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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Aired March 11, 2007 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Rick Sanchez. We're expanding our coverage this evening because of what's going on around Anaheim Hills. You probably have been hearing as you have been watching our coverage and in case you haven't, we probably need to bring you up to date.
That as many as 500 acres are burning now because of the conditions out there and this has really amplified into quite a story because police officials are now going door to door asking people to leave. We heard about the evacuation order earlier but certainly now it's something that's more important for the people there. People having to make important decisions as we go. Let's go to Justin Dignam now. He is one of the residents not far from that area. He can really put us there and help us understand what is going on there now.
Justin, are you on the line?
JUSTIN DIGNAM, ANAHEIM HILLS RESIDENT (on phone): Yes, I am.
SANCHEZ: Justin, what's the situation as you see it?
DIGNAM: Well, it's quite impressive, actually. It's going from a crossing should say (ph) seven miles past (ph) several patches that are on fire. It's almost like they're not sure which piece to chase because there's tremendous amounts of (inaudible) burning.
SANCHEZ: Have you seen fire officials in your area?
DIGNAM: Oh yeah, they're everywhere. It's just about a quarter mile from our house and Anaheim Hills, therefore very hilly, you can stand on one hill, look a quarter mile away and you can see the fire blazing along the entire ridge right across from me.
SANCHEZ: Is your house in any danger at this point?
DIGNAM: I sure hope not. We haven't been evacuated and, surprisingly, the wind is kind of blowing left to right across in front of us almost like a show which is a bad way to put it, but it's not blowing toward us or away from us. Where we are, we're just watching it go right across in front of us.
SANCHEZ: Is it moving as a line or are there hot spots?
DIGNAM: You know, there is a line. They've established some fire lines, some very clear ones. We had a big fire here a couple of years ago and so they did a good job of clearing brush and putting lines in, but you can also see because of the wind you can see 50 yards in front of the line or the furthermost point that it's burning, another hot spot pops up and then instantly you have a fire going.
SANCHEZ: Especially with that type of foliage you have out there. That dried out chaparral, I imagine it catches fire quickly, right and then moves along into possibly somebody else's house or neighborhood.
DIGNAM: It's a tinder block and what they've done, my wife made a call to our homeowners association and had them turn the sprinklers on and the other associations just turning their sprinkler systems on to keep the greenbelts wet.
SANCHEZ: We should probably let viewers know as we look at some of these pictures, these are newer homes and Justin, you'll probably agree, the newer homes tend to deflect the fire a little bit more, certainly as much as you can deflect a fire because it's stucco, they're newer materials, less wood and most of them are smart enough to make sure that they put a barrier around their house so the trees don't come up against their walls so to speak. That's important, isn't it?
DIGNAM: It's very important and that certainly is the goal. But these homes are built further and further into the wilderness. So they're putting ourselves in harm's way. Like the folks in Laguna Beach building on the cliff. That's just a disaster waiting to happen.
SANCHEZ: Tell me if you've spoken to anyone who is trying to make or has made the decision to evacuate and what that entails.
DIGNAM: We've run this drill literally two years ago. There was a big fire up in this exact same area of Anaheim Hills. Everybody kind of talked through and walked through what they would do if it happened again so I think everyone is pretty much prepared. I mean, you take what you need and then you go.
There's not a lot of thinking necessarily involved.
SANCHEZ: Let's bring viewers up to date. We're going to expand our coverage this evening. Usually you'd be seeing Lou Dobbs right about now. We're going to stay with this story because of the effect it has on so many people's lives out on the West Coast. This story certainly has escalated to a certain degree. We're told now as many as 200 firefighters are on the scene. That's a bigger number, 500 acres are burning. That's certainly a bigger number.
So it's certainly a fire that's taken on a life of its own. And let's go back to some of the pictures now and we see some of the helicopters that are coming in. We're going to try and talk to some of the brigade chiefs out there who are dealing with this as well.
Firefighters, in a situation like this have to make some decisions. Some of them are local firefighters. Others are hotshots that are brought in from other areas. Whether they're going build fires to stop the fire, where they're going draw the line that they're going to let the fire actually go to and some of those decisions have to be made on the fly.
As you can see, some of the firefighters are coming into the area right now and sometimes there's just some terrain that simply needs to be sacrificed. In this case, of course, they're trying to do everything possible to make sure that they can salvage the neighborhoods.
If you live in one of those neighborhoods, certainly and you're watching this newscast or trying to do what you can, like in Justin's case, this is a tough call. This is a tough situation to be in.
Justin, have you spoken to any of your neighbors or any of the people who are residents in your area. What are they saying tonight
All right. We seem to have lost Justin Dignam. He's been on the air with us talking now. Jacqui Jeras let's go to you to get a better sense of how this thing became as large as it has. Certainly you've been talking throughout the day about the conditions that led up to this, right?
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. Conditions couldn't be much worse, really, Rick. I hate to say that. The only thing that could make things worse I guess is if the things picked up more than they were. This morning we were looking at wind gusts 60, 70 miles per hour, now we're looking 30 to 40 miles per hour, still bad, though not as bad as it was. On top of that we have new record temperatures in the 80s and 90s across much of Southern California and the relative humidity is so low.
It's down in the single digits for percentages. So that's nothing. It takes very little to spark a fire in these atmospheric conditions and that's why red flag warnings were issued across much of this area for today and that's going to be extended into tomorrow, we think, as well.
The winds are coming in from the northeast. These are the Santa Ana winds. So what happens is they blow down the hills and the mountains here and as they go down in altitude, they accelerate and they heat up because it compresses that air. When you compress air it heats. So it's a really hot, really dry wind that's continuing to push through the area. It's that off-shore flow so the area that the wind and the air mass is originating from is a very dry area to begin with, from the desert, really.
And so you have no moisture in here, just nothing helping you out and notice our winds have shifted a little bit. We've been dealing with predominantly northeasterly winds and riverside observations showing things have switched southerly right now. So the winds are kind of erratic at times, too.
The fire itself can also create different atmospheric conditions because you have differences in heat between the fire and the surface area as well. So as long as those temperatures stay warm right now, those winds stay strong, we think conditions are going to continue to get worse. Once the sunsets tonight, we think the winds will die down a bit, but they'll pick back up once again for tomorrow.
I have got a Google Earth animation they kind of want to show you to give you an idea. Here's the City of Orange just outside of Los Angeles here. Here's the 241 and that's where the car was located and these neighborhoods right in this area here. You kind of use the lake as the landmark. This is much of the area that's being evacuated and there are newer neighborhoods which have developed out in this area, but now everything to the west here of this highway, this whole area is entirely populated.
So now that we're spreading into this region, this is a great concern, Rick, over the next couple of hour. This whole area here along the 241. Nobody lives out in this area. These are the hills and this is where we have the brushes and look at those dry conditions. You can see that in the video. The whole chaparral area and there are grassy conditions and there's been virtually almost no rain in the last couple of months since January. Just January, the deficit in the L.A. area is about seven inches.
So seven inches of rain below normal. We should have had seven inches in the last three months and it just didn't happen. About two and a half inches has been reported across the area in about the last, oh, almost the last year, even. We're looking at last July. And so we should have been seeing wet weather in the last couple of months and we just haven't seen it here across much of the Southwest and so the vegetation is just dried out.
You add in those strong winds on top of that coming in predominantly from the Northeast. The humidity is low and with these temperatures in the 80s and 90s today, just incredible. Rick?
SANCHEZ: Jacqui Jeras, we're going to be getting back to you as we continue to follow this thing. We're told now -- I think we have got Peter Viles who is there on the scene. Peter, can you hear us? Peter Viles apparently not far from the scene. We apologize. We might have, at times, difficulty communicating with some of our correspondents and some of the people on the ground.
Let's tell you what we're doing. We're expanding our coverage because of these massive fires which are now threatening homes and that's really the important part of the story. Peter Viles, I was told that you were standing by. Let me try you one more time. Are you there, Peter.
PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone: Yes, I am. Rick, I hear you loud and clear.
SANCHEZ: Peter, fill us in on where you are, what your location is and what you can share with us.
VILES: Sure. Well, I am smack in the in the middle of Disneyland park, which as you can imagine is very crowded on a beautiful Sunday, or what was a beautiful Sunday until about a couple of hours ago. A little warmer than average here, having a bit of a heat wave so the park is clouded and a big portion of the sky, Rick is cloudy at this point with smoke from the fire. And it's lifting higher into the sky, maybe dissipating a bit, but what's a little odd is now it's getting high enough to sort of block the sun.
So what has been a brilliantly sunny day and has now turned into a golden almost brown sunshine, but as you say, the smoke is higher in the sky and you can definitely smell it here in the park. It smells like a wildfire and you can see some ashes from the fire.
All of that sounds somewhat ominous and I would say at the horizon when you look at the fire, you do see some blue in the sky which is a good sign. So maybe the worst of the sneak from the fires is already in the air and not coming from the blaze itself.
SANCHEZ: But Peter, aside from the smoke itself, that's the only way people are being affected by this that far away, right? They're not evacuating that area and it's certainly not having a real effect officially on Disney World -- Disneyland, right?
VILES: Not at all. The vast majority of the people here are probably unaware of it. I do see some people looking up at the sky and calling and taking cell phone pictures of the smoke, but the vast majority of folks here trying to get in as much of the park as they can on a very crowded Sunday, and I spoke to a couple of park employee, not officials, but employees who said are you going close anything down? They said we don't think so. Take it easy and don't be too active because the air is starting to get pretty smoky so it's not the healthiest air to be breathing.
SANCHEZ: Peter, are you going get a chance to work yourself closer to where the fire is to talk to some of the folks there?
VILES: I don't think that would go over very well with the wife and kids and the two families visiting us from out of town, but if we have further reports as we make our way out of the park we'll definitely get them to you.
SANCHEZ: We certainly appreciate it Peter for you calling in and giving us a perspective. There certainly has to be a buzz with this story as well. Let's go to Robert Tuchman now, he's one of the stringers, one of the photographers who has actually gotten some of the video that we've been sharing with you throughout the course of the day as this situation has escalated. Robert Tuchman, are you there?
ROBERT TUCHMAN, VIDEOGRAPHER: Yes, I am.
SANCHEZ: What have you been seeing?
TUCHMAN: Well, basically, throughout the morning the fire has crested the ridge, the windy ridge and been dumping against multimillion housing tracts and it's a kind of an urban, suburban interstate. SANCHEZ: Robert, I'm stop to let the viewers know that we're showing the video you shot now and you seem to be on the side hill. We're seeing helicopters, but most importantly, we're seeing homes in the background there. Just how close are those homes you were shooting to the fire itself?
TUCHMAN: The fire came about 20 feet of the houses and the firefighters were taking a pretty aggressive stance to keep the fire from going up to the houses.
SANCHEZ: How are they doing that?
TUCHMAN: Well, basically, they park an engine in the driveway and they put a crew in the backyard with hoses and when the fire gets to the backyard they start spraying the brush that ignites.
SANCHEZ: Is there any concern about water pressure in the area, if everybody has their hoses on all at once that they might run out of water?
TUCHMAN: I haven't seen or hear on the radio traffic, although I have seen portable generators which actually pump air pressure into the hydrant system.
SANCHEZ: I also saw that there were a lot of people in the area that have swimming pools. Boy you almost wonder if they'd be able to pump some of the water out of the pools and into the hills. Because a big part of the story is keeping your roof and anything that can burn wet enough so it can't suddenly spark up, right?
TUCHMAN: Absolutely. Here you have a mix of newer homes which have clay cement roofs and older roofs that have older shake roofs and that's what the fire fighters are concerned about, those homes with shake roofs.
SANCHEZ: Did you get a chance to talk to any of these people in this area, Robert?
TUCHMAN: Quite honestly, I haven't yet although everyone obviously looks pretty concerned as they're packing their bags and putting stuff in their cars and heading out.
SANCHEZ: Now, just to be clear, you're talking about fires coming right up to people's backyards. Have any of the homes that you were seeing, did they burn?
TUCHMAN: We haven't seen any homes. I haven't seen any homes firsthand that have burned down. There were a couple of homes where there were reports where they did have roof fires and from radio traffic, they were able to knock those fires down before they were able to get the whole house on fire.
SANCHEZ: So, at this time, as we look at our watches here, 6:13 Eastern Time, there are no homes that have burned down as a result of this fire as far as you can tell? TUCHMAN: As far as I can tell, I'm not in charge here, I'm just a videographer, but from what I've heard from radio traffic and talking to the B.C.s, battalion chiefs, we haven't heard of any homes being lost yet.
SANCHEZ: I tell you, they've got 200 firefighters out there now who are fighting this thing. I know you've got experience with this. I know they brought in more firefighters and really it's like a line of defense that they've built around these communities to try and stop the fire from moving in. They're also asking people to leave, right?
TUCHMAN: Absolutely. The fire department and the trucks are coming and they're asking certain areas, for a voluntary evacuation and as I understand, there are certain areas for mandatory evacuation.
SANCHEZ: Describe Anaheim Hills for us, if you would. What kind of neighborhood is it?
TUCHMAN: Well. It's a mixture. Where I am right now is Orange Park Acres which is an older development that's kind of a rural area where people own horses and there are horse trails. There's a mixture of older homes and there's a mixture of new - the McMansions and things like that as you call them and basically, you've also got some tract homes. This part of Orange County really bumps up against the wilderness, so this is where the fire is moving through the wilderness and as it bumps up to the homes that are up to the wilderness, the firefighters are attacking the fire there.
SANCHEZ: Look at that. Viewers have been seeing the pictures and some of it edited and some of it unedited and we're turning around and trying to show it to as many people as just so they can to get a sense of what's going on out there. This is literally right in someone's backyard and you can actually see in some of the pictures that the flame actually jumped the fence and started approaching that area.
You see that area where the swimming pool is and then you see some of the pillars over to the left. We were watching that quite a while ago to see if those pillars would actually catch fire. Thank goodness as far as we can tell, they didn't.
But look at he fire, just in the time that we're watching it went from a small brushfire to suddenly that whole area seemed to just spark up and it's causing firefighters to have to bring their hoses in to put those out, because certainly if those get any larger then it will affect the individual homes but they're doing this on a home by home base, the firefighters are, literally going into this area of Anaheim Hills and making sure that some of these homes remain safe.
While in the meantime, the police officers are going door to door making sure that the people get out. I know -- a lot of homeowners say, no, I'm going stay here and I'm going to protect my home. The firefighters have to convince them, no, we'll protect your home and you protect your life and get out of the area.
Obviously yeoman's work that we're seeing with some of these firefighters -- Do you know, Robert -- are you still there with us?
TUCHMAN: Yes, I am.
SANCHEZ: Do you know if these are just county and state firefighters or have they brought in any hotshot teams or anybody else to help fight these things?
TUCHMAN: The last I heard it was about 35 strike teams. A strike team is five engines and a battalion chief, so doing the math that's quite a few engines. I've seen a couple of California Department of Forestry strike team crews move in here. I've seen a couple of camp crews. And of course, they had Department of Forestry helicopter air tankers here as well.
SANCHEZ: All right. Robert Tuchman, we're going to be getting back to you. We thank you so much for sharing that -- first of all, for showing those pictures and letting us air them with our audience and for bringing us up-to-date on what is going on as well.
Here's what we're going to do. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back we'll talking to some of the other residents in that area. We hope to be able to reach some of the firefighters and some of their brigade commanders so we can find out what their strategy is. We'll be going back to Jacqui Jeras and we also have a Tiffany Gill on the line. She's one of the people who lives in the area and has sent us some pictures.
A lot of news. I'm Rick Sanchez. We're expanding our coverage and we're going to be right back.
SANCHEZ: It is breaking news. Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rick Sanchez. You see all that video around me? Those are pictures we've been monitoring and getting in to try to bring you the story of what's going on out west. Really, not far from Los Angeles. It's in Orange County.
It's just southeast of Los Angeles in an area that is known as Anaheim Hills. A lot of homes there. In fact, last check, 200 homes have now been evacuated by police and firefighters because the fire is in some cases, as you see in this video we're sharing with you right now, the fire is literally just coming up against the backyard of some of the people who live in those homes. It's 500 total acres now that are burning as a result of this fire and we're told a couple hundred firefighters have now been called to the scene with plans to possibly bring in even some more.
Tiffany Gill is standing by for us as well. She has in fact sent us some pictures today that we have shared with our viewers. Let's talk to her and find out what she's been experiencing. Tiffany, are you there and on the line?
TIFFANY GILL, RESIDENT (on phone): Yes, I'm here.
SANCHEZ: Fill us in. What have you been experiencing and what are your thoughts right now?
GILL: It was an early-morning wake-up. It was all sirens and emergency vehicles coming up our street and not soon after, maybe around 8:00, the helicopters and airplanes started flying right overhead.
SANCHEZ: We see your picture there. We see an awful lot of smoke. Is your house -- are you shooting it from your house? Those other houses are what? Your neighbors?
GILL: They're down by where they're getting the water. There's a reservoir about two or three blocks down from me and we went down there to see how -- if there were going to be any evacuations and I'm actually about a mile from those homes, the ones that have actually been destroyed or damaged.
SANCHEZ: So you don't live in Anaheim Hills proper?
GILL: Yes, I do. I'm about a quarter of a mile right now from the actual fire.
SANCHEZ: So you live in a part of Anaheim Hills that's not directly affected by the fire right now?
GILL: A quarter of a mile, I feel kind of directly affected.
SANCHEZ: I guess the way I should, maybe, pose the question is have you been asked to evacuate?
GILL: No. We have not been asked to evacuate yet.
SANCHEZ: So the fire is still a little bit of a distance from you. Firefighters are doing what? What do you see them doing to try and to create a buffer so the fire doesn't affect your home as well.
GILL: They've closed off the streets that were basically at the top of a ridge down at the base of each side. So nobody's going out and in. If they are, you're obviously strong check your I.D.
GILL: I guess they're going door to door across the way from us to tell them to evacuate because they're the ones that are backed up against that brush area. But nothing on our side of our street.
SANCHEZ: Tiffany Gill, that's wonderful. Hey, thanks so much. We're going to be checking back with you from time to time to see what's going on.
Let's go over to Barbara Starr now. Why Barbara Starr? She's our Pentagon correspondent, but she has a lot of experience in this particular area. Barbara, I understand you lived here.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Yeah, hi. I grew up in the hillsides of Southern California and as a kid and went through many, many brushfire situations. This is an area I'm very familiar with. It's funny because my sister just called me like 10 minutes ago and said it's further down the freeway. It's not us. But this is what happens in Southern California. It's very, very tragic.
This is an area where there is also, I don't think we've quite shown the pictures yet, there are a number of major freeways that go right through here.
This is a very heavily-traveled area in Southern California. This is the major route, people who may have gone to Las Vegas or Palm Springs or the high desert for the weekend. Thousands and thousands of people travel through this very specific are ...
SANCHEZ: So in other words. Anybody leaving L.A. and decides to go out east.
SANCHEZ: Has to go through this area.
STARR: And people who are going come back now on a Sunday night from having spent the weekend in some of these recreational areas are going to find themselves obviously diverted, having to go miles out of their way because I can only suspect that major freeway routes through here have now been shut down.
This is the Riverside Freeway, the 70, the 90, all of these, when you grow up in California and you live out there, as my family does and I grew up out there, you know all this very well. Anaheim Hills is an area that, in about the last 20 years or so, has seen significant growth. A lot of subdivisions, a lot of tract homes as people look in the Southern California area for affordable living, and this is a lot of what has happened in Southern California.
You know, these hillsides become very heavily developed and yet they're full of brush and the Santa Ana winds become -- it becomes just a real firestorm.
SANCHEZ: Especially if you have your home in one of those canyon areas where it seems to whip right through and the wind really creates the fuel that the fire needs to move on and if you happen to have a phone in that area it will move through your home.
They have passed laws though where people need to build in such a way that if they use certain materials and create buffers so that homes aren't affected by it. Isn't that the case, Barbara?
STARR: They do, Rick.
And some of the newer subdivisions in this area and particularly Southern California, you can't have a wood roof. You must trim the trees and the brush on your property. It cannot be overgrown.
They're very, very strict about it, but, of course, then the next problem will be when the rains come and all of this watershed foliage is burned. We saw that, of course, a couple of years ago in San Diego, and then tragically you begin to see mud slides. So it's one of the reasons that, you know that obviously the firefighters just try and get control of this as fast as they can. You know, I have to tell you, I remember being a young reporter in Southern California covering one of these fires and we were way up in the canyons with the firefighters and they had -- they made all of us help them man hoses.
STARR: Because when it comes down to these kinds of situations that you see, it is really all hands to. And, you know, I -- I've been through this myself. My family has when they come through and they tell you to evacuate, it's, in Southern California this is always the topic of conversation, believe it or not.
Would you evacuate or would you stay and try and save your house? Tragically an awful lot of people try and, you know, go for broke and try and is stay and save their house, but you see these winds whip up and the fires come through, they really want people to get out.
SANCHEZ: Certainly could be a wrong decision. Barbara Starr, thanks so much for calling in and sharing your insight and your experience with this area with us. We'll be checking back as well. Let's go now back to the scene.
Thelma Gutierrez, I'm told, has reached the scene now and can talk us to about what she's experiencing. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez on the line now. Thelma, what have you got?
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Hey, Rick. We're approaching the hills right now and you can see this heavy plume of smoke just hanging over Orange County. As we drive up into the hills off to my left I see the big black smokestack rising up into the air.
Right now we hear that there are between three and 500 acres that have burned, 200 homes have been evacuated up in the hills and we understand the police are going door to door telling people that they must leave this area. This fire, Rick, began at 6:00 -- or about six hours ago about 8:00 in the morning. We understand it was a car fire off of a nearby freeway that actually ignited this fire.
Part of the 241 freeway here in Anaheim area is closed right now, and we can't see them, but we have heard that there are helicopters and also fixed wing aircraft that are making water drops here in this area.
SANCHEZ: Tell me again which of the highways you just mentioned is closed for the benefit of our viewers and some of the people watching. We were just talking a little while ago to Barbara Starr, she said there are a lot of people trying to get back home after going out east for the holidays or the weekend. What roads are closed that you know of?
GUTIERREZ: We understand a stretch of the 241 freeway at this point, now, the only ... SANCHEZ: 241.
GUTIERREZ: .. is that it is, after all, a Sunday and so traffic was light getting out here. We hit little patches of traffic, but more than -- it was actually a little bit light. Again, the 241, a portion of that by Anaheim Hills is what is closed at this moment. We are driving up toward the hills. Traffic seems to be moving OK. We don't see any -- anyone being evacuated at this point, but, like I said, there is a big, black plume of smoke over this area.
SANCHEZ: That's Thelma Gutierrez reporting to us. She is on the scene trying to get as close as she can to bring you the latest pictures and the latest information.
What we're doing now is just trying to bring you up-to-date. We're amping up our coverage tonight of this fire. We thought it might be at least somewhat under control, but it looks like it's really gotten away from some of the firefighters there because the wind conditions and the dry conditions and the humidity or lack thereof, and as a result, we've decided to stay with this story through the 6:00 hour.
Those of you who oftentimes are watching Lou Dobbs about this time understand we need to bring the very latest information we can to the people of this area and to the rest of the country so they know what they're going through as well.
Let's go back, if we can to Jacqui Jeras now and try and get a sense of what conditions are and I think the key question to go to you with that the point, Jack is people who live in this area, need ton not just about the conditions now, but about the conditions moving forward to see if this thing will be -- if they're going get any help from Mother Nature as far as the fire is concerned.
JERAS: Unfortunately, they're not, Rick. Atmospheric conditions are just rife for a fire to develop in this area and that's why the red fire warnings were issued and will continue to stay up, we think, at least through the day tomorrow. We've got the strong offshore wind and it's a very hot, very dry wind and we're likely at probably going to see some record highs in this area this afternoon. That combined with extremely low humidity, down in the single digits and that's the percentage for the humidity which is next to nothing. We expect that these conditions are going last through tomorrow with the stronger winds and we might see the winds subside a little bit throughout the week, but the overall picture is that this high (INAUDIBLE) of high pressure is just going to sit across southwest through the week. All the storms are going to go into the Pacific Northwest where they're dealing with some flooding issues, there today so you're going to miss out on any kind of moisture across this region.
Now I've got a Google earth animation and we were hearing Thelma talk about the 241. You can see it way down here in the bottom of my map. It snakes up this way and I believe the toll bridge is right up into here and that's where the car was located where they think the fire began. You can see this whole area right in here. This is all just a national park area into the Santa Ana mountains here, so this, a lot of this area right here has burned but once we get into this area here, that's where all of the homes are and this is where the population is. I know there's been evacuation orders right around here. You can kind of pick up that lake for a landmark and then also they say that this is spreading into the city of Orange.
There's the city of Orange, that's a proper, but I believe it extends out into this area, so a very large portion is being affected. I believe the fire is advancing this way and so everywhere from here is really populated. This is where the homes are, everything from here over is where we have homes. Here's the I-5 right into this area. The grapevine that you've hear them talk about and a lot of the major highways, here's 22, here's 57 that we have. So this is where things have started. This is where we have some of the roads which have been closed right here and that is spreading off into a westerly direction because those winds are coming in out of the northeast. So that's the direction that it's pushing the fire and I'll go ahead and show you that weather map again, showing you the hot, dry wind blowing down the hills and mountains and as winds go down in altitude, the air gets compressed and when it is compressed it heats up. That's meteorology 101, so that just continues to drive things out. The wind blows over the vegetation and this whole area across the southwest, Rick, is really moisture-deprived and has been for months. We should be seeing rain this time of year and we just aren't getting it. So it's unusual to be having Santa Ana winds blowing like this and to have such a big event and unfortunately, we could be looking at more fires over the next couple of days. It may not be just this one.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But the key really is the wind, isn't it? Because that's the thing that really moves this thing from one area to another. Look at that picture that we're looking at now. There's a housing development. That's part of Anaheim Hills that we've been talking about. You see the fires there. Hard to tell, though, isn't it Jacqui, which way the wind is going. But looking at it from this vantage point, it looks like they're actually getting a little help from the wind right here. Of course, fires make their own wind as we all know as well.
JERAS: Right and the terrain does, too. This is a very hilly area so the wind has to move over all those hills in the valley. So predominant when it's from the northeast, but you do get those wind shifts as a result of some of the fire itself, as a result of some of the terrain that you have as well and so when you get those erratic winds, that certainly makes things much more difficult.
SANCHEZ: The good news as we look at this picture, we don't see vegetation around these homes and that's a good thing. We also see homes that have for the most part have tile roofs which means that they're not something that would burn. It's usually either concrete tile or other types of tile that they use but it's not something again that burns a lot of stucco on these homes, a lot of concrete brick as they use in California as well. Again, they're all things that don't have a tendency to burn. So if you don't have something that's going to provide more fuel to the fire, you stand a better chance, right.
JERAS: Right and those homes are very likely designed that way, too. As a matter of fact, you can go to the Red Cross. I think it's redcross.org and they have all kinds of tips of things that you can do to help protect your home and have it prepared for wildfire season. One of those thing are, some of the vegetation you want to have that out like 30 feet away from your home to help kind of stop that area, and so with newer homes make sure those guidelines are kind of taken into place and taken into consideration with new construction.
SANCHEZ: You've got -- you know what we're going do, let's do this. Let's go ahead and take a break now, Jacqui and then we'll come back. You and I are going to continue our discussion. I'm also being told now that we've been able to make contact with Ed Royce. He's the congressman for the 40th district and he's going to be explaining to us his perspective and what he's been able to do to reach out to some of the residents there as they're coping and dealing with this very difficult situation there in that area around Anaheim Hills and Orange County. We'll take a quick break. We'll come right back to have more news. I'm Rick Sanchez. We'll see you on the other side of the break.
SANCHEZ: All right. These are some of the pictures that we've been showing you. You see some of the helicopters now that are being used to try and shuttle water into that area. They get them from nearby lakes. They come by. They try and spray the fire, try and see if they can stop it. Really there is a line of fire from moving any closer to some of the homes there around Anaheim Hills. And speaking of Anaheim Hills, those are some of the residents that this person that we're about to talk to knows an awful lot about. This is Ed Royce. He's the U.S. congressman and representative who handles this particular district. Congressman Royce, are you there, sir?
VOICE OF REP. ED ROYCE, WASHINGTON: I can hear you fine, Rick.
SANCHEZ: Thank you so much for taking time to talk us to. What's your message on a night like this?
ROYCE: Well, I've got a number of friends and constituents who have called me. One former state Senator John Lewis and his wife Suzanne have been watching this fire from the ridge that they live on in east Orange. They've been able to see the whole fire develop over the last seven hours. At this point you've got about 600 acres burned. I think there's 300 homes that have been evacuated. Right now the evacuations are --
SANCHEZ: By the way, those numbers are a little higher than the ones we had. I'll just ask you, since we're in the business of journalism here. We had 500 and 200. You're saying now 600 and 300, 600 acres.
ROYCE: Six hundred acres and an estimated 300 homes evacuated. Those homes, some of them are in the Hidden Valley area of Anaheim Hills and parts of Orange Park Acres have been evacuated as well. Now, as you know, that fire started up on the 241 freeway, the toll road, and the particular portion up there is called Windy Ridge and that is not a misnomer. Anybody that's been up there or ever biked up there, you know what that wind is like. You can only imagine on a day like today which was a red flag alert day for the Santa Ana wind conditions, what that means when that wind howls down that canyon and as a consequence of that, with the fires starting up near that toll plaza looked like maybe a car is where it started, but as that is spread --
SANCHEZ: yeah. That's the report, by the way, congressman, that's the report that we received as well, that it was a car that actually started the fire in that area that you're describing to us.
ROYCE: Those winds, I guess, today are blowing better than 25 miles per hour as John Lewis was telling me, blowing west towards these homes. The Orange County fire authority along with the fire departments of Anaheim and the city of Orange are up there right now putting up fire blocks and fighting the fire and --
SANCHEZ: Have you been in touch, sir, with anybody at the Federal level, forestry or any of the other offices to see what, if there's anything you can do as far as helping them to be able to get the -- some of the funds, perhaps or to get things moving so we can get more folks in there to help fight this fire?
ROYCE: My office has requested two things, one is other fire departments in Orange County to be dispatched and second, any help forestry can give us, so at this point, we know that they have set up in Anaheim a shelter for an eastern part of Anaheim Hills actually for people who have been evacuated and at this point, they're doing everything they can do, they indicate, to get as many trucks out there as they possibly can do. Our hearts go out to people in the area and we are most appreciative, needless to say.
SANCHEZ: Tell me again, sir, just to be sure, what are the two requests that you've put in and do you expect that they'll be met? But tell me again what they are.
ROYCE: Yeah. We're requesting other fire departments to assist and we're also requesting forestry to do everything they can do. So --
SANCHEZ: So it can be handled both from a Federal, from a state level and from a local level as well.
ROYCE: Exactly. Of course, our fire departments out there have a great deal of experience with working with these types of fires. As dry as it gets in Orange County this time of year, they've seen this in the past. Now, the great unknown in this is if these Santa Ana wind conditions are going continue and if they're going worsen and that's --
SANCHEZ: That's going make it tough.
ROYCE: Yeah. That's the great question mark and that's why we want...
SANCHEZ: The bad news unfortunately is that we've been checking with our own meteorologist here Jacqui Jeras and she doesn't see these, at least at this point, you know this is from a forecaster's standpoint to be mindful, things can change, that it doesn't look like it's going to be quieting down in that area. Before we let you go, Congressmen, what message do you have to your constituents there?
ROYCE: I just think on behalf of our constituents I'd like to express our great appreciation for the determination and the risks that the men and women in the fire department -- departments in Orange County and Orange County fire authority take in undertaking these battles.
SANCHEZ: You know --
ROYCE: We haven't had any injuries that I've heard of yet and we haven't, you know, had any, luckily, we've only had a few structures burn.
SANCHEZ: That's a good segue for us, congressman, because we've got somebody on the line who is probably hearing you say that and feels good about having someone like yourself thank them for their work. It's Captain Stephen Miller. He's with Orange County firefighters and good enough to talk us to now. It's now 42 minutes after the hour of 6:00 on the east coast as we speak to Captain Miller. Captain Miller, take it away, sir. What's your strategy at this point and how do you see things progressing?
Captain Steve Miller on the line with us. He's with Orange County. He's probably got his hands full as well. Captain Miller, are you there, sir?
VOICE OF CAPT. STEPHEN MILLER, ORANGE CO. FIRE AUTHORITY: Yeah. Backup battery by chance? This isn't working.
SANCHEZ: Captain Miller, we hear you talking. We don't know if you have a chance to hear us, sir.
MILLER: Do you have backup batteries for this? This is not working, I guess.
SANCHEZ: Let's do this. Let's see if we can figure this out. Obviously we can hear him, but we don't want to keep him on the line if he doesn't know that he's on the line, but we do want to hear from him because we haven't had a chance yet to hear at least in terms of strategy what firefighters are doing in that area to try and put this thing out.
For those of you who are now just joining us or haven't had a chance to see what we've been doing for the last couple of hours, there's a pretty significant fire that's in an area called Anaheim Hills in Orange County, California. Acreage burned so far anywhere between 500 to 600. Homes affected where people have been asked to evacuate directly, anywhere between 200 and 300. Several hundred firefighters are now moved into this area en masse and what they're doing is trying to create a border between these homes and the fire line itself to try and keep it from moving into their homes. So that's the situation as it stands right now. What's worse and this is why we've been bringing in our own Jacqui Jeras to try and bring us information is that the conditions that have caused this fire. The dry conditions, the Santa Ana winds that we've been talking about, seem to have, if anything, picked up. In other words, they're not decreasing at all. That's a problem. As you look at these pictures, you can actually see the smoke almost blowing sideways from the wind that goes through some of these canyons. We've been showing you pictures of the helicopters as they come through the area.
We've also been showing you homes with the fires literally knocking on their backyard door as if it's right up top. We have seen cases where some of the fires have actually started -- some of the roofs on fires as well, in some cases and we've seen backyards on fire as well. So we're about talking 200 to 300 homes. The key is to try and get them to not burn as a result of this fire and that's what we're doing for you as we watch it and we talked to the officials on the scene. Captain Stephen Miller with Orange County will be joining us after the break. Stay with us. You're watching expanded coverage of these fires out west. I'm Rick Sanchez and you're in the CNN newsroom.
SANCHEZ: Welcome back. This is our expanded coverage of these fires in Anaheim Hills and there you see some of the areas that are being affected by this, as you see some of the pictures that we've been taking in throughout the last hour or so. Firefighters literally going both into the woods and through people's backyards to try and create a line or buffer to try and keep those fires from affecting them. That's somebody's fence right there. Literally someone's backyard and you see the firefighters as you look over his shoulder as the fires in that area not far from the home. So what do they do? The first thing they need to do is they need to move into the area and try to get everything as wet as possible. Remember, when we were talking to Jacqui Jeras a while ago, she was talking about incredibly dry conditions so to try and combat those dry conditions, they wet the roof as much as they can. They wet the grass in the backyard so there's no avenue or new road that can be started with the fire itself. We've been watching the firefighters do this unbelievable work that they've been doing in that area and one of the persons who has been taking place of this is Captain Steve Miller. In fact, he's with the Orange County firefighters and I understand we were able to make contact with him now. Capt. Miller, are you there, sir?
MILLER: Yes, I can.
SANCHEZ: Good to have you join us, looks like you guys are doing a good job on this thing. Tell us what your strategy is.
MILLER: Of course, we don't want to lose any structures and more importantly, we don't want to lose any lives and that's where we need the cooperation from the public out there. I know you've been showing footage with people in various locations and really this is not a situation where they should be hanging around to look at. It's much better to sit home or somewhere else at home if they're in danger or watch it on the news.
SANCHEZ: Are you getting cooperation from them up until now?
MILLER: As far as I know, I've been a little concerned with some of the coverage I've seen that shows people standing in some pretty precarious areas. Those fires can spot way ahead of the initial fire and actually trap you. So if you're advised to not be in a certain area, I'd advise you to heed that advice and get out of there.
SANCHEZ: I've just been handed another piece of paper. Anaheim Hills fire asking for a mandatory evacuation for homeowners east of Sorano (ph) between Oak and Santiago Canyon are being asked to evacuate their homes. What does that mean sir? What can you tell us about that area and those folks that might be affected by this?
MILLER: Well, pretty much right now, all of the area that surrounds that area, they're in the path of the fire and again, like I said, you don't have to wait for the flames to get to your house. These smoke columns that you see are extremely heated and can carry embers a half a mile to a mile ahead of the fire. You can get wood shake roofs starting to take off way ahead of the fire, so those are the areas we're looking at, those are the areas we're concerned with and the reason we're asking for evacuations right now is just so that we can get that equipment in there to operate. The worst time is to have the fire bearing down on you then having to get fire units in there and people trying to get out and we don't want to get anyone trapped.
SANCHEZ: Do you need more crews?
MILLER: Well, my understanding is we have more crews en route, so I don't know what the exact situation status is with that. You know, we're kind of holding our own if you will, but the fire itself, obviously is going to continue to make progress as long as there's unburned fuel in its way and with the wind driving factor that we have, low humidity is just not a good situation for us. You see this time and time again here in the state of California with the Santa Ana winds.
SANCHEZ: Are you just having to deal with this one home at a time or one neighborhood at a time or is there any way you can put down a fire line to stop it? I mean, give us a little bit of the inside baseball on this. What strategies are you employing to try and keep these neighborhoods from going up in flames?
MILLER: Well, it's sort of in concert with all of the various entities we have here. We have fire engines that are strategically placed throughout the neighborhoods that are threatened. They're in place to be able to put a defendable line in between the homes, try and keep them wet down as best as possible. A garden hose is just not sufficient gallons per minute on a fire, to knock out any of the heat that would be necessary. Along with that, we have our aircraft. They try and hit the head of the flames, trying to knock down and slow the fire while it's approaching these homes. The problems we have is they got to fly around after each drop and we can't put enough up in the air to constantly bombard the fire. So they have to be strategically placed at the most critical points of the fire between the homes and the hot spots, if you will. Along with that, once you get an area knocked down, then we got to come back in and hit it with some of the ground crews. So it's an effort in concert. They have to be all together and then, you know, strategy works right then we succeed. If not, it gets around us and we have to go to plan B.
SANCHEZ: Boy, these Santa Ana winds are a bear, though, aren't they? What do you do about these things?
MILLER: There's not much, pray that they'll shut down. One of the points of the fire, when we were clocking the winds they were 29 miles per hour with peaks up to 41.
MILLER: And it's almost impossible to stop these fires and the other concern you get is even though you have homes with non- combustible roofs, you have wood shake roofs on some of the older houses, the fire, can like I say jump from roof to roof in spite of the fact that you might not be right up against the vegetation. So, from the very get go, we've had our areas of concern. I think we're doing a pretty great job. I know we've had two structures so far that have been affected. I don't know to what degree, but the potential is definitely there to lose a lot more and we're holding on to that and -- we hope those will be the only losses that we have.
SANCHEZ: I was going to ask you about that. It looks like you guys are doing such a good job and so far no homes have been destroyed by fire, although we've seen some homes and some things that have burned. We haven't seen a home destroyed by fire. Is that correct? Is our assessment correct?
MILLER: You know, that's my understanding, but I have not gotten a damage report on the two structures that were involved. We had fire units in place where those homes did become involved and my understanding was they had wood shake roofs. The only ones that -- and so those roofs caught on fire. There were fire crews there to affect it pretty quick and hopefully it was held to the roof, but I haven't heard if it fell down to the attic or not.
SANCHEZ: Finally, before we let you go, sir, I know you've got an awful lot of work to do and it's very kind of you to take time and let our viewers know what's going on, certainly a lot of the viewers in the areas there, a lot of the viewers and residents who live in the area. You've got a lot of experience and I know you've seen this situation before. How would you categorize this particular fire in terms of the damage or danger or how life-threatening it could be at this point? I guess what I'm looking for is do you guys think you're going to be able to hold the line on this thing?
MILLER: Boy, you know, I'm always optimistic because I know we train in and day out for this and we have such a great coordinated effort with all the different agencies throughout the state of California. So I remain optimistic, but as soon as I say something like that, then we can have all of a sudden five houses take off, but I feel pretty confident that we have sufficient structure protection assignment out there, not only in strategic areas, but also patrolling the area downwind and with the additional influx with additional units coming. Nighttime's coming up. It will cool down a little bit and I think we'll get the upper hand once it cools down a little bit.
SANCHEZ: Do you have enough water pressure?
MILLER: Water isn't too much of an issue. We have a lot of reservoirs in the area and some of these communities that we're protecting are newer home developments so the water pressure really hasn't been an issue and I'm not aware of any water issues at this point.
SANCHEZ: Good to know. Stephen Miller, Captain Stephen Miller with Orange County. We thank you, sir. You guys are doing yeoman's work out there. We certainly appreciate it and I know we speak for the residents. They probably appreciate it as well.
MILLER: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: All right. Let's go over now to Jacqui Jeras. Those of you who have been watching us now, we're trying to bring you up-to- date on these fires that have just been burning without stop in that area around Anaheim Hills in Orange County. The winds have really been picking up and that's been a problem. Let's go to Jacqui and I ask her about that. What do we know about these Santa Ana's Jacqui?
JERAS: They're not as strong as they were early this morning, so that's the good news. We're looking at 60, 70 miles per hour gusts early this morning. Now we're looking at 30, 40 miles per hour gusts, which is still bad, but we still have maybe two or three hours to go and then we expect conditions to improve a bit. The sun's going to be going down. The temperatures are going to be cooling down. The humidity will recover a little bit and the wind should begin to die down a little bit.
That said, so we've got some time to make some progress maybe tonight and then tomorrow morning, we think the winds are going to be picking up once again. The sun comes up. The temperatures are going to start to heat up and those winds will be picking up once again as well. So we've got maybe a two, three hour window Rick where we think things are going to be at their worst with the wind, dying down then this evening and overnight, picking up again for tomorrow. The red flag warnings have been extended now until 7:00 Pacific time tomorrow. So basically, they're saying what we've been saying all day now is that we think these conditions are going to be sticking with us for at least 24-plus hours. In fact, much of the rest of the week, unfortunately is looking very, very dry.
SANCHEZ: What about, hey, Jacqui, I know you guys like to call it precip. Is there any chance of any moisture or rain?
JERAS: Zero, not at all. Not in the next -- it doesn't look that way at least not for the next five days or so.
SANCHEZ: So that means that going into tonight, we were talking to the captain there a moment ago. He said the good news usually at night it gets a little cooler. Why did he say that? How does that help?
JERAS: The sun goes down, temperatures get cooler and as temperature cool down, it can hold more moisture in the atmosphere. So your relative humidity picks up a little bit. Also once the temperature starts to drop, the winds begin to subside. So you have those two factors working for you. Your humidity bumps up a little bit, though we think it is so critical at this point, the humidity is not going to help a whole lot and we getting a little bit more of that for tonight, but the key here is that we think the winds are going to be dying down and that's allowed them to make some progress. So they'll have some time, maybe a good 12 hours before that sun comes up tomorrow when we expect those winds to start picking up.
SANCHEZ: It's funny from a meteorological standpoint you guys are always telling us if there's a problem out there, this is what could happen and then we always see it develop just as you say it possibly could happen, certainly not always, but here's another case where something like that happens. Jacqui, we're going to get back to you in just a little bit.
SANCHEZ: Let's try and close out the hour as best we can and then we're going to restart it at 7:00 because obviously, this is a story we're going to be staying on top of for you throughout the course of the evening tonight. There you see some of the pictures. On this shot you see some of the smoke. It's the end of a cul-de-sac. You see some of the homes there that might be affected by this fire. Again, it's the area of Anaheim Hills, lots of homes there. We told you what the evacuation was now, for the benefit of those who live in the area, it's everything east of Sarano between Oak and Santiago Canyon. We're hoping it doesn't have to be expanded, but as this point you've been listening to some of the conversations that I've been having with some of the folks out there and you've heard me talk a little while ago to Captain Stephen Miller. He says he's optimistic is the word that he's using, obviously he would be because he wants to make sure his guys keep things under control. But obviously, they're up against it tonight. They're up against the odds. Let's take a quick break. We'll restart when we come back. You're watching CNN. We're in the newsroom. I'm Rick Sanchez.
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