Friday, October 26, 2007
Different breed of 'Hells Angels'
A group of volunteers uses mopeds to help fight the fires.
My cameraman and I snaked our way back through the labyrinth of treacherous roads that dissects Deerhorn Valley in San Diego, with our SUV hugging the edge on each hairpin turn. This mountainous region had been getting the business end of the Harris Fire for days and we'd just been given a front seat to the fury of flames that crews on the ground and in the air were battling.

As we continued back down the mountain, we discovered that authorities weren't the only ones doing their part to get these wildfires under control. A group of men dressed in makeshift fire suits were taking a break from their self-appointed mission. With some wearing baseball caps instead of helmets, and bandanas over their mouths instead of facemasks, these men were fighting the fire their way, with shovels.

For the last four days, they had been defending their community by surveying the ground that crews had already worked on to ensure the fire didn't re-ignite in places, which is sometimes the case. They'd shovel dirt on smoky areas of charred earth or pour water on flare-ups of flame from bottles they carried.

I was impressed with their ingenuity and sense of duty but what struck me most was their choice of vehicle: the moped. They told me it was the ideal transportation choice for smoothly navigating the uncertain terrain and for getting in and out of places quickly. With the tiny stature of their bikes and the bizarre uniforms they donned, they looked like a comedic version of a biker gang, but with a very serious purpose.

With fires off in the distance, smoke in the air and ash landing all around us, the setting was close to what I imagine Hell must look like and so I came to think of my new biker gang friends as a whole different breed of the Hells Angels .

--By Chuck Hadad, 360 Producer
Posted By CNN: 8:31 AM ET
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Thursday, October 25, 2007
Prisoners help fight fires
If you've never been to fire camp, you're missing something. What a scene.

I'm at the Santiago Canyon fire camp in Orange County, not too far from Irvine. It's basically a state park that gets taken over by all kinds of emergency crews: firefighters, police, animal shelter experts, media and prisoners.

Yes, prisoners. California has long had a program where state inmates help fight fires. They show up in orange jump suits, they're monitored by prison guards, and they are a big part of the relief effort.

Still, it's kind of interesting to see all these fire guys and prisoners essentially at the same outdoor dining tent, getting hot eggs and potatoes, fueling up for the long day and night ahead.

Then there are the mobile units. These are often pulled by semis, and expand into large communication centers, with all kinds of electronics sticking out. The big rigs remind me of the Jetsons, when some huge contraption would pop out of a suitcase, then later fold back up inside.

There are more than 1,000 firefighters out on the line -- just this for the Santiago Canyon fire, which has burned 23,000 acres so far. It takes a lot of personnel to back them up, and they all float through fire camp.

This massive infrastructure is a reminder that in California, at least, fighting fire is more than a public obligation; it's an industry.

-- By Keith Oppenheim, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 2:41 PM ET
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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
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Schwarzenegger: Being 'with the people' is key
IRVINE, California (CNN) -- He calls himself a "hands-on governor" to begin with, but Arnold Schwarzenegger tells CNN he takes an important lesson from the angry aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"Being out there with the people is the key thing," Schwarzenegger us as we spent several hours with him heading from briefings on the fires to a gym turned into a shelter for some 300 people in Irvine.

"Don't hide in your capital because there's no action there at all," the actor turned politician said in an interview. "The action is out there with the fires where people are displaced, in the centers and so forth, you got to be out there, I think that's the key thing and to make decisions very quickly and to be right there when you may have to make decisions."

-- By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 12:56 PM ET
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Schwarzenegger: Bush learned lesson from Katrina
IRVINE, California (CNN) -- Governor Schwarzenegger believes President Bush learned a valuable lesson from Katrina, too.

"Believe me, I am the first one to complain if the federal government doesn't really play ball with us or if they are not good partners. I complain immediately," the governor told CNN.

"But in this particular case I can tell you I was really suprised -- pleasantly surprised -- by how quickly the president picked up the phone, called me in the middle of my first briefing that I had with the fire officials and said to me, 'Do you need me to come out there? Do you need help? Let me know what you need. I am ready for you. All my departments are ready for you to act immediately, just let me know.'"

And the governor rejects the idea that the California National Guard's duties in Iraq and along the US-Mexican border have undermined its response to the fires.

"It has absolutely nothing to do with that," Schwarzenegger told us. "We have trained the National Guard for these kind of natural disasters and there will be plenty of them available on an ongoing basis."

-- By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 12:50 PM ET
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'You never expect you'll lose it all'
Adrian Lucio pushed his daughter's wheelchair around the shelter at Steele Valley High School yesterday wondering what he'll do now that his home has been destroyed.

On Sunday, when the fires broke out, he and his family were visiting his mother in Mexico. His biggest worry then was 20-year old Jennifer's injuries from a recent car accident.

On Tuesday, the fires had eased enough for the Lucio family to cross back across the border to home, only to learn from a friend at the shelter that they no longer have a home. Their trailer home in Barrett Junction, their friend said, was completely destroyed.

"You never expect you'll lose it all," Adrian said.

"What are you going to do?" I ask.

"I'm hoping the state will help us out," says Adrian.

The family had no insurance, Adrian said, because no company was willing to insure his trailer.

-- By Allan Chernoff, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 10:47 AM ET
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Musician rocks on after losing home
It's 9:30 PM San Diego time and a motley crue of aging rockers calling themselves "Who's Who?" have just finished their show in front of Steele Valley High School.

The school has been made into a shelter for hundreds of San Diego county residents forced out of their homes by the Harris Fire.

Although their audience was robust and festive at the beginning of the jam, just after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wrapped his press conference in front of the school, they only had a few worn out toe-tapping stragglers at show's end.

We'd been doing live shots all night at the school and I wandered over to listen in as they closed out their concert with Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama".

I learned the band's bassist Bob found out through the grapevine that his house was destroyed.

Despite losing his home, Bob rocked out with the best of them and at least for a few hours helped buoy the spirits of people with a very uncertain future.

-- By Chuck Hadad, 360 Producer
Posted By CNN: 9:08 AM ET
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Family's visit to burned house brings tears
Of all the homes we could have chosen to do our live show and live shots for "Anderson Cooper 360" tonight, we chose the home of Marilyn and Gordon Wood.

We didn't know we were standing at the edge of their driveway reporting from their crumbled burned out home on this San Diego hillside until they showed up in tears.

Escorted by police, they were getting their first glimpse of what was left of their home since they fled on Monday.

Marilyn showed me where their bed used to be and where her washer and dryer were. She tried to help me picture the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that looked out on the valley ... until they were blown to bits in the fire.

Marilyn told me they got out in less than 15 minutes. The flames were at the bottom of their hill -- a three acre drop -- and by the time her husband got dressed, the fire was already on the side of the house.

They left everything behind: passports, wedding rings, memories. They had lived here seven years. It was so sad to see this grown man and woman cry. They had built a life like so many and lost it in just minutes.

Marilyn has had nightmares ever since. Gordon says his wife wakes him up several times a night telling him she thinks the house is on fire. She wants to go see family in Canada to find some peace, but her passport is gone.

They do plan to rebuild here -- the very same spot. The neighborhood, she says, was gorgeous, and it will be again.

-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 11:09 PM ET
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Doctor: Smoke has turned our lungs black
We had serious wildfires in South Georgia earlier this year. For a few days, the air in Atlanta (hundreds of miles away from the fires) smelled ... bad.

While the smell was annoying, it really didn't bother me physically. I expected the same thing when we arrived in Southern California. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Almost immediately, my eyes grew watery and my throat filled with guck. I keep clearing my throat, but it doesn't seem to help. I've always consumed a lot of water, but these days, I am constantly craving it.

Today, CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and I met a researcher from the University of California San Diego. Dr. Kimberly Prather told us, "If you could see our lungs right now -- yours and mine -- they'd be black."

I can believe it. I am curious to know -- folks in Southern California -- have you had the same experience I've had?

-- By Jen Pifer, CNN Senior Medical Producer
Posted By CNN: 10:44 PM ET
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We're just getting in the way
Less wind today, but it was blazing hot. After another 12:30 a.m. wake-up call, we cranked out some live weather shots this morning. Then we got to talk to a couple of fire ecology/forecast guys. We learned a ton about the plants that grow round here.

Turns out they are pretty explosive, especially in heat and drought. Little tidbit to take hiking with you next time you're outside -- if the leaves have a strong smell, the vegetation probably burns like hell. Problem here is all this is part of the natural ecosystem, and we are just getting in the way.

-- By Rob Marciano, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 10:33 PM ET
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Schwarzenegger manages a disaster
We met up with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Lake Arrowhead middle school parking lot. We've been allowed to shadow the governor for the next few hours as he manages the state's response to the wildfires.

First stop is a back office in the middle school, where the governor gets on the phone to Washington, talking to President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The governor says he urgued the president to come see the devastation for himself.

We ride in a motorcade to a nearby hospital where a Blackhawk helicopter is waiting to take the governor on a tour of the devastation from the air.

Looking down from the helicopter it's amazing to see the size of the fire burning in the Lake Arrowhead region where more than 400 homes have been destroyed.

As we fly away from Lake Arrowhead and make our way to San Diego, Schwarzenegger, seated in the back on the pilot side, points out the window at three other fires burning in the distance. The governor who's working on three hours of sleep eats a few chips as he gazes at the smoke-filled skies and fires below.

"I have to be out here to manage this to make sure everything is being done," the governor says.

When we land in San Diego, the governor is told that the secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is landing in 10 minutes, so the decision is made to wait to take him on a tour of the San Diego area and Qualcomm Stadium. When Chertoff arrives, he does a quick interview with us, saying the hard lessons learned during Katrina are helping manage the federal response.

After a short fly around, Schwarzenegger and Chertoff land at Qualcomm Stadium where they talk to volunteers and evacuees. The governor tells us he wants to make sure problems that come up are dealt with immediately. "We need to make sure everyone has what they need, things like enough baby formula and diapers."

A disaster of this magnitude can define a political career. Schwarzenegger seems determined to make sure he does everything possible to avoid any mistakes.

-- By Ted Rowlands, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 4:00 PM ET
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Language barrier an issue on the border
A major issue here at the Harris fire, the one closest to the border, has been a languange barrier.

Antonio Martinez told me when border patrol agents came to his trailer park to tell people about a mandatory evacuation on Sunday there was no one to speak Spanish.
Martinez jumped in a pick-up truck with a border patrol agent and went door to door telling people they needed to get out.

His trailer was spared but the fire burned about half the trailers where Antonio lives.

--By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 12:57 PM ET
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A bizarre mix of destruction and survival
For hours, I stood in the remains of what was once, clearly, a beautiful neighborhood.

Rancho Bernardo, one of the hardest hit sections of San Diego, was a bizarre mix of destruction and survival. Dozens and dozens of homes burned to the ground. Smoke smouldered over the charred remains of personal posessions. A tool box. An ironing board. All completely blackened from searing flames just a day before.

Oddly, some of the homes in Rancho Bernardo stood relatively unscathed. This was partly due to firefighters, they saved the homes they could. But it was also because of the strange way fire hopscotches. So in the end, you have these weird pairings of houses that lived, and others that died, side by side.

As we cranked out the live shots, it was a bit eerie that we saw none of the homeowners. Rancho Bernardo was strictly controlled, and blocked off to residents, a mandatory evacuation still in effect. The only folks we saw were fire crews, police, gas company people, and the media. We eventually realized, that many of the homeowners were probably not sure whether their house had made it through the fire, or not.

So I had a lot of time to just stare at burnt things. Later in the evening, a fire team came to our live shot location, and doused out smoky hotspots with a water tank. It all made me think. You don't really have to live in southern California to be vulnerable to this. Fire can get anyone.

And it occured to me, how ill-prepared I am for that kind of a loss, and that most of these folks are probably in the same boat.

--By Keith Oppenheim, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 12:37 PM ET
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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
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Fire victims look out for each other
After two days covering the fires, I am struck by the evacuees' resilience and faith in the human spirit.

Everyone, I've run into at Qualcomm Stadium praised the volunteers at the evacuation center and were more concerned about the next evacuee than themselves.

Susan Noe, didn't know if her home in Poway was still standing but was more concerned about reuniting an owner with a lost poodle she had found on an early morning walk with her dog. She stood for most of the morning at the entrance holding the dog in her arms hoping the owner would recognize the dog.

Tammy McCall, a mother of three young children, was thrilled her young son was able to help volunteer at the stadium organizing paper goods. She talked about wanting to be able to give back and help others even at a time when she still didn't know if her family home was left standing in Spring Valley.

Meeting people like Tammy and Susan is a humbling experience and the fact they graciously allow us to tell their stories to the world at a time when they have much more pressing things to worry about is a privilege.

--By Traci Tamura, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 11:50 AM ET
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'International' hikers get treated at fire center
Smoke fills the sky outside the evacuation center
Here at the Harris County fire evacuation center in San Diego, the sun isn't quite up yet but you can see the thick black smoke to the northeast above the fires blocking the blue sky and a few twinkling stars.

The fire crews here are watching to make sure the fire doesn't jump the highway to the evacuation center. One way is by controlled burns around the homes in the hills.

The center we're at is about 20 miles north of the border, and a firefighter just told us a number of the 24 injuries here were "international hikers," which we take to mean illegal immigrants trying to cross into the United States. They're coming out of the woods and mountains with smoke inhalation and burns.

-- By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Producer

Posted By CNN: 10:03 AM ET
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Horses, refugees flocked to Del Mar campground
Spent yesterday morning at the Del Mar Fairgrounds just north of San Diego, where 2,000 evacuees from across San Diego County were sleeping on cots in the exhibition hall. Several hundred elderly folks -- evacuees from area nursing homes -- were crammed into one of the halls, Mission Tower, which looks like an old Spanish church.

Ambulances lined up outside, as many of these fragile individuals required immediate transport to area facilities where they would receive better temporary care. Any place, it seems, is better than here. I am anguished by the scene, as many of them are bound to wheelchairs. Volunteers helped feed some of the patients. One elderly woman yelled in pain as two orderlies struggled to lift her with a hand-cranked from a mattress on the floor.

The director of California's Emergency Medical Services Authority, Dr. Cesar Aristeiguieta, pulled an all-nighter here, trying to figure out where to send all of these people. He said he would have moved almost all of them to "more appropriate beds" outside the county by noon. Governor Schwarzenegger was here the night before and gave full support to Dr. Aristeiguieta and his staff. They call him "Dr. Cesar", and he seems to like it. I was impressed by his sincerity and efficiency and his credentials. He told me he was an ER doc by training, and had worked as both a cop and an EMT earlier in his career.

The Del Mar Fairgrounds, on the edge of the Pacific, would otherwise be a venue for the county's fall pumpkin festival. It's also a big racetrack for horses. But most of the horses here now belong to evacuees. All of the stalls are full, and more horses are in trailers in a spillover parking lot.

I just met a woman named Nancy from a place called Valley Center. She said neighbors called her at 4:30 a.m. and told her the fires were heading up the hill toward her home. Thirty minutes later, Nancy said, she received an automated call -- reverse 911 -- from her local sheriff's office. In no time, she had loaded three horses, seven cats and two dogs into an enormous trailer and drove to the fairgrounds. She looked tired, like she's been running on pure adrenalin.

Nancy was desperate to find water for her horses. We offered to drive her over to the command center, where national guardsmen are on-hand to assist. Everyone walked around wearing masks, as the air was filled with thick smoke and ash.

Inside the main hall, it looked like a refugee camp. Are these environmental refugees, forced from their homes by Mother Nature? Their attitudes surprised me. These people were not in tears. Many of them seemed a little anxious and uncertain, but no one looked upset. I think to myself, is this a California thing? Are these just mellow people?

Eli Bowser was with his parents and grandparents. They all sat around a table in what resembles an incredibly crowded mall food court. Eli said he was trying not to worry about the fires and that his family is hoping and praying their house is spared. Next to them, a woman lay on a palette on the floor reading a book. Her teenage daughter was curled up next to her, fast asleep, as televisions blared the local news just overhead.

Volunteers kept flooding in, dropping off supplies at the front desk. One guy walked up and said, "I'd like to volunteer ... and I have some toothpaste." He handed four big tubes of toothpaste to the coordinator -- who sorted them -- and then he signed the volunteer roster. I can't believe the numbers of volunteers. They brought all sorts of supplies, from bottled water to pet food.

Leaving the fairgrounds, and looking off to the Pacific, it was hard to tell where the sky ends and ocean begins. It was all just a white haze.

-- By Alex Walker, Severe Weather Producer
Posted By CNN: 9:50 AM ET
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Chainsaws on shoulders, 'heroes' tackle fires
It's pitch black and I'm standing on the street looking up at Steel Canyon Mountain. The only light is provided by the fires pouring down the mountain ridge. The glow is magnificent but frightening as it breathes in the Santa Anas and grows and spreads.

Suddenly in the dark, I see a row of people, about 30 of them, marching in a line carrying chainsaws over their shoulders. They are climbing the mountain. How do they even see where they're going, I wonder.

The glow from the top of the ridge makes the valley seem so dark. But on they go, with one purpose, one goal -- to put themselves between a monstrous fire and the people whose homes are just a football field away.

I'm awestruck. I can't even make out their faces. Just shadows walking into the belly of the beast. The men and women of "Cal Fire," as they like to be called, like to do their jobs anonymously. Most people don't know who they are.

But as I watched them climb up the mountain I thought to myself, those are heroes, the genuine article.

-- By Rick Sanchez, CNN Anchor
Posted By CNN: 9:45 AM ET
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Marines, mothers and a magician united by fires
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
Posted By CNN: 8:06 AM ET
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My eyes are burning
Covering natural disasters is grueling work. This one has been among the hardest because of the constant exposure to smoke. My eyes are burning and my throat is sore after three days of covering the fires. If you've ever been to a smoky bar for an extended period of time, you know the feeling.

Meanwhile, I just took a shower and yet there is still a film of dirt on my face. Yet I have no worries compared to what thousands of people in San Diego are experiencing. I can't imagine not knowing if my home was still standing.

I've also been thinking about the few homes that are still standing among the rows of destroyed houses. While those homeowners are fortunate, who would want to live amid such devastation? It would seem so depressing. Even if those homeowners would want to move, who would buy that house? I'd be interested to talk to some of those folks. What will they do?

-- By Dan Simon, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 8:00 AM ET
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Wherever we go, people are crushed by this fire
It's not inside the fire lines where we really feel the impact of these fires. It's when we cross back over the police barricade and come face-to-face with the people affected.

At the gas station the attendant tells us his two young children with asthma are on respirators from the smoke. In the hotel lobby, a teenager evacuated with her family watches TV past midnight because she can't sleep. At the grocery store another evacuee tells us he slept in his car because he couldn't find a hotel room. Stores are closing and businesses reducing services because employees are gone, dealing with bigger problems than getting to work.

Thousands suddenly homeless, hundreds of thousands out of their homes. Wherever we go, there is someone hurt by this fire.

-- By Chuck Afflerbach, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 10:30 PM ET
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The face of the fire
Our assignment was to go live for American Morning. We found a site to broadcast from in North San Diego, then went to bed for three hours sleep.

When we got to the live location at 130 this morning, the "Today" show had stolen our spot!!! We settled for across the street. Soon Matt Lauer was doing his deal a stone's throw away. It didn't matter, the whole street was torched. Much of the neighborhood actually, it's crazy.

Our assigment today was to talk to people who were in shelters. No doubt many of the people we visited had lost their homes to the fire and didn't even know it yet. I've seen the look on someone's face when their home is gone, I can't imagine what it feels like.

-- By Rob Marciano, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 8:37 PM ET
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Families looking for answers
Qualcomm Stadium is used to big crowds cheering on the San Diego Chargers. Today the stands are littered with cots and families camping out, tossing blankets over rows of seats for makeshift privacy walls. They're waiting and wondering what will happen to their homes, places of work, and houses of worship.

At this point, we don't have a whole lot to tell them other than we think the governor and the secretary of homeland security will be coming here soon. I'm just noticing my eyes are getting irritated. The smoke is getting thicker.

-- By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 4:59 PM ET
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Evacuees find 'Qual-calm' stadium
All is surreal at Qualcomm Stadium, where 10,000 fire evacuees have taken up temporary refuge.

Sizhont Chan sits behind me in a stadium seat, checking to see if he can get back into his Scripps Ranch neighborhood. He and his buddies are scanning for any news on a laptop. They all slept last night on the floor. But they say it was calm.

A burly National Guardsman named Wes says he was brought over from the border, and everyone is behaving. The people here are dressed as if they might be attending a day game. They're in shorts and t-shirts, and many eat ice cream handed out by volunteers.

There are cots, tents and RVs ringing the stadium. In an unscientific survey, most folks say they actually slept during their first night here -- except an older man who says some kids got loud at night. The insurance agents are here in force and so are medical staff. Word just came over a loudspeaker that lunch will be served soon.

The football field here is painted red and black in the end zones for San Diego State. Between the two painted end zones, the green field is resplendent with sun -- a serene contrast to the orange inferno that pushed all the refugees into this stadium.

-- By Paul Vercammen, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 3:38 PM ET
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Clogged highways slow travel
If one goes by the Woody Allen adage that 90 percent of success is showing up, then we better knock 'em dead with the other 10 percent.

Right now, CNN Producer Katherine Wojtecki is driving as we head from Malibu to San Diego, literally going from fire to fire. Yesterday, we left our homes in the Midwest. We got up at 3 a.m. to catch a flight to LA, then did live shots in Malibu for CNN and local affiliates of the network. The fires are a huge international story, and it seems everyone wants a live shot.

Twenty-four hours after we began, with smoke-filled eyes and Katherine fighting a cold and coughing from smoke, we crashed at a nearby hotel. But first we did the math -- we'll allow three hours to travel 135 miles to the next location, we told ourselves. It'll be enough.

Stupid us. We just didn't figure that the normally clogged freeways of Southern California would get overhwelmed by the fires. Seems like everyone's trying to escape something.

Sure, we told our managers about the possible delay, and we got the old "just keep going and be safe," but in this business, if there's one thing I hate, it's being late. Wish us luck.

-- By Keith Oppenheim, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 1:47 PM ET
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San Diego airport workers wearing masks
Approaching San Diego this morning, I could see smoke from both sides of the plane. As we got closer to landing, the scope of the fires was shocking. It seemed like there was smoke as far as I could see.

Coming off the plane, I noticed the workers at the airport all had on masks, which is something I really haven't seen at an airport, other than the few weeks after Katrina at the New Orleans airport.

When I finally made my way outside, I could smell it: the distinct smell of burning. The city of San Diego seems to be engulfed in a haze.

As a booker for 360, I'm setting out today to find officials and residents with compelling stories to tell about how they've been affected by the fire and flames. If you know of anyone, please e-mail us.

-- By Kay Jones, "360" Editorial Producer
Posted By CNN: 1:31 PM ET
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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
  30 Comments  | Add a Comment
Monday, October 22, 2007
Send us your California wildfire iReports and stories
Fueled by windy, hot and dry conditions, more than a dozen uncontained wildfires raged across heavily populated Southern California on Monday, forcing more than a quarter of a million people to flee homes stretching from San Diego to the movie-star hamlet of Malibu and the scenic mountain resort of Lake Arrowhead. Fire officials said more than 265,000 people have been evacuated and nearly 4,900 firefighters are battling the fast-moving blazes, which began springing up over the weekend.


Send us your stories of what you went through, how you got to safety, and how you're doing now.

Click on the comments section below to share your thoughts online.
or send us your iReport photos and videos.

We'll be reading some of your comments and showing your pictures during the show.
And a reminder, you can always send us a v-mail. See you tonight at 10p.m. ET.
Posted By CNNBLOG: 7:50 PM ET
  27 Comments  | Add a Comment
Tests reveal industrial chemicals in kids' bodies
NEW YORK -- Michelle Hammond and Jeremiah Holland were intrigued when a friend at the Oakland Tribune asked them and their two young children to take part in a cutting-edge study to measure the industrial chemicals in their bodies.

"In the beginning, I wasn't worried at all; I was fascinated," Hammond, 37, recalled.

But that fascination soon changed to fear, as tests revealed that their children -- Rowan, then 18 months, and Mikaela, then 5 -- had chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents.

Click here to read the rest of the story

-- By Jordana Miller, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 5:45 PM ET
  30 Comments  | Add a Comment
ABOUT THE BLOG
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.



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