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Bush Bashing; Hugo in Harlem; Bush vs. Ahmadinejad; Two Touch Customers; The 'Rules'; Taliban Ambush; Iraq Whistle Blower; Record Year of Wildfires; Fighting Fire, Saving Lives; Fugitive's Son Gets Kidney

Aired September 21, 2006 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: ... Now, the son wants his father back in prison.
Across the country and around the world this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Reporting from the CNN studios in New York here's Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. We begin with the latest round of Bush bashing from Iran's president and the president of Venezuela. Both appear to be milking their visit to New York for the U.N. general assembly to the max.

One has a nuclear program in oil, the other has a way with words and oil. Neither is shying away from publicity or, some would say, publicity stunts. Most of all, neither shows any sign of stopping their shots to the White House or the man who lives there.

In a moment Iran's president, in his own words, from our exclusive interview.

First Zain Verjee with Hugo Chavez.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All smiles in Harlem. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, making a splash at the local church.

On hand, chanting supporters and a few celebrities, including Actor Danny Glover. Chavez continued his insults of President Bush, calling him an ex-alcoholic, a sick man full of complexes, and a swaggering cowboy.

HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): I think he's the devil. Right now they told me yesterday that I should be careful because they could kill me. Well, I'm in God's hands. I'm not afraid. God would only know.

VERJEE: The White House isn't commenting on Chavez's attacks, but leading Democrats blasted back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't come into my country, you don't come into my congressional district, and you don't condemn my president. SENATOR NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSING APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Hugo Chavez fancies himself a modern day Semon Baldivar (ph), but all he is is an everyday thug.

VERJEE: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Chavez says his problems are not with the American people, but with President Bush.

CHAVEZ (through translator): I had a good relationship with Clinton. He never disrespected us. Now, with this guy you can't even talk because he walks throwing stones. The Texan that walks, shooting from the waist with a machine gun.

VERJEE: Chavez also plays up his tight relationship with Iran and doesn't rule out a nuclear deal.

CHAVEZ (through translator): There is no commitment on the transfer of technology and the handling of nuclear energy for the time being, but there could be for the future. Iran has a right, just like all countries of the world, to develop atomic energy for peaceful means.

VERJEE: Despite his vitriolic anti-U.S. tirades, Chavez is holding out hope for better relations.

CHAVEZ (through translator): In two years when the elections come to the U.S., I hope that the president be a serious man. It doesn't matter if he comes from the right. I'll be the first person to raise my hand in order to reestablish a serious relationship of respect between governments and between people.


COOPER: That was CNN's Zain Verjee.

The big question now, will Hugo Chavez still be president two years from now? He's up for reelection in December, and his opponent appears to be gaining ground.

We turn now to Iran's president who spoke out again today, calling for the United States, not Iran, to be more forthcoming on its nuclear program. He's done that before, of course.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a way of doing that, of not answering a question and then firing back a question of his own instead. I found out last night. Here's a quick sample.


COOPER: You said at the U.N. yesterday that your nuclear program is, quote, "transparent, peaceful, and under the watchful eyes of I.A.E.A. inspectors." That's not what I.A.E.A. inspectors have said in a recent report. They have said that they frankly cannot verify the peaceful nature of your program, and that is it not transparent. Why not just open up the program and fulfill all of the requirements that the I.A.E.A. would like? MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): The I.A.E.A. has indicated that it has found no evidence that would show that Iran is developing nuclear energy for other purposes that are other than peaceful. But they have always said that. So you have to show me where this report is. Have they ever said that Iran has in fact not abided by its commitments?

COOPER: You have repeatedly implied that the holocaust never happened. And it certainly seems to be -- and implied that more research needs to be done on whether or not it did happen. I mean the argument can be made that the genocide was perhaps the most well- documented genocide of the 20th century. Do you really believe that the holocaust never happened?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I like to raise a question. If this event happened, where did it happen? The where is the main question. And it was not in Palestine. Why is the holocaust used as a pretext to occupy the Palestinian lands? That subject, how is it connected to the occupying regime in Jerusalem?

COOPER: You do realize, though, why it would be deeply offensive to so many people that you even say if it ever happened?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Well, you don't speak here for all Americans. In the past two or three days I've met with many members of the media and the press here, some who are even related to the U.S. government. But the questions are the same across the board.

COOPER: President Bush, at the U.N., spoke, tried to speak directly to the Iranian people yesterday and he said...

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Did you get the answer you wanted about the holocaust?

COOPER: I didn't, but I know my time is limited. It's a fascinating subject. I mean, I think what people in America...

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Are you asking the questions that are on your mind or questions that are given to you by others?

COOPER: Actually, in America we have a free press unlike in parts of Iran. But I'm asking the questions that I'm interested in.

President Bush said at the U.N. that the rulers of Iran, quote, "have chosen to deny you liberty, speaking to the Iranian people, and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism. What did you think of that?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): No, no. He can speak with our people every day. And our people will listen to what he says, and then they decide for themselves. That is why one of the nations that opposes Mr. Bush's views, in strongest ways, our nation because they hear what he says and then they decide for themselves.

It seems to me that Mr. Bush fails to understand the reality of the world today. The conditions that we set the world today. This is not the kind of language you speak talking with a great nation. It's an insult to a great nation.

COOPER: What is your message to the American people? What do you want them to know about Iran, about you?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Our message is the message of peace and brotherhood with all nations, with all people. And we, like all nations and people, we are against oppression and injustice. And we love the American people as we love our own. We respect everyone.

And to clarify issues, I would call Mr. Bush to debate. I propose that we sit and have a debate, to talk about our positions, to discuss issues and allow everyone around the world to hear the debate. This was a great suggestion, I think, because I believe that, after all, it's the public opinion, the world public opinion, to have information and decide, but our proposal was not accepted.


COOPER: Well, like it or not, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez are formidable adversaries. At the very least, they're generating a lot of talk. Some analysis now.

Rick Sanchez joins us from Venezuela, along with CNN's Gary Tuchman, who covered last week's summit in Cuba, and Aneesh Raman.

Guys, thanks for being with us.

Aneesh, let me start off with you. You were in Iran just a couple weeks ago. He's not all that popular over there right now because the economy's really suffering?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's not. He was elected, not because he was going to take on the West. Last year when he won that surprise election, it was because he was seen as an average guy. He wears the same suit that the average Iranian does; he used to drive the old beat up car that they used to drive; and he promised economic reforms; said corruption, which is ripe within Iran's political system, would be taken care of. That's why he won.

A year later he wasn't delivered on any of it. And Iranians don't care as much about this nuclear issue as we would think they would. The world sees this as this collision course with the West. They're not following it as such. There is national pride. If Iran has a right to it, why shouldn't Iran, you know, have a nuclear program, but it's not at all the top issue on their agenda.

COOPER: All politics is local, even Iran, and people are voting with their pocketbooks.

RAMAN: Exactly. And, you know, there's a high unemployment, there's high inflation. The median age is 25, so you have a lot of kids who have gone to college and are driving their dad's car as a taxi. And they can't come out and really speak against the government or its international policies. When I was there one guy told me off camera, you know, I really like Bush. He got rid of Saddam. We fought an 8-year war with him. I said, oh, this is really interesting. We turned the camera on. Oh, Bush is the devil, he's the great Satan. So, you do get a sense off camera that when it comes to foreign policy, they have a different angle than their president, but they elected him not for what he's doing now. They elected him to fix the economy at home.

COOPER: Rick, what about Chavez? He's up for re-election, I think coming up? How popular is he? And how popular is this kind of anti-Bush rhetoric playing in Venezuela?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's popular enough to win, so say his opponents when I asked them today, and the reason is simply enough the numbers game. Really it breaks down to 80/20; 20 percent of the people here could be considered, you know, medium income or above. And the rest are probably at the lower end of the rung. So those are the people that Hugo Chavez has really been able to consolidate.

He's emboldened by his association with Fidel Castro. He's emboldened by his oil revenues and perhaps most of all he's been emboldened by what he considers and many people consider to be, at least in the international scene, some missteps by the Bush administration when it comes to things like Abu Ghraib and the problem in Iraq. And obviously he's using that to his advantage.

COOPER: Gary, both presidents embraced at the non-aligned summit in Cuba. You were covering that. How is that playing down there? And I guess they both sort of fashion themselves as revolutionaries.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they do. And I will tell you that when people listen to Ahmadinejad and they listen to Chavez, the 118 nations that were part of the non-aligned summit, there was amazement, amusement, and agreement. And some of them had all three. A lot of the nations are not friends of the United States and seemed to really enjoy hearing these gentlemen speak.

But even some of the other countries that are allied with the United States, didn't exactly go up to the podium and say, hey, stop this. Stop bashing the United States unnecessarily. That's not what the summit is about. Instead they listened. And the fact is that Chavez particularly, he's a lot like a shock jock of politics. You may not agree with what he says, but he's often very entertaining to listen to.

COOPER: And Rick, I mean, it's interesting as Chavez comes here and, you know, makes fun of President Bush, there's actually a law in Venezuela that Chavez got passed, and it bans, and I'm quoting, "the use of language deemed to be insulting to the president of the republic."

SANCHEZ: You're absolutely right. In fact, there is a lot of people who watch the situation develop here in Caracas. A certain sense, they say, of hypocrisy in the way that Chavez speaks outwardly, but yet runs his own country. We, ourselves, had a taste of it today. When we went over to the national palace, I mean, we had some of the folks there at the national palace pull us aside, take us inside an office. They wanted to view our videotapes. A lot of people had complained about some of the things he's doing here to nationalize and basically take away people's rights by trying to take away land, and seize the land on the part of the government.

So, you know, these are things that people look at and say, well you can go around all you want saying that other countries, like the United States, may be making mistakes, but if you look at your own backyard, you might find some fault yourself.

And that's what some of that 20 percent I was talking about earlier are saying. And they're the ones who really are being hurt because they're saying it's fine that you want to be a populous, but don't take it out on us. Don't punish us for it.

COOPER: You know, Aneesh, I don't think a lot of people realize about the Iranian president, he has sort of this messianic vision. He doesn't really talk about it publicly, at least here in the U.S. What is it?

RAMAN: Within Shia Islam, there's a vanished Imam, the 12th Imam, and he is of those that believe that the 12 Imam will return in this apocalyptic fashion, when the world is in utter ruin. And it feeds into the notion that exists on a lot of Muslim streets, in Iraq, in Iran, in Pakistan, among people, that there is a clash of civilizations that is brewing. And that in that sense the end of the world is near. And he believes that this vanished Imam will return. And he speaks with reverence of him. He did at the beginning of his speech this year.

Last year, when he spoke to the U.N. general assembly, afterwards when he got back to Iran, he described a moment of a light descending within the hall of people and rapture, not blinking for the entire 30 minutes he spoke, that sort of divine inspiration.

COOPER: Does he think this is going to happen in his lifetime?

RAMAN: He has suggested such on the ground, perhaps even within his presidency, within the four years that he's there, suggesting at times he may not even have a second term. There won't be a need for it. So he's a very religious man in a theocratic straight. And so that is what has raised a lot of fears as well.

COOPER: Right, the idea of someone having nuclear weapons and a messianic vision can be a frightening combination.

Aneesh, appreciate your expertise. Gary and Rick, as well. Thanks very much, guys.

Hugo Chavez isn't the only one turning heads with his words. Coming up, what President Bush told CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, how far the U.S. is willing to go to kill or capture him. But the real question tonight, is anyone really looking for this guy all that hard in Pakistan or even in Afghanistan? Also, the most dangerous place in Afghanistan for coalition troops, inside an ambush. What it's like to be in the Taliban's cross hairs. A front line report next.

And the worst fire season on record, no sign of letting up. We'll take you to the battle against the dangerous blaze outside Los Angeles when 360 continues.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you had good, actionable intelligence in Pakistan where they were, would you give the order to kill them or capture them?

BUSH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And go into Pakistan?

BUSH: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will do it ourselves. We would like to do it ourselves.


COOPER: Well, in an exclusive interview yesterday with Wolf Blitzer there, President Bush admitted publicly for the first time that the U.S. would cross into Pakistan without permission to capture and kill Osama bin Laden.

Clearly, that is not something that Pakistan's president welcomes, but it is an option on the table for the U.S. military and it has been for sometime, as you're about to hear from CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): U.S. intelligence generally believes Osama bin Laden is hiding among sympathizers in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border southern Afghanistan. But U.S. commanders say if they knew exactly where, they wouldn't wait for Pakistani permission to go after him or for other most wanted terrorists, for that matter.

GENERAL JOHN ABIZIAD, U.S. CENTRAL COMMANDER: I would tell you that when we get good targeting information, that we will go where we need to go to go find him and go get him.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL KARL EIKENBERRY, COMBINED FORCES COMMAND- AFGHANISTAN: Intent of our Commander in Chief President Bush is very clear to commanders at every level, including my level and down.

MCINTYRE: It wouldn't be the first time the U.S. crossed the line into Pakistan. Back in January the CIA fired a missile at a compound near the border, hoping to kill bin Laden's number two, Ayman Zawahiri. He was not among the dead.

And in 1998 the U.S. sent cruise missiles through Pakistani airspace to try to get bin Laden at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government was told only after the missiles were en route.

The rules of engagement are not written in stone.

EIKENBERRY: They allow me the authorities that are needed and the flexibility that's needed to, as we say, take the fight to international terrorism.

MCINTYRE: Take this recent surveillance photograph of a Taliban funeral in Afghanistan. Funerals are usually off limits because of the risk to innocent non-combatants. But if bin Laden had been there, commanders who in this case held their fire, might well have ordered an air strike.

THOMAS DONNELLY, CENER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I wouldn't imagine there's a lot of, or going to be a lot of teeth gnashing, you know. If you've got Osama in your cross hairs, I'm sure that pretty much any American would be anxious to pull the trigger.

MCINTYRE: The options boil down to two, a cross border snatch mission by CIA or U.S. military special forces or air strikes from manned or unplanned planes.

DONNELLY: Perfect universe, I'd much rather capture him. He still has huge intelligence value.

MCINTYRE (on camera): One reason the U.S. might want to rely on getting forgiveness, rather than permission from Pakistan, is the long held suspicion that too many people in the Pakistani government would be willing to tip al Qaeda off to any U.S. operation.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


COOPER: Well, it's easy for bin Laden to hide in Pakistan. Here's the raw data. At nearly twice the size of California, Pakistan's -- well, it's a huge country, obviously -- population now stands 165 million. If bin Laden crossed from Afghanistan, he's not alone. Almost 1 million Afghan refugees now call Pakistan home. That's down, of course, from a high of about 2 million or 3 million during the war in Afghanistan with the Soviets.

All those refugees have fled the fighting that continues in Afghanistan. The Taliban are regaining a foothold in the country. The mission for coalition troops is more dangerous than ever. We're about to show you how dangerous.

An ITV news team was given unprecedented access to British soldiers based in the town of Sangin. They came under fierce attack from the Taliban shortly after their helicopter touched down. Here's ITN's Bill Neely. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NEELY, ITN CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): 5 a.m., and Apache attack helicopters move forward. Twice they tried to re-supply British troops at Sangin, and failed. It seemed like the third time lucky, but lucky's not the word for it.

Gunners fired as the four helicopters approached Britain's most exposed military base in Afghanistan. This gunfire was nothing to what followed.

There had been warnings of a Taliban threat to helicopters, so British troops were ready in strength at the landing spot. But as dawn broke, the Taliban were ready, too.

They were hidden near the helicopters, and as we landed they prepared to launch their ambush. It came seconds after we hit the ground.

The Taliban fired from several positions. Our camera, damaged in the chaos.

The troops retaliate with massive firepower like tanks and dozens of men raining ammunition on the Taliban. Afghan troops firing rocket propelled grenades.

The Taliban too fire RPGs. They fly just over our heads.

The troops catch glimpses of the Taliban between five and 10 fighters.

The gunfire is intense from all directions. Heavy machine guns and tanks outgunning the Taliban.

Above, the attack helicopters open fire repeatedly. It all lasts half an hour before the troops make it back to the base where the mortar teams are busy.

The Taliban are a mile away.

All the troops return unscathed. They believe they killed three of the Taliban fighters.

CORPORAL MIKE THOMAS, 3RD BATTALION PARACHUTE REGIMENT: The last few weeks we've been under pretty much constant bombardment from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the last couple of days; however, things are starting to change again, as you've seen this morning.

LANCE CORPORAL PAUL MULLER, 3RD BATTALION PARACHUTE REGIMENT: It's obviously unlike anything I've ever experienced or could have imagined before we left the U.K.

NEELY: Just before dusk it started again.

The troops returned fire from the roof of the compound. (On camera): No British base has come under attack more often than this one. And it's just being attacked again with rocket- propelled grenades fired by the Taliban, and the troops are now firing back with heavy machine guns and with mortars of their own. This has been going on for about five minutes now. The firing becoming quite intense.


MAJOR PAUL BLAIR, 3 PARA COMPANY COMMANDER: The threat is really significant. And the Taliban in this area are quite determined. They vary in their methods of attack, sometimes from direct fire weapons, RPGs, mortars and rockets.

NEELY: This is a base under daily fire, but giving no ground. The smoke of battle clear tonight, awaiting a new dawn.

Bill Neely, ITV News, Sangin, southern Afghanistan.



COOPER: Looking at pictures of a house in Mamudi (ph), Iraq, where a girl and the rest of her family were reportedly killed six months ago by four U.S. soldiers.

A preliminary hearing on the case is underway in Baghdad. And the U.S. military says the soldiers could actually face the death penalty. They were brought to military court after one of their own, Private Justin Watt, learned of his fellow soldiers' alleged crimes and decided to step forward.

CNN's David Mattingly has more now on Watt's homecoming.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shortly after dawn at Kentucky's Fort Campbell, anxious parents wait for the return of their soldiers, sons and daughters.

For Rick and Vivi Watt, it is the end of a long and troubling time. Their battle weary son, Justin, became a controversial whistle blower in Iraq, involving an unbelievably violent crime.

(ON CAMERA): What did you hear in his voice that day?

RICK WATT, FATHER OF JUSTIN WATT: You know, I heard a little bit of fear, I guess.

MATTINGLY: Had you heard that before?

R. WATT: No.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): According to his parents, Private First Class Justin Watt of the 101st Airborne had taken a serious risk by reporting five fellow soldiers. He went against unwritten codes of combat, loyalty, and feared retaliation.

But it was the severity of the crime that made Watt come forward. A 14-year-old girl was raped in her home, shot in the head, and burned. Her mother, father, and 2-year-old sister were also murdered.

Then Watt did something that troubled his father deeply.

R. WATT: He wrote us a last letter, expecting that he might not survive it.

MATTINGLY: Rick Watt learned his son had anticipated trouble and written a farewell letter. And posted a revealing blog that has since been removed from the Web.

VIVI WATT, MOTHER OF JUSTIN WATT: He talked about the major significant events of his life and what he had seen in the war, the heroic actions of his friends, the incredible feeling of watching the Iraqi people vote, and that no one would ever know about that back home.

R. WATT: No one would ever know that he brought justice to a murdered family.

V. WATT: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But the weeks of worry finally melted away as the Watts managed to pick their son out of the crowd. Minutes later in a noisy auditorium, the reunion a year in the making was every bit as sweet as two worried parents had hoped.

(On camera): But the parents' concerns do not end here. They don't worry about his safety so much here at Fort Campbell. Their worry is about what might happen to him in those unguarded moments when he leaves the post.

(Voice-over): Prior to our meeting, Private Watt was reminded by army officials he was not to discuss the case or his testimony. And he had little to say about his security.

PFC. JUSTIN WATT, U.S. ARMY: I'm going to be OK. I've got a lot of support, from what it sounds like and what I've seen. It's a good feeling.

MATTINGLY: Watt has two years left in the Army. But first for his parents, some private time to celebrate their son back safe after a hard tour of duty.

David Mattingly, CNN, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.


COOPER: Well, for wildfires 2006 is already the worst on record, and the year, it ain't over yet. Tonight, we take you to the front lines, just outside of L.A. where a dangerous wall of flames is creeping close to the city.


Tonight, a massive wildfire is raging in southern California. Right now it is only 39 percent contained; and with every acre burned, a staggering new record is set.

So far this year, wildfires across the west have destroyed nearly 9 million acres. They can be very easy to start, of course. All it takes is a match or a lightning strike and almost impossible to stop at times.

CNN's Peter Viles reports.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fueled by gusting winds, this fire east of Los Angeles made firefighters do something they hate -- give up ground. In this case, give up a house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under some really terrible conditions, they made a really hard choice, but unfortunately it just wasn't enough this time.

VILES: A similar story at this massive fire north of Los Angeles, which has burned more than 100,000 acres.

JEANNE PINCHA-TULLEY, INCIDENT COMMANDER, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: We almost had this closed down, and this is where it blew out, and it blew out big time. It ran 10 miles this way. And now it's moving north on us.

VILES: The wildfire season started early this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's happening is that some of the brush is getting blown by the wind, and when it does that, it's carrying the fire.

VILES: Bone dry since the fall, Oklahoma and Texas were already burning way back on New Year's day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's starting back up moving back towards the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire has jumped the highway.

VILES: On March 12th 800,000 acres burned on a single day nationwide, 11 people died in Amarillo, Texas. Further west and into the summer a big shift in the weather was to blame.

RICK OCHOA, NATIONAL INTERAGENCY FIRE CENTER: In the west, in spite of a very wet winter, in some places, Mother Nature trumped that by giving us a very hot and a very dry summer.

VILES: Amid record heat, 1.5 million acres have burned in Nevada alone.

OCHOA: Up until about a week ago, we had fire activity from Los Angeles up to Minnesota and up in Seattle, down to Las Vegas.

VILES: Hot shots, the specialists who jump from fire to fire have been running all summer.

STEVE ZAVALA, HOT SHOT: Fatigue has been setting in pretty heavy. I believe this is our fifth trip of 14 days straight, back to back, two days off and right back out again.

VILES: Resources stretched so thin, 500 Army firefighters were called out in Washington state and firefighters were flown in from Australia and New Zealand for a crash course on how Americans talk to fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't give you the words, some of them, because they're swear words.

VILES: 15 people have died, not close to a record. This Tennessee transplant survived the saw tooth fire in the California desert this summer and learned firsthand why they're called wildfires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't believe what was happening. The flames was running 60, 70 mile-an-hour.


COOPER: Peter, you've been at this point at this fire in the national forest north of L.A. What is the latest on that?

VILES (on camera): Well, they've had a couple of pretty good days out here, Anderson. It is 107,000 acres burned, as you said, and only 39 percent contained. But two days ago, it was only 20 percent contained. They've had a couple of good days. And the flames, or the embers, you can see on this ridge behind me.

These are generally a pretty good sign because these are controlled burns. Conditions are calm enough that firefighters are going into these ravines and canyons and hills, and they're starting fires, trying to get ahead of this fire and burn these ridges out a little bit. So if the fire moves a move this way, it will get to that ridge behind me and it will have no fuel. It will have to stop right there. That's the good news. They've had a couple of good days of calm conditions, fairly cool, and the winds have not been gusting.

Here's the bad news. The year is going to shift. We are going to get Santa Ana winds tomorrow. I know you heard that guy in the package at the end there talking about a fire moving 60 miles an hour. How does it do that when a wind picks it up and takes it 60 miles an hour? Those Santa Anas can blow that hard, they're coming this way tomorrow, Anderson, so this is a fire to keep your eye on.

COOPER: Yes, that is really bad news.

Peter, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

It takes more, of course, than just manpower to fight wildfires. As you're going to see, the battle is also being waged with computers and even fire itself.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has more now from Montana.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): An air war against one of the largest U.S. wildfires this year. Flames in southwestern Montana have burned more than 232,000 acres. That's bigger than the entire city of Chicago. These pictures were taken by the firefighters themselves as they fought flames that had immense potential to kill.

BOBBY KITCHENS, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: And when I saw that on one day it had burned 120,000 acres, I thought somebody messed up. were thought somebody messed up, they added a zero or two, you know. It turns out it really did do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been on this hill quite a few times.

TUCHMAN: The fire is now virtually all contained after starting a month ago from one strike of lightning.

(On camera): How worried you at its peak?

CORY CONNER, ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF, SWEETGRASS CO: Well, I think honestly every single member of our department at one point was pretty much scared for their safety. BILL AVEY, DIST. FOREST RANGER, GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST: I've been doing this for 25 years. We saw fire behavior that, you know, 35 mile wide flame fronts, 200 foot flame lengths, pushed by 50 mile-an- hour winds. It was extreme.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But nobody was killed. So what went right? Firefighters literally came from all over the world to help. But knowing how past fires in this area spread proved crucial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to have the local knowledge, and it's just got to be a teamwork thing.

TUCHMAN: Computer software also helped by showing the terrain and where the fire was shifting.

AVEY: I think we have better information to develop strategies and tactics with. I think it makes our fire line safer for our firefighters.

TUCHMAN: They also lit backfires, which can be controversial because landowners can lose much or all of their property, but they help by burning out some land before the wildfire comes sweeping in out of control.

AVEY: We take that additional acreage that we're going to lose by backfire into account very seriously. And we consider that in our decision, but at the end of the day, it's got to be firefighter and public safety first.

TUCHMAN: Homes were destroyed, but many more were narrowly saved.

(On camera): Did you think your house was going to be gone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We were 99 percent sure we wouldn't have a house to come home to.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The flames came within feet of Rusty Terlin's (ph) house, and sadly killed many of his cattle and injured others that are now recuperating in his pen. Livestock, homes and land have been destroyed by this huge blaze.

But using the firefighting techniques here, very likely saved human live.


COOPER: So, Gary, how concerned are firefighters about these fires blazing up again?

TUCHMAN (on camera): Well, Anderson, the firefighters here are getting some help from Mother, as in Mother Nature. They've had some very cold weather, some rain. It even hailed today. I thought it was snow coming down. I was covered with white stuff. Turns out it was hail. So the weather's been very cooperative. So they're not very worried about that at all. They think they smell victory here.

This is the nerve center, by the way, Anderson. What were just talking about the computers before. These are the computers they use to help figure out how to fight this blaze. And they are breaking down this nerve center tomorrow. It's basically an official declaration vehicle of victory, that is. This will all be gone tomorrow, and they know they have conquered this fire.

Right here is Dena Shottsburger (ph). Dena works for the U.S. Forest Service.

How do you feel about this fire has been blazing for weeks. It's bigger than the city of Chicago, we mentioned in the story. Now it's almost all out. How does it make you feel?

DENA SHOTTSBURGER (ph), U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Oh, I think we feel real good about the condition of this fire; however, there's still a lot of work to do with the rehabilitation and there will be a lot of impacts to the people that live here still.

TUCHMAN: Rehabilitation is fixing the land that you had to set the backfires on people's private land, correct?

And right here, right now, what are you doing? You're not playing any games are you? What are you doing right here? What's your name by the way?

STEVE SMAIL (ph): Steve Smail (ph).

TUCHMAN: Steve, what are you doing right here?

SMAIL (ph): Making a progression map, and that's how the fire grew over the two weeks that it's been burning.

TUCHMAN: Well, you guys did a good job. Congratulations to you.

By the way, the entire effort, Anderson, to fight these blazes here, $20 million. Back to you.

COOPER: Gary, thanks very much.

The fight to stop the wildfires in California, and the woman leading the charge to do it. Take a look.


JEANNE PINCHA-TULLEY, INCIDENT COMMANDER: It just took off, and it ran six miles. We lost 30,000 acres.


COOPER: Well, through those setbacks and the containment lines, we'll show you what life is like for those in the middle of an inferno, when 360 continues.


COOPER: Dramatic pictures. More now on the massive fire eating away at southern California. Calm weather for now, but as Peter Viles told us a moment ago, that is about to change. The damage now stands at 107,000 acres and counting. The fire only 39 percent contained. Thousands of heroes are on the scene led be one heroine.

Once again, Peter Viles with the story.

VILES: Well into its third week, the creeping monster known as the day fire refuses to lie down. But day 17 will be different, so says the woman in charge of putting it out.

PINCHA-TULLEY: We're going to lock this down because today is a really good day to make sure that we do battle and do it well.

VILES: As Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley is the general for an army of 2,000 firefighters who are trying to stop a moving target.

PINCHA-TULLEY: It's back in about a rate of about three-quarters of a mile a day.

VILES: That means managing a lot of tough minded men and women. She calls them alpha personalities.

PINCHA-TULLEY: When you get a number of folks together who are used to being in charge, it takes a while to rope it all in, make sure that we're all on the same sheet of music, if you will, and make one unified command, one single movement forward.

VILES: Pincha-Tulley's part of an elite group of federal crisis managers. She was sent to Waveland, Mississippi, after Katrina, but she's, by profession, a firefighter and this one has her worried.

PINCHA-TULLEY: This fire is wily. This one, it will lay dormant for a day or two, or it will slow down for a day or two, and then it's off to the races again.

VILES: It's flaring in dozens of spots across an uninhabited area of roughly 200 square miles.

(On camera): When you get up above this fire, two things jump out at you right away. First of all, this is really rugged mountainous terrain. And secondly, it's really remote. These flare- ups we're looking at are a good 25 miles away from the command center.

(Voice-over): Fighting a fire this stubborn brings ups and downs, one major victory, preventing it from jumping east across Interstate 5.

PINCHA-TULLEY: That was a mammoth victory, even if I did shut the I-5 down two days in a row.

VILES: She laughs, but the stakes were immense. The I-5 corridor carries water, gas and power to Los Angeles.

PINCHA-TULLEY: If it had jumped that and gone across there, then all of L.A. would have no water, no power, the gas would have been shut off, and I really would have been an unpopular woman.

VILES: A major setback, though, a blowout last weekend fueled by the Santa Ana winds.

PINCHA-TULLEY: It just took off and it ran six miles. We lost 30,000 acres.

VILES (on camera): She said this would be a good day, and it was. Her crews finished putting in 14 miles of fire containment lines, but they've got 60 miles to go, and the fire is still moving.

Peter Viles for CNN in the Los Padres National Forest.


COOPER: Well, coming up, we'll have the latest on the hunt for a convict who skipped town before giving his son the kidney he badly needed.

First, Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS," has a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Thailand's ousted prim minister is calling for new national elections. Meantime, the military leaders who staged the bloodless coup on Tuesday, tightened their grip on Thailand. It seemed to be business as usual, though, in Bangkok. Despite the fact that Thailand's new military rulers are banning political meeting and the formation of any new political parties. Thailand's self-proclaimed interim leader, who is also the chief of that country's army, promised to restore democracy as soon as possible. Meantime the ousted prime minister saying today he plans to take a deserved rest. He was overthrown after being accused of bending government policies to benefit his family's business.

The woman accused of slashing the throat of a new mother and kidnapping her baby appeared in a Missouri court today. Shannon Torres pleaded not guilty to the charges. The week-old baby was returned to her parents on Tuesday, the day Torres was arrested. The baby's mother is recovering from her injuries.

And fire officials say 5,000 people in downtown Philadelphia had to evacuate their offices today after an underground electrical cable caught fire. Streets were closed in a 25-block area. One person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

And get this, the average American home now has more TV sets than people. Nielsen says there are now 2.73 televisions in the typical U.S. home, but only 2.5 people. Hopefully, of course, that means better ratings for all of us -- Anderson.

COOPER: Erica, thanks.

A man who's been called the most hated man in America is still at large. We've got the latest on the fugitive who was supposed to give his ailing son a kidney. We'll tell you what's happened to his son, next on 360.


COOPER: An update tonight on a story about a teenager from Kentucky who made national headlines earlier this year. The boy desperately needed a kidney. His dad was let out of jail to donate one of his own, but before that happened, dad ran away. He is still on the run. The silver lining here is the boy got what he needed, despite his deadbeat dad.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has the update.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like any new golfer, Destin Perkins admits he needs some work on his swing.


CANDIOTTI: But for him that's not what playing golf is all about.

PERKINS: It's just fun. Especially when you've got your friends with you, it makes it a lot of fun.

CANDIOTTI: Fun is not what Destin was having last winter. The 16-year-old was badly in need of a kidney transplant. And the man he counted on for help, skipped out on him.

(On camera): Do you think you could ever forgive him?

PERKINS: Forgive him, probably not. That's a pretty bad thing that he did to me.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): That he, is Destin's own father. U.S. marshals call by Destin's dad, Byron Perkins, the most hated man in America.

Are you any closer to catching Byron Perkins?

DEPUTY DAWN IZGARJAN, U.S. MARSHAL SERVICE: We are no closer for catching Byron Perkins or Lee Ann Howard.

CANDIOTTI: Perkins took off with his fugitive girlfriend, Lee Ann Howard, last January. He was temporarily freed from jail while awaiting a maximum life sentence so he could donate a kidney to his son.

After CNN first ran the story last February, American tourists vacationing near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, told police they recognized the couple, but not before Mexican villagers say they bought Perkins' sob story that his money was stolen and were never repaid for bailing him out.

Though they've run down leads from Canada to Kansas, U.S. marshals suspect the couple is still in Mexico pulling off scams.

IZGARJAN: I don't want the public to forget about Byron Perkins and Lee Ann Howard just because Destin is doing is great right now. We need to catch him and we need to bring him and face the charges. This is my working file on Perkins and Howard.

CANDIOTTI: Authorities say they hope the publicity will generate fresh leads.

(On camera): What, do you think he'll just slip up?

IZGARJAN: Everybody makes a mistake, and he will eventually make a mistake, and we'll just wait.

CANTIOTTI (voice-over): Destin's mother also is waiting for that day.

ANGELA HAMMOND, DESTIN PERKIN'S MOTHER: He will mess up. He always did.

CANDIOTTI: Do you still love him because he's your father?

PERKINS: Yes, I love him because he's my father, but I still don't think I could forgive him. I really want him back behind bars.

CANDIOTTI: You think he should be punished?


CANDIOTTI: Put behind bars?

The person who gets credit for saving Destin Perkins? An anonymous organ donor who died in California. Do you think this has made you a stronger person?

PERKINS: Oh yes, I think I could probably do anything now.

CANDIOTTI: Including showing off his transplant scar that may fade faster than the emotional wounds left by his fugitive father.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Jamestown, Kentucky.


COOPER: Unbelievable.

Straight ahead, not a cliff hanger exactly -- worse. High wire, high voltage, high anxiety. Next on 360.


COOPER: Time for the shot today. It was a long night for an Ohio man who was left hanging for about eight hours when his motorized parachute got caught in power lines. Lucky for him, there was no electricity running through the wires that actually snagged him. But the lines immediately beneath him were live. The power company shut them off. Rescue crews used three cranes, one to bring him blankets and heating packs; another to stabilize the aircraft; and the third, to secure the parachute. The unlucky pilot ended up with a chill, a scare, no physical injuries, just one heck of a story, I suppose, to tell the grandkids.

So now, is the FAA trying to control costs at the expense of your safety? Now some are saying that new work rules for air traffic controllers are doing just that. Take a look at this.


PAT FORREY, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION: You are responsible for thousands of lives. And the bottom line is, none of us, the FAA, the controllers, need that kind of a distraction in the work environment based on imposed work rules, disgruntled employees.


COOPER: What you need to know before you book your next flight. That's going to be tomorrow on "AMERICA MORNING," starting at 6:00 a.m., Eastern time.

Thanks very much for watching this edition of 360. We'll see you tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING" is next.


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