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Battalion chief: Fire 'as bad as it gets'

San Bernardino County Battalion Chief George Corley
San Bernardino County Battalion Chief George Corley

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First responders to a wildfire can name it whatever they want. There are no rules, but firefighters usually name a fire after a meadow, creek, city or type of plant they see.

Source: National Interagency Fire Center
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SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, California (CNN) -- Wildfires in California have killed 15, destroyed 1,100 homes and scorched more than 500,000 acres.

Tuesday morning, CNN anchor Miles O'Brien interviewed San Bernardino County Battalion Chief George Corley.

O'BRIEN: Give us just an update on where you stand right now and how things look around you.

CORLEY: Well it looks pretty bad today. The winds are pushing in our favor for the mountaintop, but they are not doing a whole lot for the folks down below. They are pushing fire on top of those folks. Once that wind breaks down, we're afraid that the fire will come back up here on top of the mountaintop and get into more structures. We have been fighting structure fires here for about the last three days. And one of the main parts of the fire crossed the line and made a run into structures last night.

O'BRIEN: So the wind has not yet shifted?

CORLEY: It started to shift, and we were getting on top of it. And then it shifted back and things don't look that good anymore.

O'BRIEN: Of course the forecast calls for essentially a sea breeze coming in. It would be a lot moister air. Wouldn't that be good news or is it still going to potentially cause damage elsewhere?

CORLEY: Actually, the fire is down below us and is being pushed by the Santa Ana away from the top of the mountain. Once that breaks down, what we're afraid of is that the force of the fire will be driven back up into the mountains, into the mountain communities.

O'BRIEN: All right, so you're not very optimistic then when you look at the forecast that things are going to settle down anytime soon?

CORLEY: No, I think there's a whole lot of work still going to be out there through today and tomorrow and the days after that.

O'BRIEN: How are your firefighters holding up?

CORLEY: They are very tired in many cases. You know if this is just the only fire around, we probably have plenty of folks. But there are so many fires going on down here that it's basically the people are extended pretty far.

O'BRIEN: Are you having success using the backfires as a way of stopping this one, or are the winds just too strong?

CORLEY: We're having some success with ... burning out sections or lines or natural barriers and that sort of thing. But with the wind shifts, sometimes they don't work. And that's essentially kind of what happened last night. We were going along and a firestorm came up through one of our burn out jobs and pushed it across a road and then it ran up a mountain and it got into some more structures.

O'BRIEN: And one final thought, Chief Corley, on a personal note, this is a fire that everybody says is as big as California has seen in a decade. You are watching much of your part of the world go up in smoke. Is there time to stop and reflect about all of this?

CORLEY: This is as bad as it gets. I have been doing this for 30 years and this is as bad as it gets.

...What's happening is that the fire is building up heat down below and it's starting to take out quite a bit of vegetation. It's just making a run, getting caught in the wind and making a run. This one looks like it's going to go downhill a little bit. Kind of lucky for us because it's really close to the school here.

O'BRIEN: You really have to get to the point where you can read the fire, don't you?

CORLEY: Yes, you sure do have to get to the point where you have to read the fire. It's kind of a thing that's taught right from the beginning when you start fire fighting.

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