 kids. It is funded by the CARES Act and provides temporary vouchers for essential workers through Dec 31. Ofelia Gonzalez, director of community education at the Central Valley Children’s Service Network, said families will be chosen based on an essential workers priority list. 

 

Fresno Unified School District Livestream

The Fresno Unified School District announced its finalized plans Monday for distance learning.

In a virtual press conference, School Board President Keshia Thomas made one thing clear:

“The distance learning families experienced this past spring will not be what families experience this new school year.”

Fresno County Sheriff's Office

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday that it has arrested 34 potential sexual predators. The arrests were part of a multi-agency undercover operation.

The Sheriff’s Office worked with Homeland Security Investigations, the US District Attorney’s Office, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, and other agencies to make the arrests in what they called “Operation COVID Chat Down.”

 

The City of Fresno’s response rate to the 2020 census is lower than the state average of 63.5%. Right now, 62.3% of households have responded, but the rate falls below 50% in certain Fresno zip codes.

Courtesy of The Wonderful Company

The largest agricultural employer in the San Joaquin Valley announced today that it’s providing $1 million in grants to support COVID-19 relief in rural communities. 

Fruit and nut powerhouse The Wonderful Company says the form of that relief will be decided by community non-profits applying for grants. 

Courtesy of Kei Jackson

The American Civil Liberties Unions of Northern and Southern California sent a letter to the Greenfield Union School District Superintendent this week after a former employee complained of a racially hostile work environment. 

Kei Jackson says before going to the ACLU, she filed multiple complaints with the district about what she calls microaggressions she experienced while teaching English to seventh graders at Ollivier Middle School. There was the time in February last year when she wore a dashiki to school. 

A second person detained at the ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield tested positive for COVID-19. This comes as other detainees at Mesa Verde are participating in a labor strike. 

 

Christian Orellana, 22, suffers from a liver disease. His attorney Ambar Tovar with the Removal Defense Project in Bakersfield said Orellana had a fever of 101 degrees on Wednesday and tested positive for COVID the same day.

 

As COVID-19 outbreaks in food production plants continue to make workers sick in the San Joaquin Valley, employees at one plant outside Bakersfield are calling on the State Attorney General to step in.

Primex Farms in Wasco employs around 400 people. As of last Wednesday, 150 workers had tested positive for COVID-19 and over 70 had gone back to work, a company spokesman said. 

 

But Armando Elenes, secretary treasurer for the United Farm Workers, said workers did not find out about the outbreak through their employer.

 

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