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California in Peril

Aired October 24, 2007 - 23:08   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Good evening again from southern California. You've just watched "PLANET IN PERIL."
Tonight for the first time California in peril. The dangers for the first time appear to be lifting. For the first time, there is hope in the air here. Not just the smell of fear and burning embers, though there is still much of that.

The Santa Ana winds that have turned fire season into half a million acres of devastation are dying down. Evacuation orders were just lifted for 13 communities in the San Diego area. However, new orders have been issued for some because of these shifting winds, winds that may push some of the flames in dangerous new directions.

So there's still a lot of work to do getting things under control. Tonight, 15 major wildfires won't be out any time soon and there's late word tonight that authorities believe at least one of them might have been set. We're talking about arson.

Tonight, we'll have the latest on that. We'll also show you what firefighters have been dealing with up close on the frontlines.

We'll talk with some of the nearly one million people, a million forced to leave their homes as well as some who decided, for better or worse, to tough it out.

All that and more tonight in the hour ahead. But first the big picture, at the end of a day that everyone here is hoping will be a turning point.

After four days of seemingly unstoppable flames, finally some hope for the firefighters battling the blazes devastating southern California; lower temperatures, higher humidity and a break in the warm hurricane-force Santa Ana wind gusts that have been driving the fires forward.

So far, seven of the fires have been contained, 15 continue to burn out of control. Nearly a million people have been forced to flee their homes. Thousands remain here in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, waiting, wondering what they have to go home to.

TRUDY MCCUNE, EVACUEE: I feel kind of bad, because I'm hoping that I don't lose my home, but then I feel bad because I know a lot of people have lost their homes.

COOPER: But for others, the wait is over. Here in Rancho Bernardo, one of the hardest hit areas, officials allowed people back for their first glimpse of their now devastated homes.

This was home to Mark and Bobby Davis for 28 years.

MARK DAVIS: We saw pictures of it before so we kind of knew what to expect and I think that really helped out. When we found out that it was definitely gone, it was kind of a hard hit. But we've been able to live with it for a day or two now, so it's not quite as tough as if we just drove up and hoping that we were not there to see it.

COOPER: In some areas, the fires have burned through and moved on, leaving behind little but charred ruins. In others, they continue to burn, shifting direction with the wind.

Tonight, people who thought they were safe from the massive Harris fire in San Diego County are being told the fire is now headed their way and they're facing even more evacuations.

And in the midst of all this destruction came news that was somehow even more chilling. Federal and state police say they believe this fire, the Santiago Canyon fire, was deliberately set and they've begun an arson investigation.

If there are villains, there are many more heroes and everyone it seemed, from the governor to those whose homes were saved, had nothing but praise for the nearly 9,000 firefighters working tirelessly to control the seemingly relentless fires.

MIKE WHEEL, FIRE EVACUEE: They don't even get paid. They're with the Majestic Canyon fire department they don't get paid for what they do. And they saved my house.

COOPER: So far, nearly half a million acres have burned. 1,500 homes had been lost and at the moment there is no end in sight.

No end in sight. More now on the criminal investigation which is under way tonight; the possibility of arson.

CNN's John Zarrella has been talking to sources. He joins us now from the Santiago Canyon fire in Orange County just north of here along with Richard Alarcon, former arson investigator for the City of Orange Fire Department.

First, John, what do we know, what's the latest?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson you can see behind me that's the Santiago Canyon. You can see the night quite clearly, and it is on fire, it is on only 50 percent contained.

There are 2,000 homes threatened, thousands of people evacuated. 600 firefighters working as best they can, 110 vehicles out there. We've seen many of them tonight and all of this apparently because of arson.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department late this afternoon said in fact they do believe that it is arson. And that an investigation has begun. The arson apparently began in three different spots. They found three locations in that ridgeline in both the Santiago and Silverado Canyons, three spots where they believe the fires were deliberately set.

Now late this evening or just earlier this evening, we had word of a $70,000 reward now offered for information leading to the arrest of the individual or individuals responsible for this blaze.

So again, they do believe that this fire here, which has caused all this devastation here, is in fact the work of an arsonist.


COOPER: John thanks for the update. Let's talk to Richard, the arson investigator. Richard, how does an arson investigator pinpoint the origin of a fire?

RICHARD ALARCON, FORMER ARSON INVESTIGATOR: They'll go out to the fire scene and they'll rely on witnesses that were there, the first people that reported the fire. They'll also rely on firefighters, the first firefighters that responded to the scene, what they saw when they got there, weather condition, what was on fire, what was not on fire.

Then they'll go into that area and they'll try and locate any device that may have been used to set the fire or they'll also look for accidental sources that may have been in the area of origin.

If they don't find any accidental sources, then they start looking for devices which could be as simple as a match book with a cigarette in it, road flare, anything that could have been used to set the fire.

COOPER: But doesn't all that stuff just burn up?

ALARCON: Not always. There's always some sort of residue left behind and a good arson investigator knows what to look for. They train for this. They go out and they actually set fires using different devices so they know what to look for when they go into a fire scene.

Often times, the device will fail. They'll use multiple devices, not all of them will activate. There's always some sort of residue left behind. If you ever smoked a cigarette, you know the filter doesn't burn. So they'll find something there usually.

COOPER: And who does this? And what is the profile, is there a profile of a typical arsonist? What motivates them to do this?

ALARCON: Well, a typical serial arsonist is usually a loner. They have low self-esteem, usually have some sort of mental disability. They also don't do well in settings with other people.

So how they react to it is by setting fires. They get their gratification out of setting these fires. They start off usually with small fires and they work their way up to something like this. I think when you find that they catch the individual that set this fire, this isn't going to be this individual's first fire. They've set fires before.

COOPER: And if there's three points of origin, does that mean one person going around to different areas. Does that in fact turn out to be the case or is it multiple -- would it be multiple people? Do people ever work together?

ALARCON: Usually it's just one individual. I don't know all the facts on this case, but three areas of origin I don't know how close they were together; sounds like they were far apart, so they're not related.

So again when firefighters responded, they probably found several different fires going, not connected together. So that's how they came up with the three areas of origin. And then they'll investigate each area as a separate source of ignition.

So they may find the same type of devices in all three locations. You never know what you're going to find until you get in there and actually walk the scene.

COOPER: It's just hard to believe anyone gets their thrill out of setting fires like this. Richard, I appreciate the expertise.

Richard Alarcon and CNN's John Zarrella.

You're looking live now at the Santiago Canyon fire. That thing is just burning, they say it's 50% contained but you can see the flames along that mountainside, especially on the left-hand side of the screen there; very high indeed.

Tracking down an arsonist is not an easy job. Here's the raw data. More than 23,000 wildfires are intentionally set every year; 23,000. Of those, less than 10 percent are solved.

For those who are arrested and convicted face some pretty stiff penalties. In California, a wildfire arsonist can face ten years to life behind bars, plus murder charges if someone is killed. As we know, in the Harris fire, one person has died.

As you heard, it takes a certain kind of person to set a fire. It takes another kind to fight one. When we come back, a day on the lines with the men and women doing their stuff risking their lives to save others.

You're watching a special hour-long edition of "360" live from the fires in Southern California.


COOPER: A mixed picture tonight. Some evacuations orders lifted in and around San Diego, but new ones issued for a number of people living in the path of the Harris fire.

Even though the winds are dying down, they have been unpredictable. And because of that the fire is jumping around, these spot fires are popping up, and that means more work and potentially more danger for the men and women that I spent time with today.

Check it out.

The Harris fire has taken a terrible toll. As of Wednesday morning, more than 73,000 acres have burned and the fire is only 10 percent contained. The sound of burning wood and brush echoes in the canyons. Firefighters are having a hard time getting ahead of the flames.

With resources stretched so thin, it's important for firefighters to prioritize which blazes they're going to address.

Today, crews dug up underbrush, creating fire lines hoping to cut off the quick-moving flames. But small spot fires kept igniting and exhausted crews struggled to catch up.

They're trying to put out spot fires. That's really the big concern today. They can't address the fire directly because the winds are shifting simply too fast. Even though the winds have died down today, they're just trying to address, put out these small little fires, make sure the embers don't keep spreading.

The winds have died down and that's allowed more aircraft to fly, dropping "fuzzcheck" a chemical flame retardant. Wind gusts, however, are still a problem and because of them, firefighters are unable to fight the fire the way they'd like.

If the winds weren't so fast and so high, you could be more aggressive in terms of hitting the actual fire. But right now, you basically just have to play defense?

RON ELDRIDGE, CAPTAIN, CAL FIRE: absolutely. If we didn't have the wind conditions and the humidities that we have, we could put hose on the ground, fight the fire right on the flank of the fire and put it out as we go.

COOPER: More than 450 buildings have been destroyed or damaged so far and that number is growing. This house was too far gone by the time firefighters arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: When we came upon this, this was halfway involved already. We tried to make a save, we determined that it was unsafe.

COOPER: So with a fire like this and there's nothing they can do at this point to save the house. But they're watching it burn to make sure that no spot fires occur, that the wind doesn't carry embers.

That's what happened to this tree over here. They were rushed to put that out quickly because they don't want that to spread to somewhere else.

All they're able to save from this house is the television and a computer.

The Harris fire has killed one person so far, and injured more than two dozen others. With better weather predicted tomorrow, officials hope the worst may be over. But everything depends on these unpredictable winds.

Unpredictable, indeed. Military bases cover a huge chunk of this area, the Marine's Camp Pendleton being the largest and yet they've got fires burning there as well. About 6,000 acres near the coast.

By tomorrow morning, they might be seeing a welcome sight there. A marine layer, no military connection, it is a weather term; moist air coming off the ocean, a big change from those dry Santa Anas. sight tomorrow.

CNN's Chad Myers now with details on the change. He's in the weather center, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Isn't that ironic, with the marine layer how those two words play along. Marine layer is when an area of moisture comes off the Pacific Ocean, obviously very cool water here. If you've ever been surfing in the water it's cool but it has moisture and humidity above it and that humidity moves on shore and it slows down the fire process.

Winds are swirling tonight, but not bad, 5.773 miles per hour. What that swirling will do is it's going to move around the smoke and keep the smoke in the L.A. Basin rather than push it out into the Pacific.

And by Friday, the smoke is going to be blown back into the L.A. Basin and possibly all the way through the inland empire. And maybe you could be smelling smoke from the fires all the way to Phoenix by Friday and into Saturday because the winds may push that far inland, although it will be a slow process, only 5 to 10 miles per hour.

What you'll notice about the fires tonight, when the fires are on a fairly flat land, there are going to be a slow fire. As soon as they hit the ridge here, this fire is like turning a match upside down. You give it a lot more fuel and these flames just take off and the fires take off in big-time speed. Not because of the wind, because there's just more fuel above it.

Then when they get to the ridge top, they slow down and it's another slow descent down the other side. And the firefighters know what ridge going up and what ridge is coming down and they know where to build those firebreaks.


COOPER: Fascinating how it works. It's really like fighting a war. Chad, we'll check in with you throughout the hour.

Up next though, fire forced nearly a million people here in San Diego County from their homes. Some people never left. Rick Sanchez with the story of the man who stayed behind to protect a house, - excuse me, I've got a lot of smoke on me from all day - protect a house that isn't even his. That's coming up next.


COOPER: So far, nearly a million people have evacuated their homes, chased by the fast-moving, wind-driven flames. But in eastern San Diego County where the Harris fire is raging, we found one man who was not running. In fact, he was staying put. You see, he made a promise.

CNN's Rick Sanchez is live in Spring Valley with this story. Rick?

RICK SANCHEZ: We've been following the Harris fire, Anderson and it's about 10 percent contained now; about 73,000 acres burned or burning. Part of the area where it's still burning is a place called Deerhorn valley.

We got a chance to go up there today with some of the firefighters with Cal Fire as they like to say. And they took us into an area where we saw huge flames and we wondered if the people were going to get out.

Cal Fire tells us yes. This is under a mandatory evacuation right now. So we saw most of the people leaving or most of the homes empty. But then we saw a lone figure in the distance. We're trying to figure out who that was. And we were wondering who would stay in conditions like these?

Well, we got a chance to get up close and personal. We are going to find out exactly why he was there.

Here now is his story.

We were just talking to this gentleman here and he says. I don't think he speaks English. I was talking to him in Spanish and I told him, look, this is a mandatory evacuation area now. he nodded his head as if he understood, but I'm not quite sure he got it.

So we're going to come out here and see if we can have a conversation with him.

Is this your house, you live here? You live right there? I see. Are the homeowners there too?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

So they left you here in charge to take care of their animals. Are you concerned about the fact that there's a mandatory evacuation? So you're okay? So what are your instructions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: They told you to put water on the home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: You're feeling okay, because the firefighters are here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: If the firefighters weren't here, you would have left already?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: No, you wouldn't leave because you feel like you owe it to the folks who hired you to take care of their animals. Don't you feel bad that the homeowners left but left you by yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: You did the same thing in 2003 with the other fire, you stayed here as well? Are you okay with that? They're not as concerned about you but they're worried about themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: You told them you would stay. So you volunteered?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking in Spanish)

SANCHEZ: Good luck.

That's amazing, they cut out a baseball field. The baseball field has no grass; it's a diamond-shaped thing, Anderson, as I'm sure you've seen plenty of times but because it's like that, there's no vegetation on it. So the fire is burning all around.

There's a real good chance that the home that they left him to take care of could possibly go. But that area in there will probably serve almost as a bull, as we were talking about last night. And these firefighters said there's a good chance that if he stays right in the middle of that, he will probably survive. The smoke might be tough but he's going to stay there throughout the night.

It's an amazing story; back to you Anderson.

COOPER: It's remarkable. The firefighters in the Harris County -- at the Harris fire today were telling me by law homeowners are supposed to have a hundred feet of cleared area around their home to allow firefighters in this kind of a situation to fight the fires.

Not all the people, though, follow that law and that's what causes trouble when there's a lot of material that can burn very close to the house.

You know there are several other stories beyond southern California that we're following tonight. Let's get a quick check with Gary Tuchman with the 360 News and Business Bulletin. Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN: Anderson, hello to you. The State Department's chief of diplomatic security has resigned under apparent pressure from the growing Blackwater scandal. Richard Griffin did not mention Blackwater nor did he give an explanation for his decision but it comes a day after a critical state department report found there was poor oversight of the private security guards protecting diplomats in Iraq.

The war on terror could cost $2.4 trillion by 2017, that's ten years from now. The price tag comes from a congressional report released today. More than 70 percent of the money would support operations in Iraq. But the total cost works out to about $21,500 per American household.

On Wall Street, a wild Wednesday. Stocks fell and staged a late- day comeback to finish flat. The Dow closing down slightly. The Nasdaq lost 24. The S&P fell three.

And a preliminary inspection of the shuttle "Discovery" gives the all clear. The crew found no significant problems with cracks beneath shuttle's protective coating. Just to be sure, more inspections are planned. "Discovery" docks with the international space station tomorrow scheduled for 8:33 eastern time. That's 5:33 Pacific time so set your alarm clock.

COOPER: All right, Gary, thanks very much. Cnn will be covering that.

Up next on "360," one on one with California's governor. The action start turned politician is getting rave reviews for his handling of this disaster. There're also some critics. We're going to hear from the governor next.


COOPER: You're looking at pictures of the Santiago fire about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Officials suspect this is an arson fire and are now offering a $70,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in this area earlier today meeting with survivors and evacuees. He promised to deal harshly, that's the word he used, with anyone responsible for setting the fire.

In the meantime, he's reaching out to his constituents using tools that he picked up in nearby Hollywood.

Here's chief national correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: His crisis management celebrity style. A hands-on governor who says he learned a powerful lesson watching the angry aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R) CALIFORNIA: I think the most important thing is don't sit around in your office and try to make decisions out of the office. You've got to be with the people. That's the most important thing.

KING: Schwarzenegger tells CNN he believes President Bush learned his lesson, too. SCHWARZENEGGER: I think if the federal government does not really play ball with us or they're not good partners, I complain immediately. But in this particular case, I can tell you, I was really surprised, pleasantly surprised how quickly the president picked up the phone, called me in the middle of my first briefing.

KING: His star power helps and he knows it. As he travels the state nothing but praise in public even from Democrats who thought little of the action movie star's political skills when he decided to move from Hollywood to Sacramento.

From the people of California that I've observed over these last three days, they appreciate your leadership.

KING: Not that there aren't critics. One complaint is the delay getting Air National Guard firefighting planes in the air.

Others have said the state was slow to answer the phone or to issue the orders.

SCHWARZENEGGER: We could not use some of this equipment and some of the aircrafts because of the wind conditions so that was our big disadvantage.

KING: another question is whether the state is wrong to implement large seasonal layoffs of firefighters. Schwarzenegger says it's a question of resources and priorities.

SCHWARZENEGGER: There's no way that you can just let people sit and wait for a disaster like this to happen. I think that this is a real situation here.

KING: Some California Democrats and others back in Washington dragged Iraq into the wildfire debate, saying the California National Guard lacks resources because of units and equipment deployed in the Middle East. Not so says the governor.

SCHWARZENEGGER: So it has absolutely nothing to do with it. We have plenty of National Guards for this kind of natural disasters and there will be plenty of them available.

KING: Schwarzenegger worries a once seasonal wildfire problem is a now year round threat.

SCHWARZENEGGER: We have noticed because of climate that the fires start much earlier and we had many more fires this year than in the past. So I think there's definitely something going on with the global warming.

KING: At the moment though, his worries are more immediate. He keeps being told the weather is about to get better. Yet also keeps being told the number of acres burning and families displaced is growing.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I have heard that the weather is going to change today. But I wouldn't, you know, trust my life with that information. KING: What he does trust is his instincts and his star power.

COOPER: John, I understand the governor is going to spend some time tomorrow with the president, yes?

KING: He will, Anderson. And the governor in that interview said that he was "really surprised, pleasantly surprised" that he got a phone call from President Bush so early in this crisis. He said Mr. Bush interrupted one of his first briefings on the fire to promise any and all federal assistance. So he says he's very happy with the federal response; believes the president has learned the painful lesson of hurricane Katrina.

But we also are told by state government source that the governor is disappointed in the president's itinerary. The president will go into the neighborhood you are in tonight, we are told. Or a neighborhood to see some of the devastation, perhaps encounter some of the families coming and get some briefings.

But the governor's office wanted him to go into Qualcomm Stadium, wanted him to go in and see some of the families who have been displaced, an effort they thought will help the president put behind him the painful political price he paid Katrina. But we are told, Anderson, the White House said no. The president would not do that.

COOPER: Interesting. John King, we'll see what happens tomorrow. Thanks very much, John.

I want to show you some of what if President Bush is in fact coming to this neighborhood tomorrow, show you some of what he's going to see tomorrow.

This is just one of the homes that's been destroyed in this park. This is a Mercedes, I think it's an S-500. You can see it did not fare very well. You get just a sense of how powerful the heat is, how strong these flames are. Look at this window. The glass just - it's literally melted - it melted like plastic almost. That's all glass.

And then you come over here. I mean obviously the inside - watch it as you step down there - the inside of this car is just completely gone. But check this out. These tires have all burned off and the metal has even melted.

We think this comes from the steel around the tires. These are the radials right here. The heat on these flames, it moves so fast, it is just so powerful.

The house of course is completely destroyed. The homeowner came by here a couple hours ago. She was obviously very upset. Some are just being allowed back. And it was the first time today that they were allowed back. They were allowed about 10, 15 minutes.

There's concern about some loose gas lines in this area. But look at that home. It is just completely destroyed; the chimney is just about the only thing left standing. And there are many homes in this cul-de-sac which are like that. It's very hard for people here to come home and obviously see the situation like this. Similar situations in Lake Arrowhead; there has been a lot of devastation. The fires there are coming under some control.

When we come back, we're going show you the devastation they have left behind. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Normally a small spot fire like this wouldn't be a cause for much concern, because there's a road right here, it's very unlikely this fire can actually jump over the road, it's simply not big enough. So this fire should just die out.

But the winds are shifting now on the eastern side of the Harris fire and that's a cause for concern. A spot fire like this is something firefighters need to even jump on and extinguish because the embers from a fire like this can be picked up by these changing winds and blow hundreds of feet all the way toward a house like that and set it on fire.

A look at what fire crews are facing in the Harris fire in San Diego County. That was on the eastern edge of the Harris fire today. Those spot fires are a huge cause of concern and I got to tell you, the firefighters, the crews are working so hard, literally around the clock.

They've been out there, little sleep, little food at times, few supplies. They're out there digging fire lines, bringing water to the blaze. It is remarkable seeing up close what they are doing day in and day out without much fanfare.

Now we want to take you northeast to San Bernardino County, the Lake Arrowhead area where two fires are still burning. More than 500 homes have been lost, 10,000 homes still threatened.

Ted Rowlands shows us how firefighters there are trying to save houses one at a time.


TED ROWLANDS, CORRESPONDENT: The traumatic images of the aftermath shows the devastation, but watch and you'll see these homes were not lost without a fight.

We were along with a group of three firefighters when they came across an empty house in the path of approaching flames. The firefighters don't have a fire truck. They pull a hose from an SUV hooking it up to a nearby fire hydrant as the flames approach.

With help from a water dropping helicopter, the firefighters push back a wall of wind-whipped flames coming up towards the home. Eventually, they save the house and unfortunately they couldn't save them all.

Henry and Adele Robinson's house was destroyed.

ADELE ROBINSON, EVACUEE: We got in the car and left with nothing. You know, everything -- I don't know, I didn't think it would come down that far.

ROWLANDS: The Robinson's are waiting with 2,700 others in an evacuation center. Henry is a carpenter. they left with the clothes on their back and their new puppy.

A. ROBINSON: He had just gotten a new chainsaw and a few new disk sanders and just those few little precious things, you know. And now, again, they're gone, you know?

ROWLANDS: Although they haven't seen it yet, this is what's left of their home. They have been told their home is gone.

A. ROBINSON: He has a truck up there, but --

ROWLANDS: Over 500 homes have been leveled in the Lake Arrowhead area, 10,000 people are still evacuated. Firefighters are still battling to get control. The Robinsons, like hundreds of others up here, say they don't know what they're going to do next.

A. ROBINSON: We've got a car. We've got a new dog. And we got each other.


COOPER: Ted, I know smoke was a big problem there today. What are the conditions like tonight and what are they expecting tomorrow?

ROWLANDS: Late today, they were able to fly helicopters and fixed wing planes. Smoke was a huge problem today they couldn't fly at all until late today. They were able to accomplish a lot and then they're hoping to hit it hard again tomorrow.

But right now the fire is behind us about half a mile and they're hoping to attack it early in the morning and hoping smoke won't be an issue.

COOPER: Let's hope so. Ted, thanks.

Up next, Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the front lines with emergency personnel who are putting their lives at risk as well to help fire victims.

Also coming up at the top of the hour, a special edition of "Larry King Live" and then we'll be back with a special 1:00 a.m. edition of "360."

We'll be right back.


JESSICA SARGENT, EVACUEE: The air quality seemed to be really bad. The sky was yellow instead of blue. The sun was red. It just didn't seem right.

COOPER: Air quality concerns and other medical problems as well. People concerned about that there have been dozens of report of injuries. And behind the numbers are countless more who sought medical help from the region's emergency rooms. What happens when the hospital becomes the victim, however?

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside an ER that found itself smack-dab in the middle of the fire's path.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Over the past few days, firemen and paramedics working overtime.

So as soon as we basically got to the fire station here, they immediately got a call for medical aid. And this is just what's happening all the time here. Lots of vehicles basically going out on a medical aid call. We're going see what we find.

I'm just looking at the computer screen here. It's a 56-year-old woman with a life-threatening emergency. That's all we know right now.

Shauna looks okay. She has a normal heart rate, normal breathing but something catches the EMT's attention. That's a red flag. The paramedics whisk her off to Scripps Memorial Encinitas.

It's lucky for her the hospital is even still there, because when a town catches fire, sometimes its hospital gets caught in the path.

So this hospital is potentially in the path of a fire?


GUPTA: George Rodriguez is the head of the emergency room at Scripps Memorial.

RODRIGUEZ: At some point you have to decide to either evacuate or we don't evacuate. They have us on standby so we are ready to go if anything should happen.

GUPTA: At the last moment, the winds changed. And Scripps Memorial remained open. That's obviously a good thing for Shauna. And also for Annette McCauley. Get this, this is her second time here because of wildfires.

ANNETTE MCCAULEY, PATIENT: I was actually working and caught in the fires in 2003.

GUPTA: Is the air quality in southern California always going to be sort of not great because of these wildfires?

RODRIGUEZ: There's always that problem with fires. GUPTA: A lot of people are pretty curious about just how toxic this air is. You can sort of see the haze out there. I was curious about it as well.

You can actually measure it with this, it's called a particle counter. I'm actually looking at the numbers here, outside you have about 16 million particles per cubic foot. To give you a scale of reference it should normally be about a million. It's about 16 times higher than normal outside right now.

Inside the hospital, it got up to a million where normal is about 100,000; so 10 times higher in the hospital as well. That's what's happening with the air both inside and outside hospitals in San Diego.

For now it appears this hospital is going to stay open. But that air is going to make sure they stay busy.


COOPER: Sanjay joins me now. What are the long-term effects of exposure to like the smoke going to be?

GUPTA: You know it's interesting because people think about it in the short-term certainly. But what we learned is all that ash and soot not only gets into the air and high up into the air, but into the water supply as well.

COOPER: Really, I didn't think about that.

GUPTA: So it can pollute the water supply. And when it gets into the air, it can take four to five weeks for it to settle back down. So people are going to return to their home, but not recognizing or maybe not taking as much care as they should over the next month. But they should definitely do that, because the soot and small particles that we have been talking about, they can embed themselves deep in lungs.

COOPER: So should they wear masks?

GUPTA: Here's the think about masks. The dust masks the same ones you buy at hardware stores probably aren't good enough to filter out those microns, those small particles and you have to get that really tight seal across the nose if you do wear one. Look for something that says "N-95" for example. That filters out 95 percent of the smallest particles, your best bet if you're going to wear one.

COOPER: We should probably have some.

GUPTA: I know.

COOPER: Now that you're saying this, I've been coughing all day.

Sanjay, appreciate it.

It's not just people in danger. Up next, the horse savers; how a community came together to get the animals out of harm's way, when "360" continues live from California.

COOPER: In events like this, I tend to overuse the word "surreal". But in southern California right now, the images you see every day are downright surreal. We're going to share some of them with you. Something from our I-report or your I-reports.

On the radar, this photo is from Brett in Fallbrook, California. It is the ruins of a trailer park damaged from the Rise fire. Brett says it was hard to breathe in the area and when he got home and took a shower, his tub was black, literally black, from all the ash, you can imagine.

From Michael in Dana Point, a cell phone photo of him fleeing the flames in lakeside after helping evacuate friends as well as family members. So many people helping out, that in the side mirror.

In Ocean Beach, California, Josh spotted this sign, a nice message for evacuees, it reads, "Evacuees welcome to Ocean Beach. Anything you need, just ask. OB Love"

And another photo from Fallbrook, Dana sent in this I-report. A firefighter taking a much-needed break as five helicopters dropped water on the wildfire. This hero is from Richmond and made the eight to nine hour trip to help out; a lot of firefighters from all around the country helping out here.

To submit a photo or share your thoughts on the fires, go to and go to the link to the blog.

We'll go back to the Harris fire. People aren't the only ones running from the flames seeking shelter, the hills around here are horse country and tonight some of those horses and their owners have found refuge on a patch of grass better known for horsehide and stitching and actual horses on the hoof.

CNN's Dan Simon explains.


LINDSAY JEFFERS: She's just my little girl.\

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On a normal day, high school senior Lindsay Jeffers would just be wrapping up third period. Instead, she's having to care for her family's three horses.

What a gorgeous animal. What is this one's name?

JEFFERS: This is Stretch.

SIMON: Her home threatened by fire, she and her friend corralled the animals and looked for a safe place to keep them. It turns out a lot of other horse owners had the same predicament. The fire came within a mile of their evacuation point, but this quiet green pasture place so to speak has been rendered safe.

I'm standing at what is normally home plate of this YMCA baseball field but today it's home to these 36 horses. The people here got everything they needed from volunteers, including 20 bails of hay.

The ball park has become a tight knit community. Many here unsure if their homes are still standing.

CAROL JEFFERS: Somebody pinch me and wake me up. This isn't happening.

SIMON: This is Lindsey's mother. Her father can't be here.

C. JEFFERS: This is my husband. He's on the fire department. I know yesterday he saved four homes and he just went back out on another strike team about a half hour ago.

SIMON: The two of them and some friends sleep in this RV.

C. JEFFERS: We can get four in here comfortably. We'll probably have to put someone on the floor with the dogs.

SIMON: Make that three dogs, two cats and a gecko. They put him in the shower. Lindsey is proud of her dad but wishes he could be here.

L. JEFFERS: It's really hard. You know, I really miss him but I know that he's doing all that he can.

SIMON: So for now, she finds comfort with her horses; and prays that she and they have a home to go back to.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Diego.


COOPER: We'll be back in an hour with another live edition.