Thursday, October 25, 2007
Reporting effort conjures mixed emotions
Getting to the fire line isn't easy.

Wednesday, I was assigned to the Santiago Canyon Fire, a 22,000 acre wildfire that's been threatening 3,000 homes in Orange County. What made this one particularly shocking is authorities say it was set by one or more arsonists.

First, we have to figure out how to get close. Producer Katherine Wojtecki, photographer Tim Hart and I were chugging along with a GPS systems in our vehicles. But that didn't help much. Lots of roads were blocked, and the GPS could easily send us to a dead end.

So, we looked at the sky, and headed toward a huge plume of black smoke. A sheriff's deputy stopped us, and told us to turn around, because the FBI was investigating down the road. (Later, we learned that in two outdoor locations, authorities determined the fire had been deliberately set.)

Twists and turns. Checkpoints. The clock was ticking. I had to crank out a live shot soon and was worried we'd never figure out how to direct the satellite truck to our location. We were trying to find a spot with a good escape route, but where we would also be close enough to see the action.

Then, on a remote hilltop, we found the view we were looking for. We could see a house about a half-mile away, with flames all around it. Firefighters were right next to the danger. Helicopters came in every few minutes to dump water on the huge hotspot. In this section of the Santiago Canyon fire, there were about 100 firefighters trying to save 25 homes from being destroyed.

We interviewed a resident named Marty Weel, who broke into tears on camera. He was deeply thankful firefighters saved his house. We fed tape. Everything made air on time. I felt we improvised well.

But my emotions moved to incredulity. How could it be that someone set this fire? It's crazy. So many resources are being used to fix an enormous amount of damage. It just showed, when you struggle to get to one of these fires, what you end up finding can be both compelling and tragic.

-- By Keith Oppenheim, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 1:15 PM ET
  3 Comments
It does make you shake your head in disbelief whenever you witness humans at their worst. Arson would be the last thing we all want to face. However, at the end of the day, I think the goodness of people who respond to the challenge, outweighs the evil some humans throw at us. There's been a lot of good shown in this disaster. We have to stay focused to help those who need that goodness to go forward with their lives. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 1:59 PM ET
Its simply terrible that someone would set a fire deliberately to burn up so much forest and so many people's homes. Depravity comes in many forms unfortunately.

I shivered when I read your words about finding a spot to transmit from that had a "good escape route". Not many people have to worry about that when they go to work.

Stay safe and be sure you find those good escape routes each time!

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 2:50 PM ET
Hi Keith,

Kind greetings from the seaside of Canada. Incredibly emotional time for everyone – even those of us from far away watching – we are all touched by this tragedy. We hope the people in California know that we grieve for them too.

Last night’s coverage was very emotional for us too. That interview was Marty Weel was very touching. We are sorry for what he and his family have lost. It must have meant so much to those firefighters to hear a profound moment of heartfelt gratitude like his. Pure and right from the depth of his heart. What a moment to capture on tape.

We didn't even stop to think that some of the firefighters are volunteers too. What an incredible group of heroic men and women – paid or unpaid, they all deserve something after all this. We appreciate and love them so much and wish them many blessings.

It was truly eerie to hear that expert on AC360 explain the type of person who would set fires. Arsonist. Creepy and sick.

Just to imagine it. As if the pain isn’t bad enough, but to find out that there is even a hint that that a fire there was set intentionally? Awful. It brings out a lot of anger and pain. Fear too. If that is true, we hope and pray they catch the person or people involved.

Thank you so much Keith. We are incredibly worried for everyone there coughing and breathing all that choking haze in. That can’t be good for anyone in the long run. We continue to keep everyone there in our heartfelt prayers and are so very sorry. Please take care & stay safe.

In appreciation, Gina & family


Firefighters save hearts and homes.
Author Unknown
Posted By Anonymous : 3:00 PM ET
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