I've covered every major firestorm in Southern California for the last 13 years, but these fires are unprecedented. What has impressed me the most is the upbeat spirit of the evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium.
Most had escaped the firestorm with just the clothes on their backs, but each person -- from Tammy McCall, a young mother with three small children, to the Stoddards who have been married for 62 years to the Villanuevas, a family of five who ran from the flames -- considered themselves lucky. They got out alive.
And they told us, as awful as the situation was, they realized there were people in far worse circumstances and they wanted to reach out to them. We walked the corridors of a stadium that seats more than 70,000. It was surreal to watch people sitting in the stands looking out to an empty football field, gazing at the TV monitors watching local news reports wondering if their neighborhoods had burned.
Walking into the bathroom watching women wrapped in blankets, brushing their teeth and putting on makeup. Walking the corridors near the concession area, seeing cots, blankets, exhausted evacuees laying on the floor. It touched me to see so many mothers wandering around with a look of fear in their eyes, looking for ways to comfort their small children. I
I've covered many fires, but have never been so touched by the massive human effort I saw at Qualcomm. Magicians like Tony Bradley who showed up early in the morning and stayed into their night blowing balloon hats for kids and making them smile, a ventriloquist who had kids laughing up a storm. Countless students who gave up their day to volunteer because they say they couldn't just sit around and watch TV and feel helpless. Even Marine reservists who had served in Iraq showed up in the wee hours in the morning with a truck full of diapers and formula, saying it was time to help their fellow Americans.
It was quite a sight to behold.
-- By Thelma Gutierrez, CNN Correspondent