Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Assigned to fires as family flees
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
Posted By CNN: 10:02 AM ET
Why are all these blog posts littered with I and me? Isn't it supposed to be about the STORY?
Posted By Anonymous : 10:29 AM ET
And Nero fiddled as Rome burned ... Nero has a lot in common with President Bush. The epic California fires are a growing alarming sympton of global warming. Lighter snowfalls, dryer forests, larger fires at higher elevations. Drought in one part of the nation and floods in the other. States like Georgia running out of water. Oceans rising and threatening many countries - Bangkok is predicted to go under the sea in the next 15-20 years. And all the while, our country's political leaders pay lip service to global warming. Maybe Gore should be President - he seems to be the only one that gets it. When US cities brgin to be destroyed by flood, drought, and fire, maybe someone will wake up.
Posted By Anonymous : 11:00 AM ET
That's why it's so important to care and respond to every disaster that affects us humans. Because sooner or later, anywhere at anytime all of us are one step from an event that could cause so much harm and we will need each other's help.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 11:03 AM ET
I can only hope that the story will be reported, in depth beyond some celebrity house in Malibu. Larry King should be ashamed and CNN should and can do a better job of reporting on a tragedy of massive impact beyond the enclave of Malibu. Get with it, or get out of the way....we are living in hell right now and need help.
Posted By Anonymous : 11:31 AM ET
It is encouraging to see that these people are appreciative of the help they are offered and optimistic considering the potential fate of their homes and/or livelihood. I only wish we could have seen this kind of civility out of the "victims," and I use the word "victim" loosely, from the last natural disaster that caused people to be housed in an NFL stadium. It seems there is a difference in the mentality in the people from different classes of people. I just think its sad that people feel that we/the government owe them something, but I must say it is good to see the good will of people being appreciated. Everyone should do their part to help out their fellow man, but when help is expected without gratitude, there is a problem.
Posted By Very satisfied : 11:32 AM ET
Dear Ismael,

I am sorry to hear that your family was forced to leave their home, threatened by these voracious wildfires.

I can't imagine how you felt monitoring the situation from Chicago and how torn you must feel having to experience this tragedy from both sides of the story. However, your unique position does allow you to understand and relay the feelings of the victims of these wildfires on a very personal level.

Sometimes it is important to personalize a tragedy like this; it forces people to realize that any one of us, no matter who we are, can become victims at any time.

I wish you and your family the best of luck.

Take care,
Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 11:44 AM ET
We're glad to have a local back home covering the story, then. I hope your family and friends got out to a shelter and are safe. We're still awaiting word for our mandatory evacuation now... Nervewracking!
Posted By MarcieGee : 12:06 PM ET
The Anderson Cooper Blog (as well as MOST blogs) is about the people AND the story hence the I and we. First time to the internet?
Posted By Anonymous : 12:14 PM ET
Ismael, thank you for braving flying into the 50+ mph winds into SAN! Im surprised you were able to land with the wind and smoke combining to make it dangerous to fly. Please focus on the average person not the 5 million dollar house Hollywood wannabes. Canyou also provide coverage of the military bases around San Diego?Thanks
Posted By Ellie A. Phoebinx, AZ. : 12:28 PM ET
Please don't use the wildfires to point the finger at the President. Remember you can't immediately look to Washington to the answer for every tragedy. You wouldn't say "Oh ther's a tornado in Kansas - WHY ISN'T CONGRESS TAKING ACTION ?!" Seems lately when something happens in a state, people call for "federal action! " What about local management and leadership?
Posted By andrew j., chula vista, ca. : 12:34 PM ET
It is amazing how it doesn't take long before someone pops up and mouths off on how every event large or small is Bush's fault. This is largely a result of YEARS of poor land use and land management, over development and bad water planning combined with a lack of funding for the fire services and fire prevention. How about funding full fire crews, more stations and more prevention and stop pointing political fingers! Both parties are to blame here
Posted By Firedog : 12:36 PM ET
Looking forward to tonight's report. Thank you & BE SAFE!
Posted By Melissa M, Waterloo, IA : 12:38 PM ET
I can't believe someone used the misfortune falling on Southern Calif. to say "Al Gore should have been president".

How pathetic; if you can't find a legitimate reason to criticize Pres. Bush, don't use the natural occurrence of a fire to justify your own vengeful attitude about having voted for the wrong person.
Posted By Cary - Lowell, IN. : 12:39 PM ET
I agree with posters who say don't use "global warming" hysteria as a crutch. It snowed in the mtns. above Malibu last winter for the first time in this generation !! How's that for a global warming fact?!
Posted By donald f., denver , co. : 12:42 PM ET
Why do we build homes in fire-prone desert areas and them wonder why they go up in flames? Much like the logic of building houses below sea level and wondering why they flood. But anyway, good luck to the brave firefighters who are working to combat the flames.
Posted By Robert P. San Francisco, Ca. : 12:46 PM ET
I worked in law enforcement, and it's no easy task to tell someone they have to leave their home.To the fire service personnel, good luck and Godspeed.
Posted By toni g. , san pedro, ca. : 12:50 PM ET
to those in other parts of the country: the fires could be exacerbated by arsonists, but are largely due to the Santa Ana winds, a natural phenomenon in California.
Posted By Alice A. --- Ontario, Ca. : 12:52 PM ET
All the firefighters and residents who are losing their homes are in my thoughts and prayers right now, especially with the holidays coming up. I am so sorry, and hope that some kind of miracle will happen for you all.
Posted By Dina J., Tucson, AZ. : 12:55 PM ET
I see lots of question about WHY: the fires are starting by unprecedented santa anas, which are themselves unpredictable shifting north east winds, really bad this time. They cause fire sparks/embers to "jump" hundreds of feet across highways and drought-ridden canyons and land . They torch everything in sight and are fueled by chaparral (dry brush).Thank you to the firefighters, you are incredibly and simply humble and above all, brave.
Posted By Angie J., Newport Beach, CA : 1:01 PM ET
This is truly tragic and horrible to watch such a beautiful part our our country fall in flames. Is there anything we viewers can do to help besides prayer?
Posted By Janine, Covington, Ky. : 1:06 PM ET
I hope your family and all of those involved in these fires stay safe. I know after Katrina and Rita I was working as a counselor and it was often very difficult to keep my private fears and sadness at bay while working with my clients who had lost everything they knew. For three days after Katrina we could not find my cousin (whose last phone contact with family was while he was on his roof in St. Bernard Parish). I cannot tell you how hard it was to concentrate on helping others while I was so worried about his safety. I stayed in this automatic mode and depersonalized strictly to survive. And even after we knew he was all right, it still was hard to stay a professional in the most painful of circumstances because parts of my childhood in LA and MS were lost forever, friends and family had lost everything, and my grief had to be put aside to deal with my clients. The thing that saved me was talking about the shared loss with my friends and family who understood what I was going through.

I pray the fires are put out quickly with minimal loss to property and no further loss of life. I do hope our government wakes up and realizes the environment is trying to tell us something and we need to listen before it's too late (and for some it already is in terms of what can never be replaced). Real people are being impacted by their lack of concern for our planet. And if this much of California burning doesn't give them some sort of huge clue, I am not sure what will.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 1:10 PM ET
Bless the Beasts and the Children. Are you also going to have coverage of the Wild Animal Park too? I pray for all the beasts and people throughout the affected area.
Posted By Marianne, San Jose, Ca. : 1:13 PM ET
To the first poster, Ismael in this case is part of the story since his family and friends are in the middle of this inferno.
Posted By Missy, Los Angeles, CA : 1:17 PM ET
God Bless our firefighters and tireless horse rescuers. We wish safety for all in harm's way. We share the earth.
Posted By Ron and Jolene R,, Mission Viejo, Ca. : 1:18 PM ET
Nature is in control and it doesn't look to see if someone is in its path. I respect the firefighters, they sometimes give their lives to protect a community.
Posted By jessica platt, omaha, neb. : 1:24 PM ET
Our firefighters are amazing and incredibly sacrificial . Thank you to all police, fire and rescue workers. I wish there was some way we could repay you.
Posted By Lisa , Huntington Beach, Ca. : 1:26 PM ET
Considering that the magnitude is similar to Katrina, FEMA could move those unused trailers to CA. Maybe they can be used there.
Posted By Anonymous : 2:15 PM ET

I hope your family and the place you call home weather this firestorm safely. My sister lives in that area and I am hoping she is ok too.

Stay safe, a wildfire is so unpredictable that its difficult to find a place that is truly "safe" from it jumping to where you are. Be careful, stay safe, and good luck.

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 8:07 PM ET
It's difficult watching all the destruction and how so much effort seems powerless against such large fires. To bad these 747 super tankers are not available. It looks like they can dump enough water to make a difference and might not be as affected by those high winds.
More info:
Posted By Tom, Philadelphia, PA : 9:50 AM ET
Placing blame on government, state and local officials for a natural disaster is ridiculous. Man has gotten way ahead of himself when he thinks that he can control and contain what wrath nature may bring upon us -- whatever the cause.

GOD bless those touched by this tragegy. Lets put those pointed fingers to use helping instead of griping. A great example set by the clowns, magicians, marines, neighbors and friends that are HELPING!!!!!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous : 10:58 AM ET
A behind the scenes look at "Anderson Cooper 360°" and the stories it covers, written by Anderson Cooper and the show's correspondents and producers.

• 01/29/2006 - 02/05/2006
• 02/05/2006 - 02/12/2006
• 02/12/2006 - 02/19/2006
• 02/19/2006 - 02/26/2006
• 02/26/2006 - 03/05/2006
• 03/05/2006 - 03/12/2006
• 03/12/2006 - 03/19/2006
• 03/19/2006 - 03/26/2006
• 03/26/2006 - 04/02/2006
• 04/02/2006 - 04/09/2006
• 04/09/2006 - 04/16/2006
• 04/16/2006 - 04/23/2006
• 04/23/2006 - 04/30/2006
• 04/30/2006 - 05/07/2006
• 05/07/2006 - 05/14/2006
• 05/14/2006 - 05/21/2006
• 05/21/2006 - 05/28/2006
• 05/28/2006 - 06/04/2006
• 06/04/2006 - 06/11/2006
• 06/11/2006 - 06/18/2006
• 06/18/2006 - 06/25/2006
• 06/25/2006 - 07/02/2006
• 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006
• 07/09/2006 - 07/16/2006
• 07/16/2006 - 07/23/2006
• 07/23/2006 - 07/30/2006
• 07/30/2006 - 08/06/2006
• 08/06/2006 - 08/13/2006
• 08/13/2006 - 08/20/2006
• 08/20/2006 - 08/27/2006
• 08/27/2006 - 09/03/2006
• 09/03/2006 - 09/10/2006
• 09/10/2006 - 09/17/2006
• 09/17/2006 - 09/24/2006
• 09/24/2006 - 10/01/2006
• 10/01/2006 - 10/08/2006
• 10/08/2006 - 10/15/2006
• 10/15/2006 - 10/22/2006
• 10/22/2006 - 10/29/2006
• 10/29/2006 - 11/05/2006
• 11/05/2006 - 11/12/2006
• 11/12/2006 - 11/19/2006
• 11/19/2006 - 11/26/2006
• 11/26/2006 - 12/03/2006
• 12/03/2006 - 12/10/2006
• 12/10/2006 - 12/17/2006
• 12/17/2006 - 12/24/2006
• 12/24/2006 - 12/31/2006
• 12/31/2006 - 01/07/2007
• 01/07/2007 - 01/14/2007
• 01/14/2007 - 01/21/2007
• 01/21/2007 - 01/28/2007
• 01/28/2007 - 02/04/2007
• 02/04/2007 - 02/11/2007
• 02/11/2007 - 02/18/2007
• 02/18/2007 - 02/25/2007
• 02/25/2007 - 03/04/2007
• 03/04/2007 - 03/11/2007
• 03/11/2007 - 03/18/2007
• 03/18/2007 - 03/25/2007
• 03/25/2007 - 04/01/2007
• 04/01/2007 - 04/08/2007
• 04/08/2007 - 04/15/2007
• 04/15/2007 - 04/22/2007
• 04/22/2007 - 04/29/2007
• 04/29/2007 - 05/06/2007
• 05/06/2007 - 05/13/2007
• 05/13/2007 - 05/20/2007
• 05/20/2007 - 05/27/2007
• 05/27/2007 - 06/03/2007
• 06/03/2007 - 06/10/2007
• 06/10/2007 - 06/17/2007
• 06/17/2007 - 06/24/2007
• 06/24/2007 - 07/01/2007
• 07/01/2007 - 07/08/2007
• 07/08/2007 - 07/15/2007
• 07/15/2007 - 07/22/2007
• 07/22/2007 - 07/29/2007
• 07/29/2007 - 08/05/2007
• 08/05/2007 - 08/12/2007
• 08/12/2007 - 08/19/2007
• 08/19/2007 - 08/26/2007
• 08/26/2007 - 09/02/2007
• 09/02/2007 - 09/09/2007
• 09/09/2007 - 09/16/2007
• 09/16/2007 - 09/23/2007
• 09/23/2007 - 09/30/2007
• 09/30/2007 - 10/07/2007
• 10/07/2007 - 10/14/2007
• 10/14/2007 - 10/21/2007
• 10/21/2007 - 10/28/2007

    What's this?
CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNN makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNN may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.