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Fighting fires, fear and anger in California

By Chris Lawrence
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

BEAUMONT, California (CNN) -- Yesterday I heard a California Department of Forestry chief say, "This is a very difficult day for the Forest Service. And this is a very difficult fire."

I can feel the difference here. I've covered a lot of wildfires, and most times the officials are very matter-of-fact and analytical as they describe what's going on with the fire. These guys are angry.

The anger is fueled by their belief that arsonists are responsible for the wildfire that has killed four firefighters and left one fighting for his life. More than 1,000 people are still putting their lives on the line battling the blaze that's burned nearly 24,000 acres near Palm Springs.

The five-man crew that got overwhelmed by the fire had plenty of experience --each with five to 25 years fighting fires. Today, every guy on the front line is thinking, "That could be me."

One firefighter told me, the winds just kick up and all of a sudden you're surrounded by a wall of intensely hot flames. He said that's his worst nightmare. To be trapped in some remote canyon, with no way out.

You've got to figure it's on everyone's mind as they grab their hoses again today.

You hear local politicians urging people here to blow the whistle on whoever set the fire, saying things like "turn in this scum." It's personal now

It's hard to hate nature. How do you blame the wind?

I think everyone here wants to put a face on the killer of their friends and brothers on the line.


CNN's Chris Lawrence on the scene of the deadly California fire.



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