Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Fires unlike other disasters
Within minutes of flying into Los Angeles yesterday, photojournalist Jerry Simonson and I hopped in a helicopter and took off from the roof of the LAX parking garage.

Flying 6,500 feet over the fire zone, the damage that has been wrought quickly came into perspective. In some areas, long plumes of smoke knifed the blue sky. In other spots, walls of flames could be seen raging unchallenged.

Having covered over 30 hurricanes, several earthquakes and other natural disasters, I have to say there is something different about the damage a fire inflicts. Fires just about destroy everything. For many of the families here, there will nothing to come back to, nothing to build on. They will have lost everything.

As I got ready to go live last night, I noticed the tired, but smiling faces of the firefighters. For the first time, they had the fires near Santa Clarita in LA County under control. There was, at last, some good news.

-- By John Zarrella, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 12:29 PM ET
  16 Comments
Hello, I was born in california, I moved after the Loma prieta earthquake because I didn't want to be caught in one again, and in a large population where evacuations were so large! California has showed great leadership and control over the situation...good job all...
Lili in washington
Posted By Lilie : 1:19 PM ET
I'm searching in vain for a good discussion of the causes of the CA wildfires. I read an old report that 9 out of 10 widlfires are human behavior related. Can anyone give us information??
Posted By Jim : 1:55 PM ET
I agree with Lilie's comment. Californians have shown real character and strength throughout this horrific event. I admire them as I admired New Yorkers after 9/11 and I will continue to pray that this devastation ends soon.
Posted By Debbie, Denham Springs, LA : 1:56 PM ET
John/AC360:
Spending some time near Missoula Montana, this summer, I was able to see first hand the coalition of firefighters struggling to keep fires contained in western Montana.

Arriving back at base every evening with blackened faces and aching muscles, the only relief for these firefighters, whether local or visiting, was the command tents and a catering truck to feed them.

After checking in, the call to sleep leads the firefighters to the pop-up tents stretched down the fence line softly lit as a shift retires after a blistering day.

Even as sleep arrives for these firefighters in the canvas caves, helicopters continue to land in what was once a grazing area for horses. The dried grasses sway like ocean waves but then are flattened like crop circles indented in the field.

The thunder of the helicopters continues on throughout the night while local police officers help load up news cameras and crews to report for the late evening newscasts.

The firefighters working in southern California are the nomads of the fire season. These heroic men and women save lives and property then move on to the next blaze in another state or country as needed.
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, Indiana : 3:32 PM ET
Hi John,

Kind greetings from the seaside of Canada. Whenever I hear your name I do always think of hurricanes – you standing all alone in the fierce wind and blinding rain with your CNN hood tied gathered tightly around your face. Sometimes you could barely stay on your feet. How many historic stories you have covered. Thank you John.

You are so right about fire. There is such a profound sadness about it. Mud can often be washed away, but fire is so very final. Often there is nothing to grieve over, just the smoldering ashes and the memories of what was. Our hearts go out to those that have lost everything or have been affected by the fires. There will be a grieving process for them and we keep them in our prayers. I’m sorry for them. We dearly hope all can be done to help them put their lives together as soon as possible.

We hope the winds will continue to die down, that will surely lift the spirits of the heroic firefighters. It was amazing to see the scenes from the helicopter last night on AC360. There were terrible fires this past summer in Greece and one of the firefighters made a film of what it was like to fight the fires from the air. Sadly he and his firefighter partner died in July when his plane crashed into the mountain while fighting the fires there. He was married with young children. Such a brave fire fighters. Greece went into mourning. Here is the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIEe9iRAX_E

We deeply appreciate these brave men and women that fight these fires. Thank you doesn’t seem enough.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people in California, this is such a traumatic event for them. Just to watch it unfold on TV is traumatic to observe and we grieve for them. It’s heartbreaking. We pray for the injured too, and dearly hope and pray they are not in too much pain or are able to cope. I am so sorry beyond words. There truly are no words to express this.

Thank you so much for your hard work John. Hope you are feeling okay. Please take care & stay safe.

In appreciation, Gina & family in Canada


He is healing the brokenhearted ones, And is binding up their painful spots.
(Psalm 147:3)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
(Psalm 34:18)
Posted By Anonymous : 3:45 PM ET
Thank you for your work John. My heart goes out to the firefighters as they battle the flames as well as fatigue. The mountains are beautiful but treacherous, and far beyond the scope of humans to control. I think this is all part of nature's cycle.
Posted By Anne B, Taos New Mexico : 3:52 PM ET
How can the claim be made that the Louisiana disaster is somehow 'racist' but the California disaster is being treated fairly? Aren't you comparing apples to oranges? If you use the argument that the mayor of La couldn't respond more concisively because there was no power and the police dept was underwater, then how can you also turn around and say that the city was treated in a racist fashion??? Either admit that the two disasters are completely different in scope and in allowing centralized authorities to communicate and reach the people and help or admit that having driveable roadways and an ability to navigate out of the dangerous situation makes it a different type of disaster altogether. But don't 'use' the American conscience to assert things that aren't true, such as that there is somehow some racist 'bent' to the ability and guage of response!
Posted By Lucy, Houston, Texas : 5:21 PM ET
I can't begin to imagine how you get through an horrific event like this. I can't imagine losing everything. How do you decide in a few minutes what to take with you? A home is much more than just a house or an address. It's full of objects that tie you to those you've lost, keepsakes and gifts, pictures of those you love.

My thoughts and prayers are with all who have been affected by these firestorms. God Bless!
Posted By Christina, Windber, PA : 6:18 PM ET
Natural disaster whether by fire or water, should be treated the same. They both ruin, and can take lives. There is going to be and already is a glaring difference in how the Southern Californians will be treated in terms of their loss and how the Katrina victims were treated in theirs. Just because one does not have a lot in monetary and material wealth does not mean that they are no less valuable as a person-as a citizen in this society. I can guarantee you that the response from FEMA and the Bush Administration will be much swifter, considering their history with Katrina and the fact that in 08, they will need to count on the large number of electoral votes that California posesses.
Posted By L. D. Watkins, South Jersey : 7:18 PM ET
Jim writes:

"I'm searching in vain for a good discussion of the causes of the CA wildfires. I read an old report that 9 out of 10 widlfires are human behavior related. Can anyone give us information??"

Jim, please reference:

http://www.signonsandiego.com/firemap/

Under the map you will find a listing of the current fires, including possible causes, if known at this point.

FYI, a downed power line is the possible cause of one of the biggest fires, the Witch Creek fire.

Secondly - I live in the northern part of the county. I've seen rain only 3 times in the last 4 months and only one of those times was enough precip to wash the dust off my sidewalk.

Thirdly - Hot dry Santa Ana winds have been blowing this week. The smallest spark could have started any of these fires.

Final comment - It is utterly AMAZING that we've held off this long on the fires. To use an example, don't water your lawn for 4 months, add 90 degree temperatures, hot winds blowing at 50 mph, and then drop a cigarette on that dried out lawn. That's what we have here.

God bless the firefighters, law enforcement, and volunteers who are holding this powderkeg at bay.

Pray for rain.
Posted By Julie San Diego, CA : 7:27 PM ET
the problem is that house are being billet in remount places. they do the minnow of brush a round the house wish is 50 feet in la county. When I lived I cleared 150 a round my house. No fired ever touch anything on my place
Posted By Anonymous : 9:19 PM ET
John

Thanks for all the reports and images you and the others have shown us. The fire is overwhelming to watch, I can only imagine how much more overwhelming it seems to the people there. I hope the fireman have more to smile about soon. Their hard work and dedication to putting out the fire with as little damage to people's houses as possible is commendable and demonstrates vividly that fireman are heroes everytime they go out to battle the fires.

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 9:54 PM ET
My thanks go out to the Firefighters. I find it odd that the response to the fires were immediate while the New Orlean Residents had to wait days to get help. Right now they have large jets flying over the forest putting out the fires. Where were those jets for the New Orleans people. Where was the immediate response. From what I am seeing it's just plain racism and it shows to the rest of the world that if you have money and status than help will be there for you. For all the rest of us who do not have multi-million dollar homes will have to take a number and get in line and wait.
Posted By Anonymous : 10:38 PM ET
CNN is doing their usual great job in reporting the California fires, but I think an important opportunity is being missed here: informing folks how to stop a fire from burning down their homes.

According to my research, prompted by a recent news item I encountered online, there is a firefighting gel that can be applied to a home that will not allow it to catch fire.

Picture it this way:

1. A garden hose connected to a water supply.

2. At the nozzle end, there is an attached gallon jug of a non-toxic, US Forrest Service approved "super absorbent polymer."

3. You squirt this stuff mixed with water onto the thing you don't want to catch fire–about a quarter inch thick. It sticks to anything.

4. This gel will protect your home, and even shrubbery, anywhere from 6 to 32 hours.

5. The cost would be about $300. for 4 gallons of the gel producing polymer.

According to my information, there are fire trucks in the San Diego area equipped with gel producing, (don't confuse it with foam), equipment, and many homes have been saved with it.

Obviously, not every home in fires like the ones in S CA can be protected by fire departments. Nor would every home that was sprayed with the gel survive if the fire came after its effectiveness deteriorated.

But this is a proactive means to enhance the chances that your home will survive.

I live in a wildland setting. I've worried for years about how I could help my home survive a fire. I mean, how much longer can I rely on luck? There have already been fires here in Mendocino County, CA that came much too close to my home.

I'm going to invest about a thousand bucks in this gel firefighting equipment. It will provide some peace of mind and at least give me a fighting chance to save my home when the next fire hits.

(If you want to check out what I've been talking about here, google "firefighting gel.")
Posted By Edward McShane : 12:39 AM ET
I live in San Diego. 1200 homes burned. San Diego is semi arid, and very hilly and canyonous. our terrain is dry. with thick brush everywhere. our fire, horrible as it is, is not unheard of to native San Diegans, I've lived here my 38 years.
Posted By Anonymous : 6:09 PM ET
So exactly what would make you all feel better, if we in SoCal were poor or left here to burn to the ground? How exactly would that help NOLA?
Posted By Anonymous : 6:13 PM ET
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