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Thousands Evacuated by Spreading Flames in California; Report: Sterling Won't Pay $2.5M Fine

Aired May 16, 2014 - 08:00   ET





CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, wildfires are raging out of control across southern California. Tens of thousands evacuated. We are going to show you the battled waged overnight against deadly fire natives. And now two teens detained for trying to start more fires. Did they start the ones burning now?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Not paying. Donald Sterling is no longer talking but his lawyers now are. They say he did nothing wrong and won't pay the multimillion dollar fine. This as the Clippers get knocked out of the playoffs overnight. So what happens next?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: What happened inside that elevator with Jay-Z and Beyonce's sister? The superstars finally addressing it. They won't say what set it off, but is there much more in their rare and revealing joint statement?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

BOLDUAN: We have breaking news this morning. The wildfire battle rages on in southern California. And so does the firefight. Now police are making arrests for suspected arson. Two suspects believed to be responsible for starting at least two fires in the south Escondido area, in Carlsbad. Firefighters also made a grim discovery during a hotspot check, badly burned body.

Here is where the active fires are. Eight of them are burning as we speak, 10,000 acres have been scorched, and dozens of structures are destroyed or badly damaged.

Let's get straight back to Dan Simon who's in Escondido with the very latest.

What are you hearing right now, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Good morning.

Obviously, those flames are in enormous spectacle. But you also have to talk about the smoke. You just feel it everywhere throughout the San Diego community. We are definitely feeling it here in Escondido. This is just the latest area to get hit. Several homes in this neighborhood have been leveled. You can see the flames here, just smoldering mess. And with so many fires burning at once there is concern that we haven't seen the end of it.


SIMON (voice-over): Raging on overnight, at least eight fires in San Diego county consuming home after home. Smoke even visible from space as the blazes ravage over 10,000 acres.

Evacuations now call for nearly 16,000 residences as the flames turn fatal. Fire crews discovering a badly burned body in a Carlsbad encampment. The unseasonably erratic winds with gusts up to 50 miles per hour, spreading the flames rapidly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never seen the Santa Ana winds, also called devil winds, in the month of May.

SIMON: Winds whipping in multiple directions causing terrifying fire tornadoes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another tornado right there on the other side.

SIMON: Watch this flaming vortex atop a hill spin wildly, nearly engulfing the house in front. Thousands of firefighters and military crews bombarding the blazes from all sides. Still, no match for the swift moving flames fueled by acres of dry brush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It came down the hill. Once you start seeing black smoke, it was upon here within 15 minutes.

SIMON: With so many wildfires erupting one right after the other, speculation of arson on the rise. Two teens 30 miles north of San Diego now in custody being questioned for two smaller brush fires in Escondido.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have developed reasonable suspicion, probable cause to believe that they were involved in setting fires.

SIMON: Unrelated to San Diego's eight major brush fires, reducing almost 20 homes now to ashes.

UNIDENTIFIES FEMALE: It was absolutely gorgeous. And now it's all gone. All gone. What can I say?

SIMON: Fortunately not everything was destroyed. Sophie's family safe salvaging a few family photos. And their dog Rocky, his fur singed from the flames, found alive after being trapped in the house. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After all of this devastation, the house is completely on the ground. We were just praying at least we could find our little dog here.


SIMON: With so many fires thought immediately turned to arson. You have two teenagers taken into custody accused of trying to start small brush fires but they are questioning the teens to see if they had involvement in some of these bigger fires. In terms of where we are today we are seeing higher humidity and not much wind at the moment. So, hopefully, that will allow firefighters to get the upper hand. But still, a lot of fire out there and concern that you might see more devastation, you might see more ruins like this.

Chris, we'll send it back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Dan. It's a very vast area, so different elements and different aspects and different places, we'll try and get our hands around it.

Let's bring in Bill Horn, San Diego County supervisor.

Sir, thank you for joining us. I know you are very busy. But we want to keep the word out there about what you're dealing with.

What's the latest?

BILL HORN, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SUPERVISOR: Well, overnight we still have quite a few fires going here.

Fortunately for us, San Marcos is down. Last night, we did not have to evacuate the hospital over by Escondido, the new hospital. I was on Country Club Lane, and we basically called it to shelter in place. So, that was a blessing.

The train stations did not get hit. We were ready to shut those down, too. So, I think hopefully today without the winds -- right now it is kind of windy a little bit so I hope this doesn't kick up more because those embers do burn.

I have been doing this for 20 years. So, this is the worst I have seen. I have had two or three fires at a time. I have had -- excuse our trucks moving in and out of here.

We've had -- I've had the Rich Creek Fire, (INAUDIBLE) Fire, Paradise Fire, Cedar Fire. The other day when I left Rancho Santa Fe, the fact I had six fires in the span of an hour in a circle starting at Carlsbad and right by the ammo dump by Camp Pendleton, which we suspect was an arson and then, it came back down to the highway fire, which happens to be 100 percent out now and then it came back down here. And later in the afternoon, it would out being in San Marcos.

So, I just have my suspicions. I just think -- six in a day, even though the conditions (AUDIO GAP) allow for that, usually when a fire spreads, it will spread by its own embers or spread close to one another.

That didn't happen here. So, these were individual. They are far away from each other. The Carlsbad and the second fire was the ammo dump which is about 12 to 14 miles away from each other in a different direction. That would be north. Those embers did not come from Carlsbad.

CUOMO: So, there is suspicious activity that you are dealing with. Some of the fires seem uncoordinated in a way that you haven't seen before. So you have to figure out if someone started these but more urgently you have to figure out how to stop them. What do you know about the level of containment at this point?

HORN: Well, right, fortunately for us in San Marcos, just really the mountain area, the highway, evacs are off. People can go back in there. We seem to have it under control right now. We don't have any huge flare ups. We still have big by Camp Pendleton in the ocean side area.

I just left my ranch at the mountain top I live on, I could see the glow of the flames to the north here. That is about eight or nine miles north of here. So, we still hope to be very diligent today.

CUOMO: So, what do you think? In terms of containment percentage, where do you think you are in terms of having all of these fires under control and getting them out?

HORN: Well, I -- I don't know. I would give you a 5 percent or something, 10 percent. I have so much equipment here from all over. I want to thank all of the firefighters. I have had crews from Modesto, Santa Barbara. Yesterday I saw a battalion here from Riverside, from Chino, all over the place including all of the departments in San Diego, Los Angeles.

And the military bringing in the helicopters yesterday was a god send. They gave us 22 helicopters, 12 of which went to this fire here in San Marcos. Up the road here about a half a mile yesterday and watching them stop a line of fire in its place. I don't know, we probably watched 40 or 50 air strikes on the flames, saved a lot of homes.

So, you know, I don't have a damage assessment yet. I'll check with cal fire in about an hour. At the same time, we have been blessed. It could have been far worse.

I just want to thank every firefighter who has been on the line for us. They did a tremendous job and I know they have been working for four days. We have been doing this for four days straight. We started in Rancho Santa Fe and wound up in here.

Hopefully, this is the last day. I would like to see these all contained by the end of the day.

CUOMO: Well, that would be great. We know how the community has come together especially with their first responders for these fires. But four days is a long time to battle. Hopefully the conditions cooperate. So, I want to thank you, Mr. Horn, I know you have a lot of work being San Diego County supervisor. Let us know if we can help in any way. Happy to get the word out, sir.

HORN: All right. Thank you so much. Thanks for having us.

BOLDUAN: One phenomenon firefighters have been encountering are these fire tornadoes or firenadoes, is how they're described. Just take a look at some of these videos. These twisters stretching 100 feet in the air, in a dangerous blaze. So, how do they form? How dangerous are they?

Indra Petersons is here to look into it -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Kate, one of the things that actually fuels this weird phenomenon that everyone is fascinated by, these firenadoes is a lot of dry brush. When you look at California's rainy season this year they had this huge deficit. In fact, a majority of the city is in an extreme drought condition. That is the problem. There is so much dry brush out there.

Why does that matter? Well, let's look at a graphic. Fires have their own little eddies that spin up right around. Invisible eddies that funnels up. But then it encounters the brush. We know what vegetation has. It is carbon, right? You release that carbon.

Carbon is combustible. But in this whole tunnel right here, you are not actually seeing it go into flames because there is no oxygen. Only when it goes all the way to the top, it finds the oxygen do you see it combust, and that forms the entire line that most people are seeing, known as the firenado.

Here is the problem. These things can be so tall, they can soar up to about 1,000 feet high. Just imagine trying to fight a fire and you can't directly fight a firenado on the part. You have to go around it because what you're fighting is that invisible combustion, kind of in the middle, all those gases. So, that's one of the concerns.

The other thing is it is not actually a tornado. You are talking about winds that can be damaging as an EF2 tornado. They can go as far 120 miles per hour. Just imagine that, Michaela, the force here behind these tornadoes and trying to fight them.

PEREIRA: It is something to behold looking at that, Indra. Thank you so much for explaining it to us.

I want to take a look at more headlines. More than half a million people in India have spoken. They are voting for a change at the top. Voters sided with the opposition headed by a pro-business leader, toppling the ruling Congress Party. The party has been in charge for years but embroiled in corruption scandal. Party vice president Rahul Ganhdi says he holds himself responsible for the defeat.

In Turkey, nearly 300 people are confirmed dead after the worst coal mining accident in that nation's history. Right now, at least 18 miners are still feared to be trapped underground. There are mass burials now taking place for the victims. Grieving family members are blaming the government, saying its response so far has been indifferent.

Same sex marriage set to resume again in Arkansas, now that the state judge has thrown a law prohibiting same sex couples from getting marriage licenses. The ruling came a day after the state Supreme Court said the law was still in effect despite the judge's ruling throwing out approved gay marriage ban separately. The Federals Appeals Court has now put on hold a ruling making gay marriage legal in Idaho.

Those are your headlines -- guys.

CUOMO: The trend continues.

BOLDUAN: It does.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, pressure is mounting, continuing to mount on the Veterans Affair Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. This comes after -- even after his testimony on Capitol Hill and after a CNN investigation showed months long waits at some V.A. hospitals. The president says he is standing by him. Why?

CUOMO: Donald Sterling wants to be forgiven and doesn't want to pay a fine. He has lawyered up. We'll tell you what his new defense is and what the league may do about it.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

My friends, the L.A. Clippers season is over, but it appears Donald Sterling's fight has only just begun. Media reports say sterling is refusing to pay that $2.5 million fine by the NBA and rejecting his ban. He has lawyered up and in a letter to the league, they suggest that Sterling has done nothing wrong and threatens a lawsuit if Sterling is punished.

With us now, Malik Rose, two-time NBA champ, game analyst for Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia, and "Newsday" columnist Ellis Henican, also known as a Sterling apologist.

ELLIS HENICAN, NEWSDAY: Hey, hold on a second.

CUOMO: Just for the sake of this conversation.

HENICAN: Hold on a second.

CUOMO: You tell me why it's a good thing that he's gotten a lawyer. Why it's a good thing that he's going to fight this and why he may win.

HENICAN: No, I don't think --

CUOMO: You have to.

HENICAN: I don't think I agree with that. I think it's fine that he has a lawyer. This is America. We have a right to lawyers.

He is going to lose. I mean, listen, there are aspects of the contract that do give the owners a lot of rights but in the real life, Chris, you can't fight this. It's not a normal business, right? Other owners have got to deal with you. The players have got to deal with you. The fans have got to not hate you.

This guy is a drowning man flailing in the water and the future is mighty dim.

CUOMO: That is one of the worst defenses I have heard of Donald Sterling.

HENICAN: You can't defend that part of it.

CUOMO: I'm going to do it and I'm going to give it to Malik Rose on this.

Donald Sterling has hired a defense lawyer, OK? Why? Specifically because the one right reserved just about when he signed this agreement was to go to the courts outside of the league for antitrust violation.

What you and other owners have done, Malik, I'm now making you their attorney, you guys have done is you decided to force me to sell the team which is affecting the value of the asset. And your reason for it is a private conversation that was taken the wrong way in a way I never meant it and it's all unfair, and there's no process, you decided in four days. I'm suing you.

MALIK ROSE, FORMER NBA PLAYER: OK. That is one thing to say all of those things, Mr. Sterling. But it's another thing to prove all of those allegations.

And the fact remains that Mr. Sterling signed into a specific charter for his NBA franchise. Those charters have rules and regulations. And the league knew this was going to happen and prepared for it.

And I really just want to -- you know, it is going to be a long, drawn out battle and it will get ugly. That's the scary part for me and the NBA is that this could be get ugly. If it forces players to demonstrate that is when things get upset. That's something that you don't want to happen. That's something that we are told in the NBA in your rookie year is to lead the NBA in a better place than when you got here.

I know it's important for players to do, but I really think owners should take heed to that, as well, especially Mr. Sterling in this case.

CUOMO: Now, the players are maturing in their relationship with the league. They want to be perceived as more partners and not just employees or entertainers that work with management. What could they do? They could complain. But could they boycott?

Under the terms of the union, you know -- Malik knows this stuff well, too -- I don't think they can make it a strike. So, what do they do, Ellis?

HENICAN: I think there would be penalties they would suffer. But I mean, it's real life, right? So, they can make complaints, they can symbolic things, and the fans never really know -- are they playing their hardest for this guy? Are they going all out?

You know, this is -- seriously, whatever the contracts say, and he has some contractual stuff on the side, but whatever they say, in real life, there are a thousand ways to torture this guy and he will lose.

CUOMO: But the question is how long. You are saying time is the enemy, Malik.

ROSE: I agree with what you are saying. You say the players have rules that prohibit them from striking. I've never seen a strike in my time with the NBA. I have seen a couple of lockouts which are different. I have never seen a strike or boycott and I hope I never see one going forward.

But Mr. Sterling has rules and regulations he has to follow, as well. Clearly, he is not following those. I mean, what if Doc Rivers said I'm not paying the $25,000 fine. You know, come get it or whatever. That is essentially what Mr. Sterling is saying to the NBA.

I mean, we talked about unmitigated gall before, Chris, you and I. I mean, this goes beyond that. I mean, how do you not pay a fine levied by a guy you signed over full authority and power to? I don't get it.

CUOMO: It is very difficult to accept that you are apologetic and remorseful when you fundamentally reject any consequence for your action, and it seems like that's what's going on here.

Malik Rose, very well put as always.

Ellis Henican, you were an intelligent man, and articulate, but you did a lousy job defending Donald Sterling.

HENICAN: Sorry, sorry.

CUOMO: It's all right. I want to have you back on NEW DAY, but you got to do a better job of defending when I asked you.

It's great to have you both. Have a good weekend.


BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, they got very close to the wildfire. Some would say a little bit too close. Two guys who drove through this huge inferno with their camera rolling, they're going to be joining us live to discuss.

And also, ahead, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he is mad as hell, but allegations of deadly wait times and cover-ups at V.A. hospitals, that's what he is mad about. But he also says he is not going anywhere. Why is the president sticking by him? What's the defense? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: All right. Time for the five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

At number one, a pair of teens 19 and 17 years old now have been arrested for suspected arson in connection with the latest in the southern California wildfires. The fires now burned 10,000 acres and forced thousands from their homes and at least one person has been killed.

Big change coming in India. Voters in the world's election have ousted the embattled ruling Congress Party in favor of opposition held by a pro-business leader. >

The Obama administration now questioning the ability of Nigeria to find the missing school girls abducted by Islamist militants last month but White House says it is not considering sending in U.S. forces for a rescue mission.

Donald Sterling fighting back. Reports say he is refusing the pay the NBA's fine and rejecting his lifetime ban, additionally, threatening to sue the league. CNN cannot independently confirm those reports.

And at number five a star studded sendoff for Barbara Walters ending that terrific career. The final episode of "The View" set to air later this morning. Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton were among those who honor Walters' legendary career.

You and I wouldn't be here, Kate, would we, if it wasn't for her.

Always updating those five things to know, so we be sure to go to for the latest.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Michaela.

Take a look at this absolutely terrifying video that we're showing you behind us. This is the video showing the San Diego wildfires. Raging flames descending on nearby homes as two co-workers are driving by.

Jeb Durgin and Byron Baumann captured this cell phone video and are joining us now from San Marcos to discuss.

Gentlemen, good morning.



BOLDUAN: Good morning. We are looking at this video.

Let's show the video as we continue our conversation because it really is unbelievable. You were both at work. You see smoke. You go to see what it is and this is what you came upon. Can you describe what it was like? BYRON BAUMANN, SHOT WILDFIRE VIDEO: It was a pretty chaotic scene. It was a fairly new scene I believe for EMS and fire. Things had not been brought under control yet. It was unreal. Hard to describe.

JEB DURGIN, WITNESSED WILDFIRES: Yes, I would say if one word were to describe it'd be surreal. I couldn't explain how chaotic and unreal it seemed all at once.

BOLDUAN: What -- describe what it felt like for you to be in the car so close to the flames.

BAUMANN: The first thing that comes to mind is intense heat.

BOLDUAN: You could feel the heat?

BAUMANN: A lot of heat. You can definitely feel the heat. If you imagine standing next to a barbecue or camp fire and multiply times 100. That's what it felt like for a few seconds.

And I don't think people realized how loud fire is. Fire makes a roar like a lion. It is not something that is really funny at the time.

BOLDUAN: It is not funny at all.

Go ahead, Jeb. I'm sorry.

DURGIN: No, it's OK. For me, it was a little bit different. You are looking through the video pointed out on the passenger side of the car. What was in front of us, what was exhilarating for me is the clouds of smoke, the fire, going across the lanes of the road I couldn't see much of anything. The feeling for me was different than it was for Byron. But all in all, it's very intense.

BOLDUAN: From looking at the video you see other cars pulled over on the side of the road. You see the RV driving into the neighborhood moment. They were looking at the video right now.

When you are in the car in that moment, it looks like you are in real danger. Were you scared? Were you guys in danger?

BAUMANN: I wasn't scared. I don't think you have time to think about it. I can't really speak for Jeb. I think it was kind of more of trying to take it all in at once.

I mean, I sort of come from an EMS background, so that feeling of emergency is something I am familiar with. You don't have time to be afraid. Maybe afterwards you might have a little bit of realization of what you just went through but in that time there wasn't fear.

DURGIN: Absolutely. I would agree. It's more of a reactive scenario than it is you thinking about it. You are not thinking about what is happening as much as you are reacting to what is happening.

BOLDUAN: I know you probably heard it from your wives or family members after you showed them this video, probably not smart to be driving towards the flames, towards the smoke. You guys know that. Will you be doing this again anytime soon?

BAUMANN: I don't think so.