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Colorado Wildfires Turn Deadly; Extreme Weather; Boy Killed By Falling Tree; Oregon Tornado; Amazing Rescue; Deck Collapses At Miami Restaurant; NBA Finals All Even; Both Sides Seeks Compromise In Turkey; Sarin Gas Used in Syria; Explosion in Louisiana Kills One, Injures 75;

Aired June 14, 2013 - 06:00   ET



DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): -- the 379 homes now reduced to rubble, in what is now being called the most destructive wildfire in Colorado state history. The Black Forest wildfire has scorched nearly 16,000 acres of land, its flames widespread threatening neighboring cities like the densely populated Colorado Springs.

DALE MIELKE, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: It was extremely fast moving. I kept my family here too long because it was safe and next thing it was crossing the street to the south of us within minutes.

SIMON: The inferno moving rapidly is now deadly taking the lives of two people in the midst of evacuating. Fire officials say just 40 minutes after the victims started packing, the flames were on their doorstep.

MAYOR STEVE BACH, COLORADO SPRINGS: Our hearts go out to their loved ones and our thoughts and prayers are with all the people who have been hurt by this fire.

SIMON: Thousands fleeing their homes and for some, like the Coyne family, now facing the reality of losing their house.

JAENETTE COYNE, LOST HOUSE IN COLORADO WILDFIRE: It was probably the worst thing I've seen in my life. Yu have that moment where you say it's not really my house.

SIMON: The 750 firefighters working tirelessly to contain the flames and now we're getting a rare look from inside the fire lines. Watch as Air Force Academy Firefighter Braylen Eubanks aids in the battle against the inferno working alongside his team to extinguish the flames.

The Black Forest is just one of several wildfires burning in the state. To the south, the Royal Gorge fire threatens the iconic suspension bridge that has hosted tourists for so many years. While up north, lightning has ignited a fire in Rocky Mountain National Park.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SIMON: You got 40,000 people evacuated, it's almost impossible to get a hotel room in this area. The highways, the freeways are jammed with traffic as people are fleeing this fire, and no word, we don't know when things will return to normal. That of course is contingent upon the fire fighting effort and of course, the wind.

Now most of the pictures we've seen up until this point have come from the air, but you really need to go tour one of those devastated areas to get an appreciation, a full appreciation of what that scene looks like. Martin Savidge and his team got a tour through one of those ravage areas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see to the west.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Up close to the aftermath of the killer fire. This is the first look at ground level at the neighborhoods hardest hit by the Black Forest fire. There's no roaring blaze but the danger remains. Ground crews work hot spots in front of million-dollar homes while military choppers hover over rooftops. This ornamental pond became a convenient place to refill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have crews everywhere, where there are hot spots.

SAVIDGE: The deeper we drive into the Cathedral Plain Subdivision, the greater the devastation. Here claims burn in ways hard to explain, licking to the edges of some homes, incinerating others. Despite the evacuation order I found Dale Mielke, a retired firefighter, he remained throughout it all. When the flames got close he fought with everything he had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had some extinguishers I used to put that out and I used buckets of rain water that had collected and --

SAVIDGE (on camera): You got fairly desperate, that's what it sounds like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was going to do whatever I had to do.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He lost his shed but kept his house. The heat on the street was extreme.

(on camera): You can see this modern art created by the fire, these are newspaper boxes, maybe it's not surprising they melted, they're plastic, but this is a mailbox and that's metal.

(voice-over): Many of the houses here sat deep in the beauty and seclusion of the Black Forest, but in the fire it was those very trees that often doomed the home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the reality is once it's up in the trees and moving there's nothing the firefighters can do. I mean, basically they're now looking out for themselves.

SAVIDGE: Over 700 firefighters continue to work to contain the blaze. They include crews from towns just down the road as well as far away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They describe you as having your back against the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if I'd go as far as to say that honestly. I don't think it was that bad. We were just doing our job.

SAVIDGE: That humility is tempered with a simple understanding that the Black Forest fire is far from finished. Martin Savidge, CNN, Black Forest, Colorado.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: You have to say those firefighters have the toughest job in America today trying to contain that thing, only 5 percent contained.

From east and west and in between devastating storms are putting tornadoes on the ground and causing flooding across the country. Police in Richmond, Virginia, are investigating the death of a 4-year- old boy who was hit by a falling tree during a severe thunderstorm. The boy was with his father Thursday afternoon at Maymont Park when a tree fell on them. The boy died at the scene. His father survived with non-life threatening injuries.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Several commercial buildings were damaged when a tornado touched down in Oregon near Portland. The twister also tore the roof off one home where the storm sent debris flying 100 feet into the air. Funnel clouds are also spotted in several nearby towns. No injuries to report.

ROMANS: Members of one Iowa family owe their lives to tenacious firefighters. Look at that little girl in the front seat. This is along Interstate 35 in Worth County, Iowa. That's just south of the Minnesota border. Two women and a girl found themselves trapped after their SUV went into a flooded ditch.


LT. DANIEL SHAFFER, WORTH COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Torrential downpour with very heavy rains, poor visibility, conditions, going off the road into a flooded ditch and several fire departments worked together and were able to rescue them.


ROMANS: Everyone looked so calm, too. That's what I love about this. It took firefighters about 45 minutes to pull them to safety. Indra Petersons says it takes 6 inches of water to knock a car off of its path on the road so everyone be careful.

Scorching temperatures out west making things tough for the crews doing battle on the wildfires, but what about the storm systems that have been those dropping rain and causing heavy tornadoes?

LEMON: Yes, really crazy weather, Indra Petersons is here with the forecast now.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is the 12-hour loop of what we saw yesterday, all the severe weather really taking up the entire eastern seaboard straight into the gulf and look at all the lightning we saw overnight. Finally this is lifting out to the northeast with wraparound moisture and high winds left in the northeast today.

But we're looking at all the wind damage left, a lot of reports of downed trees, downed power lines, power outages, and people still recovering as we wake up this morning. Another story is the dry air towards Colorado. We do not have a red flag warning. That's the good news. This is the water vapor satellite, and we're getting a hint of moisture into the Colorado area and the Gorge is so dry all that moisture isn't making it down to the lower levels.

A little bit better in the overnight hours 40 percent trying to get any recovery they can get on that fire in the critical overnight hours, afternoon around 14 percent. Winds are calmer so that's good, but we know fire causes their own weather pattern as well.

ROMANS: All right, Indra, thank you.

LEMON: Thank you very much. In South Florida this morning some news there, three people are in critical condition after an outdoor deck at a popular Miami sports bar collapsed. Dozens of patrons dropped right into Bizgain Bay. The deck was pack with fans watching the NBA finals. They say 24 people in all have been treated for injuries.

We go to CNN's John Zarrella, he is live in Miami's North Bay Village. What do you know, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don. Well, you know, I think one of the things that certainly made the rescue effort a little easier here was the fact that the water level is really low here, but you can imagine that one minute you're watching that NBA finals game and the next minute the dock is collapsing. People were falling into the water on top of each other.

And you can see behind me here you can see what's left of the guardrail that went around that deck, the potted palm trees, the tables and chairs all just flung in the water and all of that debris, all of that stuff from the restaurant piling on top of people. Patrons of the restaurant who were inside said it literally happened in an instant.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were sitting there enjoying the view after our dinner and we heard people screaming. We didn't know where it was coming from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were walking into the back area and it was more of what we heard rather than what we saw. First we heard like a crack and then it was within seconds that the whole deck had collapsed into the water. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people went to this bar to see the Heat's game and many of them got hurt, we were coming from the beach we saw all of these lights so it occurred to us to figure out what was going on or wonder what was going on. So we noticed it was close to our hotel and we were actually notified by some kids that the rooftop was opened so we got access to that and I was able to record this.


ZARRELLA: There's a fire rescue unit less than a mile away. They were able to get divers in the water quickly. No one is missing, that is good news but as you mentioned still three people in critical condition -- Don.

LEMON: All right, John, thank you very much.

ROMANS: The government is insisting the top secret NSA program that collects American's phone records isn't just legal. FBI Director Robert Mueller said it could have prevented the September 11 attacks if it was put in place earlier. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller said data mining could have identified one of the 9/11 hijackers and potentially foiled those attacks.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: The 9/11 Commission itself indicated that investigations or interrogations of Al Midhar one he was identified could have evidenced connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot. The simple fact that the detention could have derailed the plan in any case, the opportunity was not there. If we had had this program, that opportunity would have been there.

ROMANS: A for the source of the leak, the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, he's believed to be in a safehouse somewhere in Hongkong. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee is calling for laws to keep government contractors like Snowden from having access to sensitive information.

LEMON: Right now it is the best of three, woohoo! Miami Heat getting their groove back beating the San Antonio Spurs last night 109-93 to square the NBA finals at 2-2 games. Dwyane Wade scored 32 points, Lebron James game two, 33. Game five they return to Miami for a sixth and possibly a seventh game, my prediction -- going to be six games.

ROMANS: You think so?

LEMON: I think so.

ROMANS: He's on the record.

Meantime, coming up, chemical weapons used by the Syrian people, on the Syrian people by the government, what the White House is doing now to bolster the rebels.


LEMON: New this morning in Turkey signs that both the government and protesters are seeking to end a political crisis sparked by plans to develop an Istanbul park. Overnight police released 46 demonstrators who have been detained. The prime minister met with protest leaders and indicated he may let voters decide the future of Gezi Park, a move protesters may support, but he insisted those still camped in the park must leave. Protests against government plans for Gezi Park began on May 31st. Clashes with police have left at least three people dead, more than 4,300 injured.

ROMANS: Now to Syria, the White House saying it is clear Syria used chemical weapons including sarin nerve gas on its own people killing as many as 150. The big question is how forcefully will the White House respond? The pressure on the president is building. Barbara Starr is following the latest developments from the Pentagon for us. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. The White House now says that Syria has used chemical weapons eight times on its own people and the president making that crucial decision to act.


STARR: The Obama administration is now confirming what was feared -- that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons multiple times.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or utilized. That would change my calculation.

STARR: Pressure is growing on President Obama to act.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I applaud the president's decision and I appreciate it, but the President of the United States had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground for the balance of power.

STARR: The White House says it will boost military support to the rebels but won't say exactly how. A leading option, arming the rebels. That could include desperately needed ammunition for rifles and machine guns and new shipments of machine guns, shoulder-fired weapons to attack tanks, artillery, helicopters and jets, and mortars and rockets. The White House does not plan to put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria and is far from ready to commit to a no fly zone.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY, (R) TEXAS: The question is, what is going to make a decisive difference now, and is the administration willing to do that? Or is this kind of a "throw some guns that way" and pretend you're doing something when it's not going to make a difference?

STARR: The stakes couldn't be higher.

THORNBERRY: It's important to us because of the tremendous number of chemical weapons that are there and if these weapons get in the hands of the al Qaeda-related terrorist groups, they will certainly be used against Europe and against us.

STARR: The White House announcement comes after word that Former President Bill Clinton is now siding with McCain, calling for tougher action. According to Politico, Clinton said at a private event with McCain, quote, "some people say stay out. I think that's a big mistake."


STARR: So let's say the president does decide to go down the route of at least initially supplying ammunition and weapons, a very limited option, military commanders will tell you, Christine, limited action may be very tough. What if Assad ups the ante, then you got to go all in. Christine?

ROMANS: Certainly we're in a new phase in this conflict for sure in U.S. involvement. Thanks, Barbara Starr.

LEMON: Yeah, we're going to delve into this a bit more. We'll take you to the front lines of Syria, Frederik Pleitgen is in Damascus. Fred, first off, the White House definitively saying what it long suspected here -- chemical weapons were used in small amounts on the Syrian people. This may be a pivotal development.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly could be a pivotal development. I think the Syrian government is very much aware of that. We've actually been asking for the Syrian government to comment on all of this. They haven't done so, and that clearly shows they are worried this could indeed be a game changer if the U.S. in fact gets more involved in the conflict here because right now of course the Syrian military feels it's in the driver's seat and pushing back the rebels on the battlefield.

I was able to go around Damascus earlier today and ask people who support the government what they thought of this new development. I want you to listen in, it's very interesting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have head this war for two years. And we have managed very well. What are they going to do, Air strikes on military areas? They can do that, but we Syrians have proven we can manage and we are patient and we will win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): America is inventing stories about chemical weapons. Syrian government never used chemical weapons. The rebels have used them, not the government, so they are inventing stories because our army is winning.


PLEITGEN: So as you can see there's a lot of disbelief there in those reports that the government did use chemical weapons and also of course a lot of defiance on the part of the government supporters, but clearly the Syrian government knows that it's vulnerable at this point in time.

They have all of their cards in play, they have Hezbollah fighting on the side of their army, they are on the offensive but they also know that all of these games could be squashed very quickly if America gives more weapons to the rebels especially if these are very advanced weapons. Don?

LEMON: Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.

ROMANS: After spending nearly a week in the hospital, Nelson Mandela's condition continues to improve. That's according to South African President Joseph Zuma. The 94-year-old Mandela remains in the intensive care unit at a Pretoria hospital where he is battling a recurring lung infection. President Zuma wants South Africans to keep Mandela in their prayers and to wish him a speedy recovery.

LEMON: The mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, commended police on doing a great job after a series of apartment raids. What were they looking for? Gun and drug evidence including a video that purportedly shows Ford smoking crack cocaine.

"Toronto Star" reports police seized cell phones, 40 guns and $3 million worth of drugs, no sign of the video though and an investigation into this alleged video has been going on for a year now. Ford told reporters he has nothing to hide.

Coming up here on CNN, think flying is tough now? With so many people packed into planes? We have the details on one airline's new plan to get more passengers on board. Is that possible?

ROMANS: Oh, it is.


LEMON: Want to be in the park right now, you can, there it is, Central Park.

ROMANS: Looks like a nice time for a run, a perfect time, good weather for a run.

LEMON: You want to go?

ROMANS: Can you cover me for the next 45 minutes?

LEMON: I got you covered.

ROMANS: First let me mind your business before I go. Welcome back to EARLY START. Futures are quiet following a big rally yesterday. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P all had big gains, gains of 1 percent. It has been, Don, this has been a volatile week. The Dow has swung more than 100 points in eight of the nine trading days in June, so it has been wild.

Smartphones often the target of thieves, now government officials are calling on the manufacturers to install a kill switch that would render a smartphone useless if it's stolen, basically it wouldn't allow the device to be reactivated. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman met yesterday with executives from Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, he said this could be financial move for these companies too. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, NY ATTORNEY GENERAL: First company to come up with a very effective way to make their phone safe, worthless if stolen is going to have a competitive edge. We're going to call attention to it, and we're going to try and make sure everyone follows suit. This is not a problem we can't solve. This is a problem and this is a crime wave that we can prevent.


ROMANS: San Francisco's attorney general is also on the kill switch band wagon. Last year half the robberies in San Francisco involved mobile devices. Half the robberies in San Francisco.

Just when you think a plane can't get any more crowded, it apparently can. American Airlines plans to squeeze more seats into the coach section of many of its planes in a drive to increase revenue following is merger with U.S. Airways. No word yet on how many seats will be added or when but the additions will be on American's 737 MD-80 fleets.

LEMON: What are they going to do, bunk bets, bunk seats?


ROMANS: I will here like this, use my phone.

LEMON: What is the one thing we have to know about our money today, Ms. Romans.

ROMANS: Mortgage rates are getting close to 4 percent, Don. Don Lemon, 4 percent mortgage rates. Freddie Mac says the 30-year fixed rate now 3.98 percent, the highest in more than a year. Rates have been rising the past few weeks because there's talks the federal reserve may cut back a stimulus program which injects money into the mortgage market. When I look at that chart? Three little words: lock it in.

LEMON: That's still low. I bought a house back in the end of 2006, 2007 down in Atlanta and I think it was like five point something and now it's three or four, still low.

Coming up looking for a cause. A Louisiana chemical plant explodes leaving one dead and dozens injured, we'll have the latest on the investigation.

ROMANS: And the singer who sparked controversy online, wait until you hear what's being said about him and why many are crying foul.


ROMANS: Deadly explosion, fire erupting in a Louisiana chemical plant, dozens injured. This morning, investigators trying to figure out what ignited the flames.

LEMON: Deadly wildfires as well rapidly spreading this morning in Colorado. What firefighters are up against today.

ROMANS: Home of the brave? The online outrage ignited by the 11-year- old boy's stunning rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." Welcome back to EARLY START I'm Christine Romans.

LEMON: And I'm Don Lemon. It is the bottom of the hour. Coming up on 6:30 here in the east.

There was a massive explosion at a chemical explosion near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It has left one man dead and at least 75 others injured. Want to go to Nick Valencia, he joins us now from Geismar, Louisiana with more on the deadly blast that rocked Ascension Parish. Good morning to you, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Nick (sic) yeah. Despite that, those dangerous smoke plumes that went spewing into the sky, officials here in this area say this is now safe.