Fire, explosion in Los Angeles injures 11 firefighters

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An explosion Saturday at a hash oil manufacturer in downtown Los Angeles injured 11 firefighters who had gone inside and on the roof to try to knock down a fire and then had to run for their lives when a ball of flames shot out the building and scorched a fire truck across the street.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott said “one significant explosion” shook the neighborhood around 6:30 p.m. Firefighters inside had to run through a wall of flames he estimated as 30 feet high and wide, and those on the roof scrambled down a ladder that was engulfed in fire.

Scott said people at the scene described the explosion as sounding like a freight train or jet engine. Some of the fleeing firefighters were on fire and tore off their protective equipment and left it on the sidewalk, along with melted helmets, Scott said.

“The was one of the worst scenes I’ve seen,” he said.

All 11 firefighters suffered burns ranging from minor to serious. Three were listed as critical condition, and two of them were on ventilators. All were expected to survive.

“The good news is everybody’s going to make it,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference outside the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center where all the injured were treated.

“Things could have been so much worse,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Medical Director Dr. Marc Eckstein, who works at the hospital and helped treat the injured.

Firefighters were called to 327 East Boyd St. in the city’s Toy District for a report of a fire at a one-story commercial building. There was light to moderate smoke when firefighters entered the building and went on the roof, normal procedures to try to quickly knock down any flames.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said one of the firefighters inside the building thought things didn’t seem right — the pressure from the smoke and heat coming from the rear of the building were increasing. He directed everyone to get out, and as they quickly started exiting the building as it was rocked by the explosion.

Firefighters on the roof scrambled down ladders with their protective coats on fire. The wall of flames shot out the building and burned seats inside a fire truck across the street.

More than 200 firefighters rushed to the scene, and dozens of engines, trucks and rescue vehicles clogged the streets. The fire spread to several nearby buildings, but firefighters were able to douse it in about an hour.

The injured firefighters were rushed to the hospital. Those who remained at the scene, unaware of the seriousness of their colleagues’ injuries, were traumatized by what had transpired, Terrazas said.

“You can imagine the amount of emotional stress,” he said.

Scott said the building was a warehouse for SmokeTokes, which he described as a maker of “butane honey oil.” Butane is an odorless gas that easily ignites, and it’s used in the process to extract the high-inducing chemical THC from cannabis to create a highly potent concentrate also known as hash oil. The oil is used in vape pens, edibles, waxes and other products.

On its website, SmokeTokes advertises a variety of products including “puff bars,” pipes, “dab” tools, vaporizers, “torches and butane,” and cartridges. The company says it is “an international distributor and wholesaler of smoking and vaping products, and related accessories.” Founded in 2009, it offers “discounts to loyal customers, fast shipping, a huge catalog of products and customer service that is untouched.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Brown to reveal counties allowed to enter Phase I of reopening plan

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday will announce the counties that can begin Phase I of the state’s reopening plan May 15th.

She’ll be joined by representatives from Oregon Health Authority during the 10 a.m. news conference in Salem.

Brown said last week that Phase I of the state’s reopening would begin in counties that meet some strict criteria on the number of cases of COVID, testing capabilities, tracing efforts, and more:

Declining prevalence of COVID-19: Percentage of hospital admissions must be less than the historic average of the flu for this time of year.
Minimum testing regimen: The county must be able to administer tests at a rate of 30 per 10,000 people per week.
Contact tracing system: Counties must have a minimum of 15 contact tracers for every 100,000 people.
Isolation Facilities: Counties must have hotel rooms available for people who test positive for COVID-19 and who cannot self-isolate.
Finalized Statewide Sector Guidelines: We must adhere to Oregon Health authority guidelines.
Sufficient Healthcare Capacity: To maintain the phased re-opening plan, each region must be able to accommodate a 20% increase in suspected or confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Sufficient PPE Supply: Hospitals must have at least a 30 day PPE supply at all times.

Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties all submitted detailed applications to be included in the Phase I reopening. Statewide, 33 of 36 counties have applied to begin Phase I.

Local health officials have said the region has met many of those criteria or will be able in the coming weeks.

“As part of that process, St. Charles experts have actively worked with officials in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties to provide important data as they develop their reopening plans,” said St. Charles President/CEO Joe Sluka. “A county’s eligibility to reopen is in part contingent upon the local health system’s capacity to handle another surge in patients. Thanks to your efforts to “flatten the curve,” which bought us time to expand our acute bed capacity, stockpile more personal protective gear and provide more testing, we can confidently say we’re prepared to take care of our community.”

Patrick Allen, director of Oregon Health Authority, said last week he believed a “majority of Oregon counties” would be able to meet those metrics by the end of this week.

Currently, there are 89 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Deschutes County, 24 in Jefferson County and just one case in Crook County.

In Deschutes County, 73 of the COVID patients have recovered, according to health officials.

Brown on Thursday also plans to talk about expanded child care options for all Oregonians.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Oregon child care providers have continued to operate by applying with the Early Learning Division to provide emergency child care––with priority given to the families of first responders, emergency workers, health care professionals, and other essential personnel working outside the home.

Beginning May 15, emergency child care will be expanded with new health and safety guidelines, as well as greater flexibility so that families returning to work under Oregon’s phased reopening can also have access to child care options.

The new guidance also applies to other early learning programs, such as respite care and kindergarten transition.

▶️ Skyline Forest open for play, but new restrictions put in place

By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

Motorized vehicles will be restricted to only main roads on the Bull Springs Skyline Forest tree farm, west of Bend, beginning next week.

The restrictions are in response to a spike in public use and an effort to prevent forest fires.

Public use of the Bull Springs Skyline forest west of Bend has skyrocketed over the past few weeks, from a handful of cars per day to about 50 per day. That’s not counting bicyclists, joggers, hikers and horseback riders who enter the property under their own power.

“The new restrictions are going to kick in early next week. People can still drive into the property on the main roads,” said Jason Reindorp, Head of Communications for Shanda Investments. “What we are restricting is what we would call motorized recreation–dirt bikes, ATVs, people that go 4-wheeling and that kind of stuff,” 

The Bay Area-based investment firm that owns the tree farm says the restrictions are an effort to mitigate fire risk.

Visitors can park along the main roads and then hike, bike or horseback in and only during daylight hours. 

“What we are going to do is, we know the parts of the property that are most popular. We are going to be putting up signs over the weekend and those signs will indicate, or just remind people, that motorized recreation is not allowed at the time,” Reindorp said. “Obviously with a property this size it’s hard to police, but we have notified local authorities and they will help us in this regard. We would ask people to kind of self-police. It’s really just common sense looking out for the property and avoiding the forest fire.”

About 7,000 acres of the tree farm were scorched in the Two Bulls Fire in 2014. Parts of the west side of Bend were on standby evacuation orders until the fire was brought under control.

Reindorp says motorized vehicle restrictions will be lifted when fire conditions permit.

▶️ SBA loans, crowdsourcing helping to keep small businesses afloat

By MEGHAN GLOVA
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

Paulina Springs Books was one of the lucky ones.
 
The bookstore in Sisters received a loan through the Small Business Administration. But owner Lane Jacobson said it’s not enough to keep the store afloat, especially without the vital summer tourism season.
 
“We basically operate at a loss for like four-fifths of the year,” said Jacobson. “And it’s the busy summer season and two or three weeks in December that really pay for the rest of the year.”
 
As for the process to receive a loan, Jacobson wasn’t impressed.
 
“The government and the SBA were changing terms of the loans and terms of just the application process and everything up until like the night before,” Jacobson said.
 
Jacobson set up a GoFundMe to supplement the bookstore’s revenue and raised almost $20,000 in less than twenty-four hours.
 
“You know, it’s fantastic,” Jacobson said. “It’s great to see that the community of Sisters kind of rally behind an institution that’s almost been here for 30 years.”
 
Jacobson said all they can do is take it day by day and continue phone and online orders, curbside pickup and book deliveries within Sisters.
 
“It’s a lot, but we’re doing it,” Jacobson said.
 
Jacobson said he’s not letting a potential reopening plan get to his head. The bookstore will continue to run as it has been the past couple of weeks until they feel it is safe to do otherwise.

Doctors’ viral video rebuked by health officials; YouTube removes it

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Two national physicians groups on Tuesday issued a joint statement to rebuke a now-viral video from a pair of California urgent care clinic doctors who called for an end to the state’s stay home orders.

“The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM) jointly and emphatically condemn the recent opinions released by Dr. Daniel Erickson and Dr. Artin Massihi. These reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical societies and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19,” the statement said.

“As owners of local urgent care clinics, it appears these two individuals are releasing biased, non-peer reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests without regard for the public’s health.”

KERO, our ABC partner in Bakersfield, initially aired Erickson and Massihi’s press conference April 22nd and it quickly went viral, garnering more than 5 million views on YouTube.

It’s also been shared millions of times on social media by those who agree stay home orders should be lifted in other states. It’s been referenced by Tucker Carlson on Fox News and Tesla creator Elon Musk tweeted out the video saying the doctors brought up some good points.

In the video, Erickson and Massihi state that healthy people don’t need to shelter-in-place anymore based on data they extrapolated from Kern County’s COVID-19 testing.

“Now that we have the facts,” Erickson said in the briefing. “It’s time to get back to work.”

Erickson said he believes businesses could reopen and as testing continues, people could starting going back to work.

KERO’s Bayan Wang also reported he said staying at home too long could be even worse for people’s health.

“We understand microbiology, we understand immunology and we want strong immune systems,” Erickson said. “I don’t want to stay in my home and develop a weak immune system and then come out and get a disease.”

Kern County, located between Los Angeles and Fresno, has about 900,000 residents. As of Wednesday morning it had reported 847 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths; 53% of the cases in the county have recovered.

The Kern County Health Department quickly responded to the doctors’ comments saying they “do not concur” adding the department “takes very seriously the governor’s guidance, the guidance from the California Department of Public Health and the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.”

“We want to reiterate, now is the time to remain very vigilant and stay at home and practice social distancing,” said Michelle Corson, a spokeswoman with the Kern County Health Department.

YouTube removed the video saying it violated community guidelines and amounted to “misinformation.”

“We quickly remove flagged content that violate our Community Guidelines, including content that explicitly disputes the efficacy of local healthy authority recommended guidance on social distancing that may lead others to act against that guidance,” YouTube said in a statement obtained by Central Oregon Daily News. “However, content that provides sufficient educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA) context is allowed — for example, news coverage of this interview with additional context. From the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had clear policies against COVID-19 misinformation and are committed to continue providing timely and helpful information at this critical time.”

The ACEP and AAEM concluded their joint statement saying “COVID-19 misinformation is widespread and dangerous.”

“Members of ACEP and AAEM are first-hand witnesses to the human toll that COVID-19 is taking on our communities,” the statement said. “ACEP and AAEM strongly advise against using any statements of Drs. Erickson and Massihi as a basis for policy and decision making.”

Massihi issued a statement Wednesday morning on his personal Facebok page.

Carl Bergstrom, a University of Washington biologist who specializes in infectious disease modeling, also roundly debunked the doctors’ statements with a long thread on twitter.

In Oregon, 2,446 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 101 people have died as of April 29th.

While the doctors’ views aren’t shared by health professionals, they are shared by millions of Americans and thousands of Central Oregonians who demand counties and states reopen their economies.

Two weeks ago about 150 people rallied together at the steps of Redmond City Hall calling for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to lift the stay home order, at least for rural counties across the state.

A second rally a week later saw fewer protestors but Phil Henderson, a Deschutes County Commissioner, was among them, wondering aloud whether the whole thing was being blown out of proportion.

He told the crowd, “I do think the way we’ve done it in Oregon has been overly aggressive.”

“I do take seriously this Coronavirus issue and as it’s developed in our nation,” he said. “I don’t know how seriously we should all take it. It’s really hard to know. We’ve seen some places where it’s gone crazy.”

▶️ It’s herb garden season

Adding flavor to your home-cooked meals couldn’t be easier if you have an herb garden. Dave Jones visits Landsystems Nursery for some tips to grow a variety of fragrant and flavorful herbs.

A special thanks to our sponsor, Newport Avenue Market, for giving us the time and resources to bring you this delightful culinary feature each week. Life is short. Eat good food. And have fun doing it.

Creating art from Junk to Jems

For this week’s Origin Story, we are reintroducing you to a local woman who decided to become a jeweler a little later in life. She’s doing so with  by literally turning one man’s trash into another man or woman’s treasure.

Thanks to BendBroadband Business for giving us the time and resources to tell the stories of Central Oregonians who have turned their passion into a  profession with a new edition of Origin Story every Friday on Central Oregon Daily News at 5 p.m.

▶️ Slow down giving governments, businesses time to complete projects

By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

Some companies and businesses are finding unexpected silver linings within the coronavirus pandemic.

For instance, with fewer people on the roads and the low cost of fuel, road construction is faster, safer and cheaper.

“Fuel costs have dropped significantly, and that significantly reduces construction costs,” Chris Doty, the director of Deschutes County Road Department, said. “Certainly having less traffic on the system can benefit the contracting community as they put together traffic control plans. We have a very hungry contracting community given the slow down in the economy.”

Earlier this week, the Oregon Department of Transportation swept cinders off highway 97 south of Bend. Normally this work would be done at night, but with reduced traffic volumes, the sweeping took place during the day. ODOT said working in daylight is safer and more efficient.

Another benefit: several businesses in downtown Bend are making use of the down-time to do renovations.

“We are using our time now to fix things,” L.P Reddy, owner of Taj Palace, said. “New ceiling inside, new lights, new electrical and new painting for the front.”

The City of Bend has had time for some renovations too. The City has repainted all the diagonal parking strips in downtown Bend.

Parking lines have been extended, and “tic” lines have been added to show people if their vehicles are extending into the lane of traffic.

 

 

City of Bend says no to short-term rental ban

The City of Bend will not restrict the use of short-term rentals in an effort to reduce potential visitors and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Councilors on Wednesday night chose not to take action on a proposed resolution that would have banned rentals within city limits for less than 30 days. The resolution also would have made it a civil penalty – with fines up to $750 per day against both rental operators and guests.

“At a time when people are being strongly encouraged to stay home to minimize contact with other people, non-essential occupancy of STR properties by visitors may introduce additional risks of disease transmission that conflicts with the reasons for which people are being advised to stay at home,” according to the resolution councilors considered.

Mayor Sally Russell laid it out as a discussion “about the risk and economic recovery and how those are interlinked.”

Councilors Bruce Abernethy, Justin Livingston, Bill Moseley and Chris Piper all voiced opinions against the resolution while Barb Campbell, Gena Goodman-Campbell and Russell were in favor of the rental ban.

In late March, City Manager Eric King issued a “strong advisory” discouraging people from visiting the area and asked hoteliers not to book new rooms for tourists during the COVID-19 crisis.

Those against the resolution argued current occupancy rates – which are at roughly 10% to 15% of normal – indicate visitors heard that advisory and many short-term rentals are already complying with social distancing measures.

Last fiscal year, the city received about $10.2 million in revenue from the transient room tax added to guest room bills.

If the current occupancy rate holds steady through the end of June, the city stands to lose about $3 million in revenue, according to Sharon Wojda, the city’s chief financial officer.

Councilors opposing the measure also said they didn’t want to penalize rental operators economically at a time of already widespread job loss.

Livingston said the proposed resolution was a “solution looking for a problem.”

“(The people) in these units right now are not tourists,” he said. “Taking on short term rentals…I don’t think it’s the right thing. It’s not the equitable thing to do.”

Moseley said he had a lot of problems with the resolution, calling it “terribly unkind and xenophobic to say we don’t want certain people in our neighborhood.”

“I don’t think we should unnecessarily take on risks, but I do think we should be compassionate toward people – that’s the way Bend is, he said. “But I don’t think this is a compassionate or logical measure.”

He also said while focusing on the health risk and listening to the voices of health care leaders, it shouldn’t completely guide the discussion.

“I’m terribly worried that as we proceed on a health-only approach on some of these things that we risk a depression entirely – like as in the Great Depression,” he said.

Russell said Bend, as a recreation town, could be at a greater risk because vacationers coming here could possibly bring the virus with them.

She said she understands the need to get the local economy back on track, but “can we do that more quickly by raising the risk of bringing COVID-19 more quickly back into our community?”

Goodman-Campbell said she’s worried about the long-term health risk to the community.

“If we delay and we’re not clear that this is not a place where you can come and enjoy beautiful Bend while you shelter in place, I worry that we will suffer the consequences,” Goodman-Campbell said.

But not everyone agreed.

“That might be the case in theory, but that hasn’t been our experience,” Abernethy said. “We haven’t had that rush here, we haven’t had minimal medical capacity. The small decrease in risk is not worth the known economic downturn.”

Deschutes County earlier this month announced a similar ban until May 15th on short term stays in rural, unincorporated parts of the county which include Sunriver Resort, Tetherow, Pronghorn, Black Butte Ranch and Eagle Crest.

County commissioners last week said violators of the ordinance could be fined up to $1,000 per day.