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California Wildfires

Aired October 25, 2007 - 01:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, AC-360: Larry, thanks very much. For the first time in days, in addition to the ash and the embers and the smoke that hangs in the air, there is also hope in the air tonight. The Santa Ana winds that have turned fire season into half a million acre national disaster are dying down, somewhat. Evacuation orders were lifted tonight for 13 communities in the San Diego area; however, new orders also went out tonight because shifting winds may push some of the flames in dangerous, new directions. So, there's a lot of work to do and a look at the map shows it.
Fifteen major wildfires and they won't be out anytime soon. And there is late word tonight that authorities believe at least one of those fires might have been the work of one or more arsonists. Arson, tonight the latest on that.

We'll also show you what firefighters have been dealing with up close. I spent the day out on the frontlines on the eastern edge of the Harris Fire, we'll show you that. We'll also talk with some of the nearly on million people -- a million people so far forced to leave their homes as well as some who decided for better or worse to tough it out. We'll show you how they fared.

All that and more tonight, in the hour ahead. First, the big picture. At the end of a day that hasn't been easy, but might be a sign of better days to come.


(voice-over): The worst of the southern California fires are rages out of control, but on Wednesday there was good news for them desperately battling the blaze. Temperatures dropped, humidity rose and the Santa Ana winds that gusted above 100 miles-an-hour and pushed the flames forward, have now finally eased.

Without those winds, choppers once again could fly over the fires, dropping water to douse the flames. There was relief, too, for some of the nearly one million people forced to flee their homes for local shelters. Evacuation orders were lifted for more than a dozen communities.

For others thought, the news was not so good. Hundreds of homeowners who thought they were safely out of the path of the massive Harris Fire in San Diego County were warned Wednesday night the winds had shifted, the fire was heading their way and they might have to leave.

Some still wait to find whether their homes are standing, their possessions still safe.

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

COOPER: For others the wait is over. Here in Rancho Bernardo, people were allowed back for their first look at their homes now just piles of rubble and cinders.

MARK DAVIS, LOST HOME IN FIRE: 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 it was definitely gone, it was kind of a hard hit, but we've had -- we've lived with it for a day or two now, so it's not quite as tough as if he just drove up and hoping that it would be there and not see it.

COOPER: So far seven of fires have been contained, 15 continue to burn out of control. Where the fires have already burned through and moved on, only charred ruins remain and broken hearts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have much longer to live.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our home can be replaced, but I don't know if I want to go through all of that again.

COOPER: And Wednesday a chilling development, federal and state officials say this fire, the Santiago Canyon Fire was deliberately set and they begun an arson investigation. While police try to find a culprit, California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, praised those working tirelessly to stop these relentless fires.

GOV ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We have, without any doubt, the greatest firefighters, the bravest firefighters, the most experienced firefighters in the world and I have seen them in action. They're working not only 24 hours around the clock, some of them work 40 hours straight without any sleep...


COOPER: Well, it's easy to think that just because the winds have died down, this thing is over. This thing is not over by a long shot. Take a look at the live pictures of the Santiago Canyon Fire. That gives you a sense of just some of the fires that are still happening. And this is the fire that they think -- and now, was deliberately set. That investigation is underway. I want to talk about that criminal investigation now, right now. CNN's John Zarrella joins from the Santiago Canyon Fire in Orange County, which is just north of here, which as I said, is now being treated as a crime scene.

John, what's the latest?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, off to my right is Santiago Canyon and we are stardom on a ridge line here, and on Sunday afternoon after that fire broke out, in Santiago Canyon, fire worked its way across this ridge line, down through the valleys and over there in the distance is -- now that is Harding Canyon out there in the distance about three-quarters of a mile from us, that's what's burning right now.

In all about 2,000 homes threatened, thousands of people evacuated 600 firefighters on the scene, 110 engines out here and trucks. And of course, about 50 percent contained this fire and all of this now apparently the result of arson.

The investigators and the sheriff's office here, Orange County Sheriff's Office telling us late this afternoon, in fact, they do believe that arson was the cause for the initial blaze of the Santiago Fire. Along with the FBI and with arson investigators, they have found three specific origin points in the Santiago Canyon and the Silverado Canyon. Three points in those two canyons where they believe the fires were set.

They were out there, they have gathered apparently some information from the scene, some evidence from the scenes where they believe these fires were set, which apparently from what we're told by some fire investigators, is about five miles from where we are tonight.

Now, all of this leading to earlier this evening when a $70,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for what they are now saying is clearly an arson fire that started here just not very far from us in the Santiago Canyon -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, we may not know this or may not be able to say. Do they have any suspects in mind? And how -- the three points of origin, how close are these three points of origin?

ZARRELLA: Well, they have not told us how close those three points of origin are. But, in two specific canyons, one to the left and right over here, to my right, and as far as suspects, we are told there are no suspects. They have not executed any search warrants at this point. There was a briefing late this evening. Orange County sheriff's officials told us that coming out of that briefing, no new information -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, continue to follow the story. We'll have updates tomorrow morning. John, thanks very much.

I've been getting a good look today, as well as a good lung full of what firefighters are up against. The difference is, I get to go home. They are still out there on the fire line. As you heard Governor Schwarzenegger say some of these men and women have been working the line hour after hour for days, no breaks, little food. The ones I spent time with today are fighting the Harris Fire.

We were on the eastern edge of the Harris Fire, today. They were trying to prevent it from spreading further east. And as we mentioned moments ago, more evacuations are underway in that area tonight. It's only 10 percent contained, and that first 10 percent did not come easy. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): 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.

(on camera): With resources stretched so thin it's important for firefighters to prioritize which blazes they're going to address.

(voice-over): 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.

(on camera): 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. So, they're just trying to address -- put out these small , little fires, make sure the embers don't keep spreading.

(voice-over): The winds have died down, and that's allowed more aircraft to fly, dropping PhosChek, 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.

(on camera): 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.

CAPTAIN RON ELDRIDGE, 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 (voice-over): 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.

EDDIE GUIDI, FIREFIGHTER: When we came upon this, this was halfway involved already. Tried to make the save on it, we determined that it was unsafe.

COOPER (on camera): So, in a fire like this, there is 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, so they rushed to put that out quickly, because they don't want that to spread to somewhere else.

(voice-over): All they are 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 for tomorrow, fire officials hope the worst may be over, but everything depends on these unpredictable winds.


With me now is Battalion Chief Doug Lannon of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Cal Fire, he's working the Witch Fire, the largest in the area.

What's the progress on the Witch Fire, right now?

DOUG LANNON, CAL FIRE: Right now, actually today was a very productive day. It was a good day. The northeast winds subsided. We do have -- we did have some breezing, some northeast winds up in the higher elevations; however, they were a whole lot less than earlier in the week.

COOPER: Over at the Harris Fire we're seeing winds shifting around today, and firefighters very concerned about it saying it's a very dangerous situation. I think back in the Cedar Fire in 2003, a number of firefighters were killed or at least one firefighter were killed when the winds switched. Why is that so dangerous?

LANNON: Well, what happens is, is as you become working in the heat and the smoke, the visibility is not very good. And if -- that's why we have to have lookouts and also our air attack up in the air can see also the plume change and the plume may change direction. We need to get a message right down to the field right away so that the fire doesn't sneak up and catch somebody from the rear.

COOPER: So, if the wind shifts, it catches you from the rear and you have no escape?

LANNON: Yes, it can.

COOPER: When firefighters get injured, I mean, is it actually, it is smoke inhalation usually or the actual flames?

LANNON: Normally our typical injuries, and especially in weather like this, is eye injuries, even with googles on, sometimes sand and rocks get under the googles. But also, heat exhaustion is a real issue and also smoke inhalation can be an issue, yes.

COOPER: You know, I think when some viewers hear that the winds have died down and have died down significantly, they're going to think OK, this thing is over. This thing is not over by a long shot.

LANNON: No. There's actually three things that drive a wildland fire, the weather, of course, being one, and the wind being No. 1 for weather, but we have topography and fuels. And it depends on the fuels, depends on the fuel moistures and also how steep the terrain is, is what drives the wildland fire.

COOPER: I went to a briefing this morning, 7:00 a.m., and they were saying some of the fuel on the ground, some of this underbrush, some of this is just four or five years old, but some of it is like 40 years ago. LANNON: Yes, some of it's very dead, and it's been dead for a long time and that's not going to come back. And it stays for years, and until a fire or something like this takes it out, it's always going to be a hazard to the firefighters.

COOPER: When you hear that somebody may have intentionally set one of these fires, the Santiago Fire, what goes through your mind? That's just got to anger you tremendously?

LANNON: It definitely angers me. There's enough accidental fires out there that occur. We certainly don't want somebody out there just willy-nilly lighting things on fire because they think it's fun to do or whatever. It puts us all in danger. Every time we respond to a wildland fire, even just getting there sometimes with traffic and stuff, it's dangerous. The firefighting itself is very dangerous. And so it's a felony, and people that do that and get caught go to prison.

COOPER: We're looking at live pictures of the Santiago Canyon Fire right now, where they believe it was intentionally set. They are investigating it. You've done arson investigations. What do you look for -- you know, we talk about these three points of origin, what does that actually mean? What do you look for in a point of origin?

LANNON: Well, basically when we investigate a wildland fire you're looking for signs on the ground, you're looking for staining, char patterns, leaf freeze, things like that. Those are physical features that we can actually see on the fire ground.

COOPER: You said leaf freeze?

LANNON: Leaf freeze, yes.

COOPER: What's that?

LANNON: Well, in a high-wind situation, especially, the leaves are actually -- let's just say the winds are coming out of the northeast -- the leaves below with the wind and when the fire comes thought and takes all of the moisture out if those leaves, the stay in that position.

COOPER: No kidding?

LANNON: And it's pointing in the direction that the fire went. So, we know...

COOPER: You can use that as a clue to...


COOPER: That's fascinating.

LANNON: That helps us get back to the area of origin. What we're looking for when you have multiple origins, that's always suspicious. But, before we call a fire arson, we have to eliminate all other causes. COOPER: And that's what they're doing right now. Doug Lannon, appreciate you taking time with us. Thanks so much. Thank for all what you're doing.

LANNON: Thank you.

COOPER: Long days.

Up next, we're going to take a look at the water view. A remarkable look at how all the elements have added up to a California fiery perfect storm when this special edition of 360 continues live from the fire.



MIKE WHEEL, EVACUEE: Hats off to the crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're emotional just because they saved your house?

WHEEL: These guys don't even get paid. 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: A lot of firefighters here on the frontlines from many places, helping strangers. Tonight there are still 15 active major wildfires. Let's get a sense of the incredible scale of the disaster now, from Tom Foreman, the big picture -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, if you take a bird's-eye view, you can see what the authorities were unagainst there. This morning, fires all up and down the coast, huge fires. Tonight, more than a half dozen, they feel, are contained.

What that means is they have firebreaks all around them, and they feel like those fires aren't going anywhere else, they're not spreading further. But it's difficult to tell with the biggest fires just where they stop and where they begin.

Look at this image from Digital Globe, how this smoke from one of the big fires just blankets the valleys here making it almost impossible to see where the hotspots still are.

But this we do know. There are five fires right now that rank above all the others that we have to pay attention to and we've displayed them here in relative size again, San Diego down here, Los Angeles up here. The Harris Fire has destroyed about 200 homes. They fear it might yet be spread.

Up here, the Rice Fire and Slide Fire, each took about 200 homes; the Grass Valley Fire took about 300 homes. But the biggest of all, by far, is the Witch Poomacha Fire. It has destroyed 500 homes, it has threatened thousands and thousands more. This is the one that so many of the evacuees will be watching closely as the smoke clears, as these blazes are brought under control to see if their homes made it through this enormous fire -- Anderson.

COOPER: As Tom just mentioned, the second biggest fire here in San Diego County is the Harris Fire, That's the one I was at earlier today, that we just showed you. More than 73,000 acres have burned, at least 200 homes have been destroyed, one person has been killed in that fire. Rick Sanchez is also covering that blaze tonight. He joins us now -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and Cal Fire is telling me now, Anderson, that they think they have about 10 percent of it contained. So, you know, all things considered, that's really not an awful lot.

Yesterday, though, we were standing right here at this spot, remember? And I was explaining to you most of that canyon behind me, here, Steele Canyon, was ablaze. Tonight it's pretty much out. Most of it is moon escape. That's what firefighters call when most of the vegetation has been burned out.

But if you go a little further south from here, actually toward Mexico, you find some communities that are really still right now having a tough time with this fire. We went into that area. One of them is called Deer Horn Valley. I want to show you some video now of what we found. On the way up, by the way, everything changed. We were going up into an area that only had a warning, suddenly it turned into an actual evacuation order. Here it is.


We're going up Deer Horn Valley, right now. Look what's going on over there. It's starting to look like that fire is going to be jumping the road. We might actually be able to see it happen. Captain Don Camp is going to be taking us up there now to show us exactly what's going on.

Describe to us, Captain, exactly what's going on up here.

CAPTAIN DON CAMP, FIREMAN: We're currently at Deer Horn Valley. We have a significant amount of assets in the area to protect, scattered structures throughout the valley.

SANCHEZ: Look at this thing. Look at this thing. Wow! Look how -- it's just picked up.

CAMP: If you'll notice, the fire is starting to twist at the top like a tornado.


CAMP: That's what we refer to as a fire whirl. That's another sign that we have battling, erratic winds over the fire right now. You have one wind blowing one direction, the other wind blowing the other direction, and it causes the fire to spin like a tornado. SANCHEZ: I've never seen anything like this. I mean, this is one massive fire and the sound of it -- I mean, it's like it's breathing, isn't it?

CAMP: Absolutely. The fire is a living thing. It has life to it and it creates its own winds, it creates its own weather. And it's not controlled by anything other than forces of nature.

SANCHEZ: See the road right there? Look what's happening with the brush. It looks like the fire is almost wanting to reach out like a hand from one side of the road to the other. It probably won't be long before that fire jumps over that road and goes over to the other side.


It's amazing. You feel it. You hear it. You know, the heat that's coming off of it. I'm sure when you were out there yourself, Anderson, you experienced some of this. And when we were going up that road, by the way, I think for the benefit of the viewers, it's kind of hard to see because, you know, when you have that kind of terrain, it's hard to see the actual buildings. But, when we were walking up that road, heading towards the fire, what you don't see is that there's homes to the right of us and homes to the left of us with people, in some cases, who are, you know, still sticking around.

But, firefighters were in the area knocking on doors telling people that they really needed to get out. Tomorrow morning, hopefully, we'll venture back up there and see how they fared.

At this point, you know, it's tough to tell. But the firefighters are up there and big strike teams, and they're doing everything they can to try and protect those homes from burning down -- Anderson.

COOPER: As you said, Rick, when you're there and you're close to it and you hear the crackling and the burning of the wood, it is a living, breathing thing. It is remarkable and terrible to see up close.

Seems like all of southern California at times has been burning over the last couple of days, and it feels like it as well. The air here is thick, and in many places it's smoky and dangerous. We're going to take a look at how bad it is in terms of health. We'll be right back with that next.


COOPER: Welcome back to this special live edition of 360, "In the Line of Fire." Here in Rancho Bernardo, the witch fire has really devastated a lot of homes in this area. Look at this. This is a house, a very large home that stood on this bluff. It is completely gone. I think this looks like it used to be the garage, this must be the garage door. You can see what -- these bricks are still here. This was the walkway up to, I imagine, what was the front deer around here, but that's all and that's it. It is all gone. There is a chimney that remains. The woman who lives here came up here for -- a short time ago. She was only allowed about 10 or 15 minutes here by police. And she simply broke down crying, she said everything was inside this house. Her wedding ring was left in there, her passport. None of it survived. She has nothing left.

She may be able to find the wedding ring if they sift through this thing, but it's hard to see how. This is one of the cars. It's a -- I think it was a Mercedes. It's completely gone. You get a sense of how strong the intensity of the heat was. Look at this. the wheel -- this is metal that we think came off the wheel. I've never seen anything like this. It just melted into place.

And obviously, this car is completely destroyed. Watch the -- there you go. I just want to show you too, just how quickly things can change here. Obviously, they were getting ready for Halloween. They'd put out decorations. This decoration is about the only thing that survived out of this entire house. It is hard to believe. There will be no holiday here, no trick-or-treating on this cul-de-sac in this area of San Diego County.

Chad Myers is standing by at the Severe Weather Center to give us a sense of what is happening next, what we can expect tomorrow.

Chad, how's it look?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It looks better. The winds are dying down. They're down to almost zero in many places, Anderson. Now, that's good and bad news. The great news that the fires are not going to be so wild, but also bad news that this smoke is not going to be pushed out to the ocean anymore.

This is one of the latest pictures from L.A., Riverside, here's the fire up here. That would be the Arrowhead smoke going across L.A. and then Oceanside, that would be the fire up here, that is not all that fire from the Santiago Canyon, still burning at this hour this morning.

We will now see confused winds over the next couple of days. That means winds from all different directions, light and variable, sometimes blowing left, sometimes blowing to the right. Some of the smoke may get into all the way into Palm Springs, make it into Vegas, you may smell smoke, not that it's anywhere near you. It's just going to be this lingering smoke all around the L.A. basin.

What we have going for us tonight is a very slow progression without air, without wind blowing and fanning the flames. But, when you get to a hill, it's like turning a match upside-down, and then the flames just go out of control again. The difference tonight, when the flames get to the ridge, they're not jumping like they were a couple days ago.

A couple days ago the flames got to the ridge, and then the embers went a mile down the road and the firefighters couldn't keep up with it. We will not have that problem tonight. Those flames and those winds are not big enough, tonight, to get to that point. That is good news.

Here are the winds: three miles-per-hour on up toward Yucca Valley, 10 miles-per-hour, that's may be just about, I guess that's almost just west of San Bernardino and 10 miles-per-hour from a different direction, down here, down by the Harris Fire down to the south.

Now, ironically I pushed the button and I move you all the way to the northeast where I watched a little ball game tonight. In New York City and D.C. it is wet as absolutely could be, Anderson. Just rain everywhere. The airports were an absolute disaster, today. Two and three-hour delays because of all the rain and there won't be one drop of rain in L.A or anywhere out there in the West.

One thing to recommend as this smoke gets worse for you, if you go out there, if you can buy a humidifier, a humidifier that has a paper wick in it, that weapons of mass wind, that fan blows into that paper, and the smoke particles get deposited this. Every once in a while, rinse out your filter and then put it back on. Or, if you have a swamp filter, a swamp cooler your house, turn it on. It will also collect the smoke particles, because it's going to be your lungs, going to be in there a long time. This smoke is going to get worse. It's going to be everywhere, because now the winds aren't there to push it away -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Chad, thanks very much. It's strange when you're standing on a bluff like this, for a while you don't smell anything and then the winds will kind of change and all of a sudden you can smell the fires again, even though they're pretty far off from where we're standing, tonight.

This air doesn't just have smoke, as Chad was talking about, it's got ash in it, it's got embers, in some cases, as well. You can actually see ashes falling down as the wind starts to settle. Medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us now to talk about the air quality and how dangerous it may be.

Elizabeth, what do we know about what's in the air?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you what we know, but instead I'll show you. You've got to take a look at these air filters at a monitoring station I went to ran by San Diego County this afternoon. What you are going to see a white filter just a pristine, white filter and then the dark filter. That's a filter that was sitting out for just 24 hours. And look what it accumulated. It basically turned black with all the stuff that you and I and, of course, millions of other people are breathing. Now, of course, you look at that and think, golly, what is in all that stuff? Here to answer that question is Dr. Kim Prather, who is an environmental chemist and professor at University of California at San Diego. You have been monitoring. We're monitoring right now as we speak what's in this air. What is in this air that we're breathing?

KIM PRATHER, ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMIST, UCSD: We've been making measurements since Sunday, and there's the normal mixture of what you would expect from very smoky air. But also since this is a city, we see a lot of things besides burning wood. We seeing the effects of burning cars and materials and buildings such as asbestos and other types of pollutants that are getting up in the air in addition. It's a pretty complicated mix give where the fires are occurring.

COHEN: So people are breathing in asbestos that have been burning and metals that have been burning along with all the trees and brush that have been burning (inaudible) ...

PRATHER: They're probably brownish or blackish in color. I mean, like the filters that you see. Your lungs are just like a filter from that perspective.

COHEN: What are the health effects of breathing this kind of air in day after day?

PRATHER: Well, I mean, there's still a lot we have to learn about breathing this high of concentrations of this type of air pollution. That's one of the reasons we've been doing these measurements. But basically, you know, there's a lot more. One of the things we know, it affects your lungs but can affect other regions of your body. Your lungs trap allot, but you can also have heart problems, people who have heart problems -- basically particles get into every region of your body, every single organ of your body.

COHEN: So these little teeny particles that are way less than a width of a hair, they get into your lungs and also get into other parts of your body.

PRATHER: Yes. Absolutely. They basically can get into your bloodstream and transported to every region. They've shown the tiniest ones have been shown to get into your brain.

COHEN: I know. I feel it in my throat. I feel it in my head. It's interesting. Susan, you said that you sent your children out of here. You have two little kids and you sent them out. Dr. Prather, thank you very much.

Anderson, you just have to be here, and you can definitely feel this is not normal air quality. We're talking about levels of soot four times higher than what they usually are, particulates that are 10 times higher. They're very high levels.

COOPER: Elizabeth, let me ask this question which I and just about everyone else who is watching this report wants to ask and maybe you can ask the doctor yourself. What do you do about this? Should we all be wearing masks? I feel this in my lungs. I was with the firefighters. I've been coughing all day. What do you do about it?

COHEN: You know what? I've asked some experts about those, about those masks you see people wearing. They say it might make you feel better and it certainly will block out some really big particles, but those little tiny particles that we were discussing with Dr. Prather right now, those masks aren't going to block it. They get right through those masks. So there really is a limit to what you can do shs anderson. COOPER: Hopefully let's find some masks that work. Maybe we'll work on that tomorrow. Maybe that's something I'll do tomorrow at least. Next on this special edition of 360 we'll hear from a couple who returned to this neighborhood today to find out that they lost everything. Also tonight, one family's harrowing story, trapped in their van surrounded by flames. How they kept their cool, next.



COOPER: Normally a small spot fire like this wouldn't be a cause of 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 has caused concern. A spot fire like this is something firefighters need to jump on and extinguish because the embers from a fire like this can be picked up by the changing winds and blow hundreds of feet all the way to a house like this and set it on fire.


COOPER: That's all it takes, a change in the wind. We met a family who thought they were safe. There were no evacuation calls and the fire was a safe distance away. That's what they thought. Then the winds shifted. Before they could escape, they were trapped forced to stay holed up if their minivan of all place. CNN's Randi Kaye has their story.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For two-and-a-half- hours, they watched and waited as a raging wildfire inched closer.

(on camera): So, there was a big circle of fire around you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 is wood. So, the embers were flying up and we were getting like shot by 100,000 fire balls coming at us. And it was swooping up and rolling up and just slamming.

KAYE: Paul Howell (ph) had been celebrating his girlfriend's birthday with her parents when the fire started sweeping through the valley, climbing up and over the ridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had these barrage of bullets that were like the size of briquettes just being fired at you coming across this valley.

KAYE: Balls of fire?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Balls of fire about the size of briquettes.

KAYE: With no warning from authorities, it was too late to evacuate. As you can see, their escape route had been cut off by flames, their homes threatened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could you call for help? We had fire all the way around us? Who was going to help us? We were on our own.

KAYE (voice-over): So, they quickly took shelter in the family's minivan. Paul showed me where they parked it, a dirt patch on the property between their two homes, good advice from a fire marshal years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told us that if there was ever any kind of fire on this property, the safest place to be would be in this center field.

KAYE (on camera): In a car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In any kind of vehicle at all.

KAYE (voice-over): So, here they sat, watching the trees burn and their property turn to smoke. Paul and Henry Tinker (ph) took turns fighting the flames. Their only weapon? This scorched garden hose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very difficult. But you don't think about it at the time. We had flames that were shooting as high as 40 feet or higher in the air, just like tornadoes coming up the backside of the bank.

KAYE: And you were using a garden hose?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're using a garden hose.

You couldn't see a lot of times more than 10 feet in front of you. Embers are flying through like crazy. You can't breathe real well.

KAYE: The wind shook the car. The heat was unbearable. The family blasted the air conditioning to try and stay cool.

(on camera): This van saved your life?


KAYE: Did you ever think your van was going to save your life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It didn't even enter my mind.

KAYE (voice-over): In the end, not everything survived. The fire took its toll on wildlife and homes around the neighborhood. Yet, the flames were no match for this minivan and the determination of the family huddled inside it.


COOPER: They were incredibly lucky. You were here today when the woman when lived here came back. I was on the air. You talked to her. Just everything is gone. KAYE (on camera): Yeah. I don't think if you could see as you were on the air reporting, but she walked up and was immediately in tears. This was the first time Marilyn and Gordon wood came back to the home. They were only allowed up here for a couple of minutes. They were escorted by police. Look at what they saw, Anderson. Obviously this is one of the cars they left behind. They were in and out in 10 or 15 minutes. She described what's here in the house. The washer and dryer is back there in the middle there. It was all glass behind there. They had a beautiful view of the valley below. They lived here for seven years. Spoke to her for just a few minutes and him as they arrived here. This is what they had to say.


KAYE: What is it like for you to come back here and see this today?

MARILYN WOOD, LOST HOME IN WILDFIRES: It's awful. It's scary, because it reminds me of what happened. How we left.

KAYE: What did it look like when you left here?

M. WOOD: It was raining fire when I left. It was awful.

KAYE: Were you told to leave or did you evacuate on your own?

M. WOOD: We got a call, a reverse 911 call and ten minutes later, 15 minutes later we were out of here. And we didn't have time to pack. We didn't have time to do anything.

KAYE: It was you who saw the flames at first. Can you just tell me what you saw and what you did?

GORDON WOOD, LOST HOME IN WILDFIRES: We got the 911 call. I looked out the window and there were flames at the bottom of our hill. Our hill is three acres of property. It was at the bottom of the hill. I put on my pants and when I next looked out the window the flames were on the house.

KAYE: All of your personal belongings are in there? All your pictures ...

M. WOOD: Everything is in there. My wedding rings, everything is in there. Maybe I'll find something. I don't know.


COOPER: Unbelievable.

KAYE: It really is.

And they weren't, sadly, able to even walk back on their property. They're not allowed to do that right now. The really sad part about is that Gordon told me his wife is still having nightmares ever since they left the home. She's waking up every 10 minutes each night waking him up believing the house is on fire. COOPER: To lose all the photographs and your wedding rings. Just horrific. And amazing that by the time he put on his pants, the fire had advanced that much. It was already at the house.

KAYE: Right. It's a three-acre property. In that short time it moved three acres and was already up on the house.

COOPER: Just so many stories like that we're hearing, Randi, thanks for that.

Up next on this special edition of 360 in the line of fire, one on one with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also tonight a single mother forced from her home by the Harris fire. Her kids probably helped save her life. Her incredible story is next.


COOPER: Earlier tonight Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited with some of the evacuees in the area. He told them they are not alone and that California will help them every step of the way. CNN's John King sat down with the governor today. He joins us now live from Santiago Canyon.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it's a remarkable amount of energy as you watch and follow the governor. Early briefings in the day from emergency response officials. Then he went on to a gymnasium serving as a shelter. Also some time with firefighters tonight. Being so busy, the governor says, is the personal lesson he took from watching the debacle of Katrina.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think the most important thing is, don't sit around in your office and try to make decisions out of the office. You have got to be with the people. It's the most important thing. You have got to go out there and you've got to visit all the fire sites. You've got to shake hands with the firefighters, you've got to encourage them, you have got to pump them up, you've got to tell them they're the greatest in the world. You've got 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 have to call the Grocers Association to make sure they deliver food right away to all of those various different places, you know, where people stay overnight.

So I think that being out there with the people is the key thing.

KING: One of the criticisms or questions in the days after has been, some think it took too long to get California Air National Guard assets up in the air to douse the fires. Some had said it was the winds, other weather conditions. Others have said the state was slow to answer the phone or to issue the orders. What was it?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think it is 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 others. But we could not use some of those equipments and some of those aircrafts because of the wind conditions.


COOPER: And John, with those wind conditions getting beard today, we saw more aircraft in the air. John, some critics said the National Guard doesn't have the resources they need to help in California because of Iraq. Did the governor say anything about that?

KING: He said, Anderson, that is flatly absolutely not true. That is a governor who has been very critical of President Bush and the bush administration for overusing in his view his National Guard with deployments to Iraq, also with deployments down to the U,S,- Mexico border. The governor says there is now doubt his Guard is strained a bit because of all the deployment in recent years, but when it comes to the number of men available, the number of pieces of equipment available, he says there's nothing that he needs to fight these fires that he can't get because it's off in Iraq or anywhere else. They did bring some troops quickly up from the boarder. He says that now that other Guard forces have been deployed, they're going back to the border. He said all the politicians saying that are false issue. Anderson?

COOPER: All right. John King, thanks.

Every evacuee has a story. Of course we've been sharing some of them tonight. Tara Rochee (ph) is a single mom of three. It was 3:00 a.m. when she and her kids grabbed some important papers and clothes they had to leave their home in Spring Valley. Earlier she and her son spoke to me from Qualcomm Stadium where 7.500 people are still taking refuge.


COOPER: So tell me, when did you first realize you had to leave your home?

TARA ROCHE, SPRING VALLEY, CALIF. EVACUEE: When I received a phone call Tuesday morning at 3:00 from my son Anthony's best friend Duane. He informed me a fire was nearby our house. I went outside, and my apartment at Spring Valley, California, looked to the left, and I seen the fire. And I was just shocked. I was shocked. That's with we started moving.

COOPER: You just moved to San Diego last year. You've never probably had to evacuate or seen fires like this. When you first saw the fire near your house, what went through your mind?

T. ROCHE: Oh, my God. I was in shock. Reality hadn't even set in. I said I'll deal with a thunderstorm any day.

COOPER: I understand you weren't sure what to do, but your son, Anthony, who is 13, he kind of had a level head and he told you what to do, right? T. ROCHE: Yes, he did. He just started packing that evening, and we all just pulled together and got pictures, photos and so forth like that. Then we just went to bed.

COOPER: And then your friend called and finally you decided to pack up and leave. What's it like at Qualcomm Stadium?

T. ROCHE: Of course, it's not like home, but it's better than not having anything at all. At least we're not out on the street. The people have been nothing but kind and loving. They have been just pure angels. They really have.

COOPER: Anthony, when you heard the fires were coming, how did you know what to help your mom with? How did you know which papers to take and how did you keep such a level head?

ANTHONY ROCHE, SPRING VALLEY, CALIF. EVACUEE: When I saw the fire and it was ever where, I went inside. We started packing, and my instincts, it was like, my mom didn't think it would come, but I was like it will come because I have that kind of instinct that something was going to happen. So I started packing.

COOPER: Was it scary?

A. ROCHE: Oh, yeah, it was pretty frightening because it was right by us. It was kind of like a mile away area. There was fire in the mountains beside us. I was hoping it doesn't go around to our home and burn our home.

COOPER: Josh, what did Josh decide to pack?

JOSH ROCHE, SPRING VALLEY, CALIF. EVACUEE: I decided to pack my games, and we packed our pictures and birth certificates and we packed our clothes basically because we need clothes to wear.

COOPER: That was smart. Tara, what are you going to do now? Do you know how long you'll stay at Qualcomm. Is your house okay?

T. ROCHE: I don't know anything about my apartment at Spring Villas Apartment. That's all we have. We don't know where else to go. I really don't know how long it will be. I seen Spring Valley on the news today. There is a fire still in that area. So I'm just going to be a wise mom and stay here until this really is safe. That's my plan.

COOPER: That's definitely -- that's definitely the wise thing to do, and definitely keep those kids close because they seem to be a great help to you. I'm glad things are -- I'm glad you're safe and I hope your house is OK and you can get back to the apartment soon.

T. ROCHE: Thank you so much. They are a blessing as well as everybody else.


COOPER: A lot of blessings for a lot of folks. Up next, the eye in the sky that could keep a lot of people safe from wildfires, except your government wants to spend the money for a trip to Mars instead. We're keeping them honest, next.


COOPER: Well, you've seen some of the pictures from space thanks to satellites orbiting the earth. Forecasters and firefighters can get the earliest possible warning of where a big fire is spreading and how fast. Well, they can for now at least. Satellites wear out and need replacing, and that of course costs money. Money that is not yet being spent. It is actually being spent but not on us people here on planet earth. Not only did CNN's Miles O'Brien explain, he's also keeping them honest.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The eagle eyes way above the sky that give firefighters the overview they need to grapple with big, spreading fires are part of nearly 30 U.S. satellites looking down on Earth.

BERRIEN MOORE II, INST. FOR EARTH, OCEANS & SPACE: Well, right now we're in the heyday of Earth observation.

O'BRIEN: Keeping then honest, scientists say the heyday will soon be over. In fact in the next five years the number of U.S. sensors in space focused on earthy concerns like the fires in California will drop by 40 percent. And that critics say might endanger scientists' abilities to track hurricanes and wildfires and other natural disaster.

MOORE: Whether it's climate or oceans or weather forecasting, there's going to be a significant decline, and the reason that we're having this significant decline is that beginning in the year 2000 the Earth sciences budget at NASA has been cut real terms by more than a third.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Booster ignition and lift-off of Discovery.

O'BRIEN: But the White House is trying to reign in federal spending and NASA has other priorities and not a lot of money to fund them.

MIKE GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Our budget is currently maxed out, to use a slang term.

O'BRIEN: NASA administrator Mike Griffin is answering President Bush's mandate to return astronauts to the moon and send them to Mars. And that trumps earth science. Still ...

GRIFFIN: This is an important part of our scientific portfolio. But if people want more work to be done than is being done, then at some point you have to say, OK, if you want more done, you have to send more money.

O'BRIEN: Without more money scientists fear they will waste a lot already spent. Data on climate change, for example, is only useful if it is gathered over longer periods without any gaps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are things that are of critical importance and our planning is what's critical important to make sure they're contiguous. That we can't have a gap in the knowledge or the information that these systems provide us because it means life and it means the future.

O'BRIEN: But right now scientists who try to understand the earth better using space as a perch believe they will lose a lot of vision because of a vision more focused on other worlds. Miles O'Brien, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, now the view here on the ground from our I- Reporters. We start off in San Bernardino County. Firefighters barely visible in the smoke and flames. This photo is from Laura. Amazingly, in her area, no homes were damaged.

In Lake Forest, Matt and his brother in law fight back the Santiago fire with a garden hose. The flames came within 30 feet of the house. Imagine that. And Matt says the house was pretty much useless.

Luckily the fire shifted and the house was spared.

Reg gives us a remarkable view of Carlsbad, South Beach, you can look at all that smoke right off the coast.

And here's a look at the makeover to Qualcomm Stadium. Tense set up for evacuees. Tonight home to some 7,500 people. They are in our thoughts tonight.

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

Fire, drought, deforestation. It is all connected. Our "Planet in Peril" documentary covers it all. It is a product of a year's work, shot in high def around the world. Part two of "Planet in Peril" starts right now. See you tomorrow night.