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Wildfires Continue to Burn in Southern California; Veterans Affairs Secretary Testifies Before Congress; Clippers Out of NBA Playoffs; Breakthrough Discovery: Measles Virus and Cancer

Aired May 16, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CAPT. MIKE MOHLER, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: Well, those firenados or fire tornadoes that you're looking at is an example of the critical fire weather and the explosive fire growth that we're seeing out here. Our fuel conditions are at a critical level. We're in May. These are levels that we normally wouldn't see until August/September. So I can tell you yesterday was a very difficult fire fight. Firefighters were very aggressive, but again, those fire tornadoes are just a example of what we're experiencing out here.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Captain, if this is what you're seeing in May and the peak comes August-September, what does this mean for August-September? Is the outlook better or worse?

MOHLER: Well, we never predict fire season, but obviously with the drought, the fuel conditions, we're getting offshore, Santa Ana winds in May, this is setting up to be a very, very busy season. All agencies including Cal Fire have increased staffing, increased equipment in anticipation of a very busy season unfortunately.

BOLDUAN: And unfortunately this is not something new to your teams. This is something you deal with fire season every year. But we have heard some estimates of folks saying this is worse and earlier than they've seen in 20 years. Is that -- would you agree?

MOHLER: Absolutely, and not only here in southern California. Statewide. In fact, northern California areas that only have usually what we consider a four-month peak fire season we're having 300, 400- acre fires in January. So it's not just here in southern California. It's state wide, and we haven't seen conditions like this in decades.

BOLDUAN: The latest that we're hearing, at one point there were nine fires burning all at once. This morning we're hearing the number is eight fires burning. Correspondent on the ground, Dan Simon, telling that two suspects taken into custody, suspicion of attempting to start two fires. Do you suspect arson?

MOHLER: Well, we don't -- we're not going to speculate on that. We do know the city of Escondido police department did take two suspects into custody yesterday. San Diego County sheriff is investigating every fire. And until we can pinpoint exactly what it is, we go with under investigation until we know what caused the fires.

BOLDUAN: One way it was described yesterday is it sure seemed like -- it couldn't be a coincidence having that many fires burn at once. Do you agree?

MOHLER: I have to, again, turn it back to our investigators. You have to remember, too, one of the things we're going to look at is the proximity of these fires. We had an offshore flow, triple digit temperatures. Those embers can carry. So we have to make sure that wasn't an ember throw. They can go up to a mile and start another fire. So again, I can tell you that the sheriff is looking into every fire aggressively right now.

BOLDUAN: You're absolutely right. It's more important to be cautious here, and most important to get control of the fires first and then you can deal with that investigation afterward. Captain Mike Muller, thank you very much for your time. I know it's early out there and you've got a lot on your plate. Good luck.

MOHLER: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Kate, Eric Shinseki said he's mad as hell about reports dozens of veterans died after being put on secret waiting lists at VA hospitals. But VA's secretary says he will not step down over these allegations, and the president is not asking him to. So what is the fix? Jim Acosta is live at the White House this morning with more. Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Senior White House official says President Obama is angry and wants answers after learning of those allegations facing the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the general in charge of that department says he does not want to leave his post until his mission of fixing the VA is accomplished.


ACOSTA: As public outrage mounts over reports that dozens of veterans died, secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki insisted at a Senate committee hearing he is just as furious.

ERIC SHINSEKI, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me as -- makes me mad as hell.

ACOSTA: But that wasn't enough for lawmakers of who demanded to know whether the department knew about all investigations that some VA officials used secret waiting lists to hide long delays for care.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: Isn't there evidence here of criminal wrong doing, that is falsifying records, false statements to the federal government? That's a crime.

SHINSEKI: Should be, yes.

ACOSTA: Unlike other investigations on Capitol Hill these days, this grilling was bipartisan.

SEN. DEAN HELLER, (R) NEVADA: Do you believe that you're ultimately responsible for all this?


DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Rick is going to get to the bottom of this.

ACOSTA: While the White House is standing by Shinseki, the president's chief of staff Denis McDonough told CNN's Jake Tapper, Mr. Obama lashed out when he first learned of the story.

MCDONOUGH: Nobody is more mad than the president, and I have the scars to show it.

ACOSTA: What's more outrageous is advocates of veterans maintain accusations of long wait times and poor care within the VA system are nothing new, saying there's plenty of blame to go around.

CARL BLAKE, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE, PARALYZED VETERANS OF AMERICA: The administration and Congress both bear the responsibility of these problems.

ACOSTA: For now, the general turned secretary now at the center of VA firestorm says he wants to stay to right the wrongs of the system he leads.

SHINSEKI: I intend to continue this mission until I have satisfied either that goal or until the commander in chief thinks my time has been served.


ACOSTA: And now Shinseki also testified that the problems at issue at the VA that are under investigation right now that he has found are so far isolated in his estimation. But the inspector general who is looking at this case, he also cautioned that he has not yet found a direct correlation between the long wait times and veterans deaths but he also added, Michaela, that federal prosecutors are on the case. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And count on CNN to stay on top of this story. This is one we're going to follow very closely. Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Let's take a look at your headlines right now. Human rights conditions are deteriorating in eastern Ukraine, so says a new U.N. report on the violent deadly clashes and crisis there. Now comes word thousands of steelworkers have joined the fight and may have retaken a key city that had been under control of pro-Russian separatists.

A major change of power coming to the world's largest democracy, India has voted to throw out the ruling Congress party which has been in charge for years now, and replace it instead with an opposition group headed by Hindu nationalists. More than half a billion people voted in this election. It's being called the largest democratic vote in history. The questions about Nigeria's ability to rescue 200 schoolgirls abducted by militants last month, the Obama administration is now questioning whether the Nigerian military is even up to the task even with international help. The U.S. has sent surveillance aircraft and 30 state department specialists, but the White House says there are no plans to take part in any sort of military rescue mission.

Those are your headlines, guys.

CUOMO: So, Donald Sterling, he says he wants the owners to forgive him. He made a terrible mistake and he knows he hurt so many people. But now he's saying that he will not pay their huge fine. So I don't know what kind of forgiveness he's asking for. Now his team -- that's off the court. On the court his team was in a desperate struggle of its own to stay alive in the playoffs. Let's bring in Brian McFayden. He has more. They did not farewell, Mr. McFayden.

BRIAN MCFAYDEN, CNN BLEACHER REPORT: Back to Donald Sterling, he -- it's way past due, $2.5 million he owes the NBA. He has -- he's going to have to pony up somehow. Last night at Staples Center buzzing. You had Rihanna, the Hoff, all the a-listers were there. But you never expect to see Lakers number one fan Jack Nicholson sitting courtside unless it's opposite day, now, would you?

You have the Clippers game. You see Kevin Durant take over the fourth quarter like the MVP is supposed to do. Durant had 39 points and 16 rebounds. Late in the game, calls were not going the Clippers way either. Blake Griffin charged -- called for a charge. Doc Rivers is upset about it. Thunder advance to play the Spurs in the western conference finals. Afterwards, Chris Paul is tired of talking about Donald Sterling.


CHRIS PAUL, CLIPPERS POINT GUARD: To tell you the truth we don't think about that. You know what I mean? That's the least of our worries right now is him. We just lost the damn series. I'm sorry. But we don't care about that.

DOC RIVERS, CLIPPERS HEAD COACH: We've gone through a lot of stuff over the last three or four weeks. And I don't think that was why we didn't win. I don't think we should use that as an excuse. We're a team in process. I believe we're good enough to win it this year. You know, Oklahoma City told us we were not.


MCFAYDEN: Yes, Pacers and Wizards game six. Check out Paul George and a Wizards fan exchange some heated words in the third quarter. Lovely. David West stayed focused for the Pacers. He helped squash a Wizards rally, scoring 29 points in the 93-80 win. Heat and Pacers Sunday, Thunder/Spurs Monday. Awesome, can't wait for basketball playoffs this weekend.

BOLDUAN: Awesome, but a little bit of deja vu there, Pacers talking to a fan. Could be a little Pacers replay? CUOMO: I know it's wrong but I like on some level when a mouthy fan all of a sudden gets like this player just like launches in there and just roughs him up a little.

BOLDUAN: What? No.

CUOMO: One part of me is like stop running your mouth. Don't run your mouth.

BOLDUAN: Stay on the court. There's no win on that one.

PEREIRA: Did I misplace the condolence cards for the Clippers loss? I didn't see them in my mailbox from you two.

CUOMO: I know Doc Rivers says he thought they could win this year. I thought they were way over matched by the Thunder. I was surprise they'd took it as far as they would.

PEREIRA: Really?

CUOMO: Kevin Durant.

MCFAYDEN: Am I staying here or going?

BOLDUAN: Brian, you can go. Brian, you can go. He's like, they don't even know what they're talking about.


BOLDUAN: Here's my better. We're going to take a break now. Coming up next --


BOLDUAN: -- on NEW DAY, could it be the key to wiping out cancer, unconventional treatment that uses the measles vaccine saved a woman's life and made medical history. Is this a breakthrough?

CUOMO: We're also going to go INSIDE POLITICS. You have never seen a primary debate like the one they had in Idaho this week. Just wait until you hear what these men said to each other. And they want to be governor, by the way.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. There could be some big medical news here. This morning there could be a powerful new weapon in the fight against cancer. A patient was given a dose of engineered measles virus so large that it could vaccinate ten million people. And guess what, her cancer cells were destroyed after it. Now viruses have been used to fight cancer before, but this is the first time cancer so widespread just simply went away. CUOMO: Now, viruses have been used to fight cancer before, but this is the first time cancer so widespread just simply went away. So let's bring in Dr. Clifford A. Hudis, the chief of the breast cancer medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Doctor, thank you very much. Explain to us, the uninitiated here, what was the type of cancer, why was measles right for this? AND why did it all come together here?

DR. CLIFFORD A. HUDIS, MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER: First of all, this is a success of investment, research, time, effort, creativity, insight. Measles virus attaches to a receptor on the surface of some kinds of cells that has a very specific name, CD-46. Myeloma is a cancer, it's the second most common blood cancer in adults, that actually makes a lot of copies of that receptor, CD-46. So the match is made a priority. Right?

CUOMO: So it's not all cancers. It was this specific cancer develops or mutates cells in a way that plays to what the measles vaccine goes against?

HUDIS: Exactly. So this kind of cancer is really ready to be infected by measles, more than most kinds of cells.

BOLDUAN: One way -- one way someone probably over simplified it but said is the measles virus makes the cancer cells kind of join together and then just explodes them.

HUDIS: Well, it infects them and the big dose that you described overwhelms them and kills them. It infects them and kills them like they would kill any other cell, but efficiently infects them because of this excess of CD-46.

BOLDUAN: You won't -- you shouldn't go as far as saying this is a cure all, but is this a breakthrough?

HUDIS: Well, this is definitely a breakthrough. These so0called oncolytic viruses have been tested for years; there's real hope this will work. But it looks like it may be specific for viruses and cancers in individual cases, that is, individual kinds of cancer. I don't know yet how generalizable this will be for so many other kinds of cancer.

The other thing to point out, and these investigators rushed us to print because it was so exciting. They're describing two patients, one of whom who had a great response, one of whom less so. The durability of this response, the ideal dose of the virus, all of that is to be determined.

PEREIRA: And, also, you talk about the durability. So the one patient was several months cancer free and then a tumor came back that they were easily able to treat. So we need to look at this long term, years, and see how long this lasts, right? Or would it be a question of retreatment? HUDIS: Well, they speculate that giving even greater doses -- maybe repeated times may be necessary for some patients in some times. I do think we have to put a little bit of a fence around this. This is about myeloma, one kind of cancer. This sort of --

PEREIRA: But given how many people have myeloma, that is significant, though.

HUDIS: It could be great. And I also point out that we do have effective treatments for myeloma, so the next question is going to be how this compares to some of the other existing effective treatments as well.

CUOMO: Well, the dream, right, the dream extension of this experience would be that you could match up viruses with cancers, you know, and then the pairing would wind up offsetting each other and you wind up curing. But we are so desperate for a search for cancer, although it's so many different things. Are we falsely optimistic about being able to figure out a way to stop all of this? Is that an unreasonable expectation?

HUDIS: Well, one can't be an oncologist without being an optimist.


HUDIS: False optimism, I wouldn't say that. But what is needed is real investment, patients, time, creativity. All the things that you need a in arts and in other domains are need here.

BOLDUAN: What kind of time are you talking about on this?

HUDIS: I think it's going to take a long time because each different kind of cancer may have a different responsiveness. And I don't think this match is going to be right for many kinds of cancer. But for myeloma, the second most common blood form of cancer, it could be a long-term big deal.

CUOMO: Because one of the big frustrations is so many family members affected by cancer now. And when you start learning at chemotherapy, it seems like the best we're usually able to do is to just kill big parts of your body and hope that it regenerates and the cancer doesn't. And it seems like, wow, what an unsophisticated way to fight something. We're so desperate to do better. That's why we report on something like this.

HUDIS: Well, right now we're very excited. When we come into the 50th annual ASCO meeting at the end of this month, you're going to see a large number of stories about new targeted therapies, new kinds of immunotherapies which relates to today's story as well. And you'll see that while chemotherapy is an important mainstay of treatment responsible for curing many patients of many kinds of cancer, the real excitement right now, the real enthusiasm is for all these new targeted therapies that really do make things even better.

CUOMO: Hopefully it's progress.

BOLDUAN: Take that excitement. That's absolutely right.

PEREIRA: Very interesting.

BOLDUAN: Doctor, it's great to meet you. Thank you so much.

HUDIS: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, raging fires are burning out of control still this morning near San Diego. They've turned deadly and forced thousands -- look at those flames -- thousands from their homes. We're going to speak with one woman who had to grab her three children, her husband, her dog, and run as the flames only got closer.

CUOMO: And we're going to go inside politics. Just when you thought it couldn't get any lower, this debate happened. Take a look, analysts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you have your choice, folks. A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy, take your pick.


CUOMO: Tune in this Sunday also 9:00 p.m. Eastern for "PARTS UNKNOWN", that's not referring to that debate. In this week, we're joining Anthony Bourdain for a tour of the Deep South like you have never seen before. Take a look at this.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, "PARTS UNKNOWN": In the in other words, of Donald Rumsfeld, we don't know what we don't know. And what do I know about Mississippi except for maybe some history and not much of that is good.

One of the things I didn't know is how much deeply interesting, uniquely wonderful, uniquely American stuff is going on down here. It is kind of a wonderland.

The biggest challenge for me is struggling to say something even remotely intelligent about a place I know very little about. Came out with all sorts of preconceptions. And I'm finding myself liking it a whole hell of a lot.



PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Here's a look at your headlines. Two arson suspects are now under arrest as firefighters face an unprecedented wildfire fight in southern California. Those fires have turned deadly. Crews discovered a badly burned body during a hot spot check. Eight fires are burning right now. 10,000 acres have been scorched. Dozens of structures have either been destroyed or heavily damaged. And thousands of people have been forced to evacuate.

I want to bring in Dan Simon, who is live in Escondido. We've been talking about this. It's so early in the season to be having this conversation about wildfires raging in southern California.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Michaela. I tell you what, the flames are really enormous but for the folks here on the ground, this thing that really makes an impact on you is the smoke. It's really tough to breathe in this stuff for hours at a time.

The latest area to get hit is where we are in Escondido, California. Several homes in this neighborhood obviously leveled. You can see this one right here just a smoldering mess. You can see the flames over there, that it was some kind of bedroom or perhaps a living room. Now, the temperatures are cooler. The humidity is rising. So hopefully that will allow authorities to get the upper hand today. But because you still have so many fires burning at once there is concern that you might have more devastation.

Michaela, back to you.

PEREIRA: Let's hope those conditions continue to improve over the weekend. Thanks for bringing us the latest from southern California, Dan.

In other news, stay in southern California, he says he would rather fight than sell. Reports that banned L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling is refusing now to pay a $2.5 million fine levied by the NBA and he rejects his lifetime ban. In a letter to the league, Sterling's attorney claims the fine violates Sterling's due process rights, and in the letter threatens a lawsuit. As for the Clippers, their season ended last night with a 104-98 playoff loss to the Thunder. Oklahoma City taking that series in six games.

Breaking overnight, a Russian rocket carrying a hi-tech satellite into orbit broke apart just moments after liftoff from Kazakhstan. Russia's news agency says the proton rocket was destroyed along with its payload which, which would have been their most advanced communications satellite. Officials say all other launches have now been suspended until they determine exactly what caused that crash.

CUOMO: All right, you ready for this one?


CUOMO: It's time to go inside politics on NEW DAY with John King. And you have a headliner of a story today, John. It's interesting -- this guy in this debate in Idaho describes the panel the same way we are often described. You've got the biker, the weirdo, and the normal guy.

PEREIRA: I'm the biker. JOHN KING, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": What are the chances?

PEREIRA: I'll take it.

CUOMO: That's NEW DAY every day, isn't it?


BOLDUAN: John, tread carefully.

KING: Yes. That's all I have to say. TGIF, inside politics. Back to you guys in a minute. We'll get to the Idaho debate in a moment, but let's start with quite serious. And with me this morning to share the reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News, Manu Raju of "Politico".

The president's Secretary of Veterans Affairs is in a lot of heat right now. Two dozen deaths at least attributed at VA hospitals to waiting lists, secret waiting lists. Let's listen here. Jake Tapper interviewed the White House chief of staff just yesterday essentially saying, look, these veterans have died. Why isn't somebody held accountable?


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD": How on earth can the president still have full confidence in him? People died.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Ric -- the fact of these deaths is an outrage to the president. He's made that clear. And you heard what General Shinseki had to say today. He's mad as hell about this. Nobody is more mad than the president.


KING: Big deal anyway, Margaret. This is playing out in the middle of an election year. How does the White House, you're there every day, how does the White House justifying saying it's not the secretary's fault? We're going to look deeper into the bureaucracy?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think part of this is a matter of timing and part of it really is a matter of respect for General Shinseki. I mean, he's a retired four-star general, former Army chief of staff, he's a Vietnam veteran. He went back to this department because he carries about these issues. So his heart is in the right place. But what's happened is clearly unacceptable and it's devastating for the White House, for the president himself politically. Right now they are standing by him.

KING: Devastating for the president. Devastating political. Manu, let's listen. Mitch McConnell was on the Senate floor yesterday. Scott Brown, a candidate for Senate in New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts senator, raised the question yesterday in a press release, and it's pretty devastating to the campaign. He said, "How many veterans have to die for someone to lose their job?" And Mitch McConnell went to the floor yesterday saying, "Well, when we had the health care website problems, the president voiced his outrage. Why isn't the president talking now?" Listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The president needs to understand that our veterans deserve at least as much attention as a web site.


KING: It's a huge policy question that's become a big political headache.

MANU RAJU, POLITICO: This is a huge headache and it's going to get worse for Democrats unless they look like they're actually doing something. Shinseki will survive so long as Democrats don't start banging the drums. If they start calling for his head, then you may see even more press from the White House for him to step aside.

This reminds you of the way the White House dealt with the whole health care rollout, Kathleen Sebelius. This is a huge problem, people are calling for her to resign ,and what do they do? They said we'll try to get to the bottom of this, we'll fix this. And a few months later, when things were sort of smoothed over, she quietly stepped aside. Maybe we'll see the same thing here with Shinseki. After they do their own investigation, when this dies down, maybe he will step aside then.