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Largest Evacuation in California's History

Aired October 24, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, the breaking news we're following, the largest evacuation in California's history approaching one million people right now, tonight their very personal trauma struggling to cope with losing everything in the wildfires; we're going to hear this hour from the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Also on the front lines of California burning, CNN's Anderson Cooper standing by to join us live, firefighters in the heat of the battle right now, their challenge and their stories, Anderson has it.

And scarred by the flames, California's burn victims are in need of immediate medical attention. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he is standing by live to show us how they're being treated.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, easing winds and rising hopes out of the flames and ashes of southern California. The fires that spread so quickly over the past three days now are slowing as Santa Ana winds die down. Some evacuees are being allowed back into their communities that had been off-limits. Right now the number of active fires across southern California is down to 15, seven fires have been contained. More than 900,000 people, though, almost a million have still been forced to evacuate.

Almost 1,500 homes already have been destroyed. And we're told just a short while ago, San Diego Gas and Electric averted what's being described as a major crisis. It came within moments of suffering a massive power outage to the entire area. CNN correspondents are standing by across the region to keep all of us up to the minute on California burning.

Let's go out there. One of the communities very hard-hit by these wild fires, that's where CNN's Ted Rowlands is standing by in Running Springs, California. It looks awful behind you, Ted. Update our viewers on what we know right now.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now they are flying again. We're in the Lake Arrowhead region. For a while they had to suspend all the flights because of all of the smoke. The winds are down, you can see that. The problem, this has been a battle that's been raging for days. Unfortunately hundreds and hundreds of homes, as you can see behind me, are completely destroyed.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): The dramatic 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 hose from an SUV, hooking up to a nearby fire hydrant as the flames approach.

With help from a water-dropping helicopter, the firefighters push back the wall of wind-whipped flames coming up towards the home. Eventually they save the house. Unfortunately they couldn't save them all. Henrietta Del Robinson's (ph) house was destroyed.


ROWLANDS: And we're having a little trouble with the piece. The Robinson (ph) family we're introducing you to, they are at a shelter right now, Wolf. This behind me is their house. They haven't seen it yet, but this is what's left of it, and this is a story that's being told over and over again in this area in southern California. And it will be told over the next few days and weeks.

People can't come up here yet. And it will be some time before evacuees are allowed back, even to regions where the threat of fire is over. Because there are so many hazards, down power lines et cetera, in these regions so these people are going to have to sit tight and just hope for the best. Unfortunately, a lot of them are going to come back and see this.

BLITZER: What's the latest on the air assaults that have been coming in? They've been dropping water and repellent. I know they've had some problems over the past few hours. What do we know right now in the area where you are, Ted?

ROWLANDS: They're back in the air. We had a suspension of about three hours because of the intense smoke. This is a mountainous region. They were not able to make those water drops, so they suspended the air assault, which is a huge setback because now with the winds down, this was an opportunity to really take advantage of it. They are flying again now. We're hearing the helicopters. That's great news and hopefully they're going to make a real impact here while they have the chance.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands on the scene for us. Thanks Ted.

An aerial view of the fire zone shows just how unpredictable the path of flames and destruction can be. The largest blaze, the so- called Witch fire wiping out some homes in San Diego, yet leaving others untouched. Some people say they're so desperate for news, they're calling their home phone machines, and if they get an answer, they figure all is not necessarily lost.

Reporter Alex Roth of the "San Diego Union-Tribune" got a firsthand look at the devastation of this Witch fire. He says paths of one wealthy community were completely incinerated. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF ALEX ROTH, "SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE": If your house caught on fire, odds are there's absolutely nothing left. You know there's nothing anybody could do about it. I mean, this fire was going to do what it was going to do, and everybody just had to get out of the way.


BLITZER: Firefighters battling the Harris blaze in San Diego County spent the day putting out spot fires. CNN's Anderson Cooper spent part of the day with them. What was it like, Anderson, to be on the front lines?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we were on the eastern edge of the Harris fire. And it was all about putting out those spot fires. You heard Ted Rowlands talking about them not being able to get some air assets for a certain time today. They were able to use air assets pretty well today as the winds died down on the eastern edge of the Harris fire, bringing in water and flame retardant, but those winds were shifting in directions.

It was a very tricky situation for the firefighters who are exhausted. I mean a lot of them have been on the line for some 32 hours or more without relief. They are still out there working the line, digging fire trenches, battling these spot fires. And these spot fires though they're small and not as dramatic-looking as some of the fires we've seen over the last several days, they are important to stamp out as quickly as possible, because with these shifting winds, those spot fires, the embers from them can get picked up in those winds and blown onto the roof of a house and then all of a sudden the house will just burn to the ground.

So firefighters work very hard, as soon as they see a spot fire, they run to that location, but it's a game of whack-a-mole. It's very difficult. They're really fighting a defensive position right now. They're not able to go on the offense against the fire itself. They're basically fighting these tangential fires, the spot fires, and trying to defend houses wherever they can and obviously defend lives as well.

That's the first priority, but they're not able to as aggressively go after the main fire, which is what they want to do and which is what they're going to have to do in order to bring this thing down. The Harris fire is only some 10 percent contained at last count, Wolf.

BLITZER: And these firefighters are real heroes. How are they holding up under a really, really long day? Some of them are working 20 hours, if not more.

COOPER: You know I don't know how they're doing it. I mean they are -- but they're doing it. And they're out there still. I mean the heat -- and when you're -- you know when you're next to these fires as we were today, I mean it makes it two or three times worse than just the hot air that's out there. They are exhausted.

They're trying to pace themselves as much as possible. These are professionals; they have done this a long time. They have seen a lot of fires, but just about every one of them today would say they haven't seen anything like this, certainly not since 2003 with the fire they saw here.

BLITZER: Anderson thanks very much. Anderson is going to have a lot more coming up at the top of the hour, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition live "AC 360" from the front lines.

Take a look at this. You can see the flames that are continuing in Santiago Canyon in California right now. These are live pictures we're seeing, but take a look at this. This is tape now, because only moments ago the smoke emanating from that canyon, it's so powerful, you can barely see anything as a result of that. You can imagine how it's impacting people's ability to breathe, especially elderly people and others with ailments, the smoke so, so strong. Many of the evacuees in the San Diego area, right now they're still hunkered down in major numbers over at the Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium. That's where CNN's Kyra Phillips is joining us. Kyra, you grew up in this area. This story becomes very, very personal for you.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And it started, Wolf, when I was flying into Lindbergh Field looking outside the air craft and seeing basically my hometown on fire, places where I grew up, places where I used to participate in Girl Scouts and all types of outdoor activity, all of it on fire, and then I got here to Qualcomm Stadium. It used to be Jack Murphy Stadium (ph) when I was growing up, Wolf. I watched the Padres play here, the Chargers play here, even so my first concert, and it's literally gone from an entertainment facility to a massive shelter for thousands of people that have no idea what is going to happen to their homes. I had a chance to talk to a couple of people, including some of the younger ones.


RICHARD KUHLMAN, EVACUEE: It's almost ridiculously embarrassing compared to what we heard about Katrina and all the lack of integration here. Here it's phenomenal. It is overkill, but who's complaining?

TONY HUANG, EVACUEE: When I saw all of Carmel Valley having to be evacuated, I'm like...

PHILLIPS: We got to go.


HUANG: So...

PHILLIPS: What do you think of Qualcomm Stadium here? Are you OK here?

HUANG: Yeah.

PHILLIPS: What are the highlights?

HUANG: Well, it's really like it is OK, not that bad. Well, I know we're safe here, but just don't know the news reports about our homes.

PHILLIPS: Are you worried about your home?

HUANG: Yeah.


PHILLIPS: Oh, heart -- Wolf, it was little boys like Tony that just broke your heart. But they have great facilities here for the kids. They have arts and crafts and ways to occupy the kids. They're playing games and then of course there is the serious medical facility for the elderly that are here getting oxygen and medical care, and even things like acupuncture, meditation and yoga, A.A. meetings, I mean Wolf, it's incredible all the resources that are here. And you look at this versus what we experienced in Katrina, it's unbelievable. It's night and day.

BLITZER: How is your family? I know your dad is out there, Kyra. How's your family doing?

PHILLIPS: Oh they're doing well. And of course that was my first concern. Luckily the house is OK at this point. A lot of my friends have been evacuated. My journalism teacher from high school, she lived out in Ramona, she had horses. They had to evacuate, Wolf. It's been tough for them, so it's affecting a lot of folks, but you did mention -- you saw my father earlier in the newscast, he's been out here volunteering his time translating for the Hispanic community.

He was a professor in Spanish at San Diego State and then my mom in deaf education, so they're out here helping the deaf community as well. So I have a pretty amazing family that's taking part in helping out. So it's great to be here, great to be able to cover the positive part of what San Diegoans are doing to try and help all the evacuees.

BLITZER: Kyra, give our love to your parents. Thanks very much for joining us, Kyra Phillips on the scene back in her hometown.

And if you'd like to watch continuing coverage of these California fires from your laptop, easy way to do it, check out our online network at You can choose from multiple live feeds or from our wide selection of videos as well, all of that at

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, not exactly breaking news here. The American people doubt our foreign policy is working, and more troubling is this. They're increasingly skeptical that anything can turn the situation around. Those are the results of the confidence in U.S. foreign policy index. It was put out by a nonpartisan group called Public Agenda, along with the publication "Foreign Affairs". This loss of faith in many strategies to improve national security applies to a wide range of efforts including those considered hawkish and dovish and everything in between. The findings also include what's called an anxiety indicator, which stands at 136 on a scale of 1 to 200, a score of 150 would translate to a complete collapse of public support for U.S. policy.

Here are some of the numbers. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed worry about how things are going for the U.S. when it comes to world affairs. Seventy-nine percent say the world is becoming more dangerous for the United States and its people. Seventy-four percent say the U.S. is not doing a good job as a leader in creating a more peaceful world.

Sixty-five percent say U.S. relations with the rest of the world are on the wrong track, and 64 percent say the rest of the world sees us negatively. So here's the question -- what does it say about U.S. foreign policy when many Americans doubt it's working at all or that it can even be fixed. E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Thousands seeking shelter at a fairground north of San Diego, but it's not easy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very stressful, very stressful. We're going to go home now. We're told that the fire in our area is under control. So it's just nerve-racking.


BLITZER: Even Marines from Camp Pendleton are forced to retreat from the flames.

Also our Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a close look at the burn center where some of the most severely injured victims of these fires are now being treated.

And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is leading his state's response to the fires. Is he replaying his role as an action hero? We're going to be hearing from Governor Schwarzenegger this hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Among the most severely injured victims of the California fires are those with terrible, terrible burns. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta got a look at some of the victims, some of those victims are in pretty bad shape. Walk us through, Sanjay, what you saw earlier in the day.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you know, some of them are pretty bad off, Wolf. Burns can be some of the most horrific injuries as you might imagine. And just the heat that is generated from wildfires, much different, much higher than like stove fires or domestic injuries, third-degree burns, that's when the entire skin is gone.

That's what a lot of these patients are suffering. About nine patients are in the critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit that you're looking at there at the University of California San Diego. Wolf, it's really the only burn center in the entire county so, so many of the worst injuries, the sickest of the sick are being sent there. About seven of them are in fair condition, one in good condition.

A few of them had just second-degree burns. But let me just tell you, Wolf, really quick, a 15-year-old boy was actually trying to run away from the blaze. He fell down and the blaze just sort of overtook his body, had about 60 percent of his body burned, so some pretty bad injuries there, Wolf.

BLITZER: What kind of treatment is usually needed for these kinds of burn victims?

GUPTA: You know it's very standardized treatment and that's the good news, is that burn centers treat these patients in a very systematic way. If they are third-degree burns, obviously those are the worst. The first one or two days is just making sure, just accessing how bad the burns are, making sure to replace I.V. fluids. When you lose so much skin, you're just losing fluids quickly, Wolf.

You've got to replace that, also giving antibiotics so people don't get infections. After that in the next couple of days, you've got to just really assess the burns, sometimes they actually get worse over time, so making sure you know just how bad they are and then comes the process, Wolf, the important process of removing some of that charred skin and putting down skin grafts, sometimes first from cadavers, but eventually that skin comes from other places in your own body, sometimes they use various skin substitutes, but that's a long process, Wolf. That can take days and weeks for sure.

BLITZER: And you know we always are aware of the burns on the skin on the outer parts of the body, but these burns can affect the internal organs as well.

GUPTA: Yes, very crucial point, Wolf, specifically when it comes to the lungs. We're not talking about just to the mouth and the trachea there, but talking about actually causing burns deep inside the lungs. You might get a sense -- people might have burns around their mouths. They might have soot around their mouth.

That's a signal. That's a clue to doctors to look deeper. And sometimes they actually have to look with an endoscope down into the lungs to see if there's any damage to those areas of the lungs. If someone has inhalational damage deep to the lungs, it increases their likelihood of mortality, of dying from their injuries by about 50 percent, so that's something doctors are very vigilant about as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta on the front lines for us. Thanks Sanjay very much. Smoke, ashes and potentially dangerous debris, these fires are spewing all that in the air, and many people are wearing breathing masks, but not all provide the same protection. The American Lung Association says ordinary dust masks filter out only large particles and provide little help in these kinds of situations. Instead, experts recommend masks with what are called HPPA filters that block out much smaller particles. And experts warn people with respiratory problems to check with a doctor.

The fires are putting a double strain on some members of the U.S. military who are helping with emergency efforts. And Marines from Camp Pendleton in southern California are among the evacuees themselves. Let's head out to Brian Todd. He's on the scene for us in Del Mar Fairgrounds watching all of this unfold. Brian, tell our viewers what you saw today.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're at an evacuation facility that's near Camp Pendleton. It is near a lot of the areas where the fires are burning right now. This facility was thrust into this role very, very quickly and right now it is supporting victims from all walks of life.


TODD (voice-over): This place was supposed to shelter only animals, but after just one day, people started pouring into this sprawling complex. From infants to the elderly, nearly 2,000 now occupy the Del Mar Fairgrounds. We came here from Camp Pendleton, a massive Marine base dealing with several fires. So did Leticia Deckert, a young Marine wife. Doctors say her 3-month-old daughter may have asthma. Even here she can't escape the smoke from these fires and Leticia has one thing on her mind.

LETICIA DECKERT, EVACUEE: I hope I'm making the right decision to keep her safe. It's been stressful, very stressful. We're going to go home now. We're told the fires in our area are under control, so it's just nerve-racking.

TODD: Also nerve-racking for Tom and Joyce Leegler (ph). For years Tom has been hobbled by a stroke. Their house is only four miles away from here in Rancho Santa Fe, but they're not allowed back. They watch TV, look at lists of burned and saved houses, still no news about their home. How does this 80-year-old deal with the uncertainty?

TOM LEEGLER, EVACUEE: We don't have much longer to live. And our home can be replaced. Financially we can -- living in this area we can rebuild, but I don't know if I want to go through all of that again with the short life we have ahead.


TODD: Very fatalistic attitude, but for Tom and a lot of people here, their lives have been thrown into chaos and that's all they can really think about. One other note on Leticia Deckert, that young Marine wife, her husband just got back from Iraq, where he's been deployed now three times. With all that she's going through she's just glad he's here so they can get through this part together -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian thanks very much. Brian Todd on the scene for us in California.

And if you'd like to help victims of the wildfire ravaging southern California, you certainly can through our "Impact Your World" initiative. Just go to, take action right now.

Some of the land threatened by the fires is horse country and getting those horses out of harm's way, sheltered and fed, is by no means easy. We'll tell you what is going on.

Also, what some people come home to, a neighborhood north of San Diego simply devastated as if it was hit by a massive bomb. We're going to show you the stunning images of the fire's destruction. That and a lot more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Look at this video that is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from Rancho Bernardo. These people were allowed to come back to take a look at what used to be their beautiful home. They're walking around. They're looking at it, clearly devastated, and other neighbors looking at their homes as well. They've been allowed just to come back in to see if there's anything they can salvage from clearly, clearly this horrible situation.

We'll get back to the fires in a moment. Carol Costello is off today. Brianna Keilar though is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Turkish military launching ground and air offensives against Kurdish rebels on both sides of the Turkish/Iraqi border. That's according to a Turkish news agency. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a NATO meeting in the Netherlands says he sees little sense in such Turkish strikes until more is known about where the rebels are.

And the space shuttle crew is now looking for any possible damage "Discovery" may have suffered during launch. An inspection today using lasers and digital cameras didn't turn up anything to cause concern. Inspections of course are now standard in the wake of the "Columbia" disaster which was caused by a hole in the left wing.

And back here in Washington, take a look at this, an antiwar protester, her hands painted blood-red rushing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling her a quote, "war criminal". This happened as Rice was appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Police removed the protester and Rice showed little reaction.

And also here's Vice President Dick Cheney apparently nodding off during a cabinet meeting as President Bush was being briefed about the California wildfires. A Cheney spokeswoman just laughed it off, saying quote, "the vice president is taking up meditation" -- a funny response there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very funny, indeed. All right, thanks very much, Brianna Keilar.

Tonight the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is front and center in the fire zone. Was he prepared to deal with such an enormous disaster? Our John King caught up with the governor just a short while ago -- that interview coming up.

And in the midst of a massive evacuation of people, horses are also threatened by the fires, as well as a lot of pets. We're going to take a closer look at what people are doing out there to save their lives.

And Senator Barbara Boxer of California gives her early assessment of whether the federal government is giving her state the help it needs. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: I want to show you these live pictures that are just coming in Santiago Canyon. Take a look at this. You see it right there. These are pictures of the flames that seem to be escalating in this area, not far from a residential area. We're watching these areas very, very closely.

And also we're just being told about 200 people are being told they need to evacuate in another are. More information on some reverse-911 systems phone calls to alert homeowners of the greater need to evacuate.

We're watching all of these stories unfold.

Let's get back though to our top story regarding one of the California wildfires. Officials now think someone may have started it intentionally.

Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena is standing by.

Kelli, what's making these officials so suspicious that arson may have started one of these large wildfires.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, Orange County sheriff's office says there is an arson investigation under way involving that Santiago fire. Now, officials say that they have identified more than one point of origin for that fire, which makes them suspicious.

And we've learned, Wolf, the ATF is going to offer at least a 50,000 reward to anyone with information. The reward could go higher as other law enforcement agencies kick in some money. Now all of that, of course, would have to lead up to an arrest.

Right now the FBI has evidence response teams searching for clues. The ATF has its national response teams on the job. Those are made up of criminal investigators, scientists, engineers, all of this to assist local authorities.

Now that Santiago fire, Wolf, has burned more than 19,000 acres. It's destroyed at least 17 structures, and as you said, I mean, this could very well have been the result of someone doing this intentionally.

BLITZER: If that's the case we hope they catch this guy or these guys obviously.

Kelli, thanks very much.

Tonight on the front lines of the California inferno, firefighters are clearly exhausted. Evacuees are emotional. Every home saved is a cause for celebration, and sometimes for tearful thank-yous. Listen to this man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just actually back to my house. I lost my garage, which was on the upper side of the property and I lost a deck, which was on the other side of the house.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The main part of the house is OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is OK. You know just hats off to the crew.

OPPENHEIM: You're emotional just because they saved your house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys they don't even get paid. They don't even get paid. The Majeska Canyon Fire Department, they don't get paid for what they do and they saved my house.

BLITZER: The California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will personally show President Bush the devastation when the president visits southern California tomorrow. Schwarzenegger out once again today, saying the most important thing is for him to be with the people of California right now.

Our chief national correspondent John King caught up with the governor earlier today.

You had a chance to speak with him. What did he say, John?

JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, spent much of the day with the governor. It's a bit of watching a celebrity handle crisis management. One of the criticisms has been though that perhaps in the early hours, the California state government, meaning Governor Schwarzenegger, was slow to put in the air some of the California air National Guard planes equipped to fight fires. They sat on tarmacs as the fire spread quickly in the early hours. So I put the question to the governor, are you to blame at all, sir, for what some say is a slow state response?


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It's very clear that we had a big disadvantage because of the winds. You know we had 90 aircraft here in California. We had six additional aircraft from the federal government that can drop a huge load of water and chemicals and all this, but we could not use some of the equipment and some of those aircraft because of the wind conditions.

So that was our big disadvantage, but we had, you know, I think all the stuff that we need. You know, the resources and there's a question also should they be updated, some of the airplanes? Yes, they can, but it's a question of money always.

In the meantime I think they're all flying well. I think if they can do the job, they can drop the water, they can put out the fires. We were just very unfortunate that we had the weather conditions that had dry, very dry weather, very hot weather, and then we had the wind. So those are three elements that create the perfect storm for a fire.


KING: Wolf, also spending time with the governor, he said those in Washington who are saying that California Air National Guard was not ready because too many of its forces are deployed in Iraq, the governor said flatly that's not true. To spend time with him is to watch him, go to briefings in the command centers, then go into a gym that is now an evacuation center, some 200 people, 300 people in there. The governor shaking hands, signing autographs, posing for pictures, he says being out and about, and he's feeding dinner to firefighters tonight down near San Diego, he says that is the most powerful lesson he learned watching the angry aftermath of Katrina.

BLITZER: He's a very popular politician in California.


SCHWARZENEGGER: The most important thing is - the office and try to make decisions out of the office. You got to go out, visit all the fire sites, you have to shake hands with the firefighters, you have to encourage them, pump them up, tell them that they're the greatest in the world, you have to work with the local communities, with the elected officials, and with others. You have to work with the Red Cross. You have to work with the private sector. You've got to call the Grocers Association to make sure they deliver food right away to all those various different places, you know, where people stay overnight. So I think that being out there with the people is the key thing. Don't hide in your capitol. Because there's no action there at all.


KING: And Wolf, the governor says he is told by the weather officials that the weather should start cooperating tonight into tomorrow, but he simply says they do not have a date in sight for containment of this fire. In his view, it is getting worse. And he said flatly he didn't trust the weather forecasts.

Wolf. BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much. I was going to say the governor, very popular in California to begin with. I suspect his popularity is going to increase as a result of what he's doing right now.

Bush administration officials say their response to the wildfires is being guided by what they say is a wake-up call they got from hurricane Katrina. But there are questions tonight about whether Californians are still getting all the help they need and whether they're getting it quickly enough.


BLITZER: And joining us, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. She's at Qualcomm Stadium.

Senator, thanks very much. A horrendous situation out in California. First of all, are you satisfied with the way the federal government, the Bush administration, FEMA, have responded?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: You know, Wolf, you're asking me a question that I can't answer 100 percent right now. I would say everything I hear from the local people and the state people, from the governor, Governor Schwarzenegger, from the mayor, Mayor Sanders, from the supervisor, Supervisor Roberts, is that they are getting full cooperation from FEMA, the National Guard, the federal firefighters, and that everything is working very well. Now, we may find some snags later, but it's a good report.

BLITZER: Because yesterday you were complaining that some of the National Guard equipment that should have been used to deal with this tragedy is not available, because it was in Iraq or elsewhere. How serious of a problem is this?

BOXER: Actually I wasn't complaining. I was asking my colleagues from other states to really help us with assets, because 50 percent of our equipment that the National Guard normally has is gone. It is in Iraq. And the secretary of the army wrote me just about a week or two ago and said that he was concerned in terms of a major disaster if we would have enough assets. I met with the National Guard. They've moved in various planes from other places, and we're very hopeful we'll have enough assets here.

BLITZER: Because we heard from Lieutenant General Steven Bloom, the commander of the National Guard. I want you to listen to what he said, because he insists things are falling into place. Listen to this.

BOXER: Sure. Yes.

LT. GEN. STEVEN BLOOM, NATIONAL GUARD: The problem with fighting the fire has nothing to do with shortages of personnel, equipment or capability from the National Guard and I want to make that absolutely clear, because there's others saying things that are just not supported by fact.

BLITZER: All right. He seemed to be responding to some of your comments yesterday, but I take it --

BOXER: No, not at all.

BLITZER: Are you on the same page with him now?

BOXER: No, no, he's responding to the secretary of the army who wrote to us, and it's a public letter, that he was concerned. The secretary of the army was concerned if there were to be a major crisis in California, he could not say we had enough equipment. That is the reason I met with the National Guard. He has assured me he has moved the equipment in from other states. I take that exactly at his word.


BLITZER: Barbara Boxer, the senator of California, speaking with me.

In California meanwhile, there's horse country. Humans aren't the only ones in harm's way right now. We're going to take a closer look at the animals. How are they being protected?

And it was too late to get away from the flames. One family rode out the danger sitting inside their van. This is a remarkable survival story. We'll share it with you, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the breaking news we're following. Brand-new evacuation orders right now being made for residents in the path of what's called the Harris fire.

CNN's Rick Sanchez is on the phone joining us from San Diego County.

Rick, update our viewers. What are you hearing about these latest evacuation orders? What you're seeing specifically, we're being told there's some reverse-911 calls going to residents saying get out and get out quickly.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You're absolutely right. Not only did we hear it, Wolf, we saw it for ourselves. We just took a very long trek all the way up to a place called Lions Valley and Deerhorn Valley. They're essentially on top of a mountain. When we got up there to the top, we saw exactly what firefighters are concerned about. It's a huge fire, and it's swirling and turning, and many homes in the area are in danger. So firefighters did indeed tell people to get out and many are heeding the warnings. Others are saying, like one immigrant who's living up there, saying I told the homeowners I work for them. I'll take care of their home. I made a promise. I'm going to stay here. I tried to talk him out of it, Wolf and he said no, I'm not going to leave. So you know, they'll just have to do the best they can.

BLITZER: Give us a sense of what you saw today, Rick, as opposed to yesterday. SANCHEZ: Well, the winds have died down significantly. The areas that are burning now seem to be the edges as far as it can go and especially in areas where there's a topographical reason for winds to get in and out of these valleys. And when it gets up there very high, like on the top of the peaks of the mountains, you know a lot of folks have decided that they're going to build their homes there because they've got absolutely beautiful, magnificent views. They're expensive homes. It's expensive property, but when those fires go through, as they're doing right now and as they did in 2003, you know, it's difficult to fight them. It's tough terrain for the firefighters. We saw five strike teams up there trying to stop them and they're literally climbing up the side of the mountains with pick axes and chains over their shoulders. I mean it's tough work and they told me, they said we might actually lose some of these homes but we'll do the best we can to protect those homeowners in the meantime. I mean it's a tough job up there.

BLITZER: All right. Be careful yourself out there. Thanks very much.

Here's a nightmare scenario. You're trapped inside your vehicle while fire rages around you, because you never got the word to evacuate. It actually happened to one family who thankfully lived to tell their story. Let's head out to CNN's Randi Kaye. She's joining us now to give us this story.

How did this family survive, Randi?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really an amazing story, Wolf. This family lives on the edge of a valley. They told me they didn't get any warning from the authorities that the fire was coming their way, but they did remember very good advice from a fire marshal that they have received years ago. He told them if a fire was ever approaching their property, they should park their car in this dirt patch in the middle of their property. That's exactly what they did. They stayed there about 2 1/2 hours watching the flames dance around them. They kept their air conditioning blasting to try to stay cool. Here's how one of the residents, Paul Howell, describes it.

So there was a big circle of fire around you.

PAUL HOWELL, FIRE SURVIVOR: Yes, it was coming up the bank on both sides of us. And so then we're in the back and the deck starts catching on fire because it's wood. So the embers were flying up, and we're getting like shot by like 100,000 fireballs coming at us, and swooping up, and rolling up, and just slamming. We had they barrage of bullets that were like the size of briquettes just being fired at you coming across this valley.

KAYE: There were balls of fire?

HOWELL: Balls of fire, about the size of briquettes.

KAYE: And Wolf, you won't beeline what this family used to fight this fire. They actually used their garden hoses that were there on the property. Every time they saw the fire or the flames approaches the home or maybe trees or even the minivan that they were in, they would get out of the car and use this garden hose to douse the flames. And amazingly, it worked. Both homes on the property survived and so did they.

BLITZER: Randi, thanks very much. What a story. and Randi is gong to have more on that remarkable survival story on a special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360." That's coming up at the top of the hour.

Some of the land directly in the path of the San Diego fires is horse country. Evacuating those animals is no small task.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now to talk a little bit about this.

So where are the owners taking their horses in the midst of all of these fires?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf. When you get into the outskirts of San Diego, you get into a lot of ranching communities. A lot of people there have horses. Of course, a lot of those folks had to evacuate and we ran into an unusual evacuation point in the town of Rancho San Diego. Take a look.

LINDSAY JEFFERS, EVACUEE: She's just my little girl.

SIMON: On a normal day high school senior Lindsey 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's this one's name?

JEFFERS: This is Stretch.

SIMON: Her home threatened by fire, she and a 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 so to speak has now 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 got everything they need from volunteers, including 20 bales of hay.

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

CAROL JEFFERS, LINDSAY'S MOTHER: Somebody pinch me and wake me up. This isn't happening.

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

JEFFERS: This is my husband. He's on the fire department. He -- 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.

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. Lindsay is proud of her dad, but wishes he could be here.

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

The YMCA says it's totally fine for those horses to be there, just as long as everything is cleaned up when they leave, if you know what I mean, Wolf.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, I know what you mean. Thanks very much, Dan Simon, for that report.

The fires obliterate homes, yet leaves other parts of the neighborhood intact. We're going to hear from a helicopter pilot who has flown over all these areas. He's seen it all.

One eyewitness took photos of flames that came within 30 feet of his house. We'll show those to you.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight revealing scenes of stunning devastation, many people will have nothing left to come home to. J.T. Alpaugh is a helicopter pilot who is no stranger to disaster.


J.T. ALPAUGH, HELICOPTER PILOT: Hey, Wolf, what's going on? Well, basically good news here in southern California today. The winds have finally died down. The winds that Santa Ana condition, that Santa Ana event, those wind howling out of the north have finally subsided. What's happening now that's giving firefighters a break, getting those aircraft resources in there to try to stop these fires. Devastation like you're seeing right now, all throughout southern California and the eight to ten fires that have been burning here for the past three days. Absolute devastation and we've been witnessing these homes burning from the helicopter for the past two days. It's just absolutely astonishing.

BLITZER: As you see these images and you're looking at these pictures right now, the so-called Witch fire, this, if you multiply this fire many times you get a sense of the destruction and even though the winds have died down, J.T., these flames are still continuing.

ALPAUGH: Absolutely. Now, that these fires have gotten their start and gotten so much burning going, basically, they're now being fuel-driven fires. All the fuel that's been in the way of fires, it's a monster that's been started by the wind. That is going to be incredibly hard to stop, like standing in front of a locomotive. Basically they need to attack the fires and that's what we've seen the fire departments doing. Coming in, slowing the fire down from the flanks, laying down retardant, trying to get in front of these fires and stop them while they can, while they have a break in this wind weather.

BLITZER: What's it like flying over these areas in your helicopter because there's probably a lot of aircraft up in the sky. Is it a pretty dangerous situation, especially when you add in the smoke and the observation problems that are coming in?

ALPAUGH: Well, the first three days, Wolf, was actually better than it has been today. Because of that wind blowing, it's actually been blowing the smoke out towards the ocean and away from us. We all had great separation, but now what's happened is that the winds have stopped and that smoke is just pouring into the Los Angeles and southern California basin and creating the visibility issue. We're sitting down here at the Orange County Airport and we can only see three or four miles in visibility. That makes it very difficult to not only see each other but to see the ground. We maintained lots of separation up there and these fires are so large that we can have five, six, eight helicopters in one area and not even see each other all day. That's how large these fires are.


J.T. Alpaugh joining us. All that fire and smoke could cause a long-term damage to the environment by sending global warming gases into the atmosphere. The California Air Resources Board saying the wildfires will spew about 2 metric tons of carbon dioxide and about 200,000 tons of methane and nitrous oxide. We're told that's equaled to what 440,000 cars would pump into the atmosphere each year. That's a lot, but it's just a tiny fraction of the 470 million tons of gas California already contributes to the climate change crisis annually.

A special edition of "AC 360" is coming up next. Anderson Cooper is standing by with a preview.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes that will be at the top of the hour. Then as you know at 9:00 p.m., we've got "Planet in Peril," part two of "Planet in Peril," which talks a lot more about climate change.

I'm in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood near San Diego. You were talking about the Witch fire. We've seen some of the victims of the Witch fire in this neighborhood. It burned out houses all around. There's still some fire off in the distance. We're going to have live updates from all the hot spots and follow some evacuees back home today.

Plus, everybody knows California is fire-prone. The question is, was enough done to prepare for the worst? Tonight, we're keeping them honest at the top of the hour. Wolf, all along the fire line we have reporters spanned out. We'll bring you all that in just a few minutes.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Anderson. Thanks.

I-reporters in southern California are constantly sending us images of these wildfires. Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what do you have?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, take a look at this close call. Matt Dunbar in Lake Forest, California, at his sister's house, not under an evacuation order at this point. They were looking at the flames on the hillside some distance away, and the wind changed and everything changed with it. The flames coming down the hillside towards the house, gathering in intensity as they traveled, coming, look at this, within 30 feet of the back of the house. Matt was saying he was doing everything he could to keep the flames at bay. He said he felt he wasn't much of a match with the wildfire with his garden hose there, but just as quickly the flames traveled away and his house was spared.

These amazing stories and pictures, Wolf, coming into CNN at

BLITZER: Amazing indeed. Abbi, thank you.

Let's check back with Jack for the Cafferty file.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is what does it say about U.S. foreign policy when many Americans doubt it's working at all or that it can even be fixed?

Kim writes from Colorado, "Well, Americans have finally come to recognize the Bush administration's foreign policy for what it is, a total fraud. Impeachment and prosecution remain the only corrective course for this country and the lack of any action by Congress places fascism, martial law, and tyranny on America's doorstep. The true terrorist threat to our democracy and the American way of life resides on Pennsylvania Avenue."

Steve in Ohio writes, "The notion that the whole world is against us because of our military involvement in the Middle East is ridiculous. We still enjoy widespread support among the world's largest countries, and the most vocal opponents of the U.S. are rogue nations. Speaking of which, did we not convince North Korea to shut down their nuclear weapons program? That alone tells me our foreign policy is anything but broken." Al in Colorado writes, "I don't put much faith in these polls even though they are non-partisan. Foreign policy has become increasingly complex since the end of the Cold War. New nations, new interests, new agencies, and new alliances coupled with terrorism as a tool to advance one's interests have complicated foreign policy. Then we have us finicky Americans who change our polls based on a single day or week of news. Meanwhile, most of us are illiterate on global issues."

Colin writes, "The problem with U.S. foreign policy is that America has appointed itself leader when the rest of the world would really prefer to get on with its own business without U.S. interference. It's clear whatever the prevailing U.S. policy is at any given time, it's designed to satisfy U.S. interests and certainly not for world peace and harmony."

And Donnie writes from Tennessee, "We threaten every country that doesn't toady to us. (The ones that toady to us, only do so for payment.) If I'm threatened today, I'll be armed tomorrow. Countries are the same."

If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to, where we post more of them online, along with video clips of the Cafferty File.


BLITZER: Thanks Jack very much. See you back here tomorrow. Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty file.

This programming note, mark your calendar. Starting November 5th, just one year from Election Day, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for three hours back to back. We'll start at 4 p.m. eastern and we'll go to 7 p.m. eastern. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" will move to 7 p.m. eastern. All that starts on November 5th.

Until then, thanks very much watching. We'll be back here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Up next, the special edition of "AC 360, In the Line of Fire."