As fires torched 424 square miles in Southern California, roughly 300,000 in San Diego County alone have been forced to flee.
Over the weekend, I watched the news as massive fires sparked near Malibu. As a native of San Diego County, I have made the drive up the coast to Malibu countless times. I was saddened to see the homes on the breathtaking coastline threatened. What I didn't expect was that by the end of the weekend more fires would spark 100 miles south and spread at a rapid pace toward the streets where I grew up.
On Monday morning, the e-mails hitting my blackberry were a reminder of how quickly news takes shape. I live in Chicago now, but the area I still think of as home was surrounded by fire. I immediately called my family only to find them packing their things. They told me the smoke from the fire is so thick, they could barely see out the front door. I checked websites of local newspapers and found the fire was bearing down on North County in San Diego. County officials were pleading with residents to heed the warning to evacuate their homes. Then I got the message from my bosses: go cover the story.
Immediately I jotted down a checklist of things we need to do our jobs during breaking news. Who will be there? What are our needs? Where can we best deliver the story for our viewers? What stories do we tell? But my family and their needs are also at the front of my mind: Where will they go? Will the property I know as home still be there tomorrow? Is this actually happening to the place I call home?
Flying in, I could see the scope of the problem. San Diego County was surrounded by flames, with no containment. This is much worse than the wildfires here in 2003. The high winds have pushed these flames all over the county. Everywhere I drive, I see people wearing masks, their cars filled with their belongings. I drove to survey our live location for the morning and watched as homes were literally smoldering.
Covering this breaking news, I see firsthand how people deal with tragedy. I have interviewed people who have lost everything and are faced with starting over from scratch. From hurricanes to tornados to freak accidents like a bridge collapse, I am always amazed at how people deal with adversity. But in the end, when the assignment is over, we always get on a plane and go back home. Now I am in the unique position of covering a breaking news story that is my own backyard.
-- By Ismael Estrada, CNN Producer