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Interview With Karan Takai, Bonnie Raio

Aired June 23, 2003 - 19:10   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In other news now, wild weather has been making life difficult for people in various parts of the country.
Heavy weekend rains in Florida forced officials to evacuate hundreds of people living near Lake Manatee. Look at those pictures. Unbelievable.

A floodgate jammed and that had authorities worried the reservoir behind the dam might actually overflow. The gate was finally pried open late on Sunday.

In Nebraska, one man was killed by a tornado, one of four that swept through the southern part of the state and through northern Kansas, as well. Now those storms also dumped up to a foot of rain and hail, some reported to be as large as cantaloupes. Hard to believe.

And gusty winds and dry brush are fueling a wildfire in Arizona. Now, that blaze grew in size during the overnight hours. It's said to cover more than 12,000 acres. The fire has turned homes to charred ash and forced evacuations of hundreds of people.

So what is it like to be fighting such an inferno? For an update, U.S. Fire Service fire information officer Karan Takai joins us now from Tucson, Arizona.

Karan, thanks for being with us. What are your firefighters facing right now?

KARAN TAKAI, FIRE INFORMATION OFFICER: Right now they're facing incredible challenges out in those canyon areas, heavy fuels. It is extremely hot out here. The winds are 35 plus. And the terrain is rugged.

COOPER: When you say -- I think it's hard for people who are not there to actually visualize this. You have, like, 900 or so firefighters trying to battle this thing. But how rugged is this?

TAKAI: When you have 900 firefighters on a mountain, it's like an ant on an ant hill. You're not talking resources that seem like a lot. It's very little. It's a challenge. So it's quite frustrating for them out there on the hill and the mountain.

COOPER: At this point, how much of the fire is under control and where does this thing go from here? TAKAI: OK, we're not calling control yet. There is a 5 percent containment. But considering the amount of acreage we're talking about right now, it's about 11,000 or 12,400. That's a very small amount of containment.

Where does it go from here? We need to watch the weather, the winds, the humidities, and what's going to happen for the next few days.

COOPER: Only 5 percent contained; that is scary.

Karan Takai, thanks very much for joining us.

Many of those driven from their homes by the fire were evacuated to Tucson. Officials say it could be a week before anyone is allowed to travel back to check on their homes.

Now, one of those evacuees is Bonnie Raio. She joins us now from Tucson.

Bonnie, thank you so much for being with us. Now I understand this morning you were shown a list or told about what houses are still standing. Was your house on that list?

BONNIE RAIO, FIRE VICTIM: The list showed the houses that were still standing, not the ones that were burnt. And I believe from prior knowledge that it is gone.

COOPER: You believe your house is gone?

RAIO: Yes.

COOPER: I'm so sorry. What was in it? I understand you only had like two hours or so to evacuate. It's every homeowner's nightmare, being told to suddenly evacuate your house. What do you do?

RAIO: Well, actually, I had lost everything in a fire ten years ago. So what I had left over from that was -- is gone now.

There are three of us, my fiance Jesse, and his niece, Sarah. We lost all our photographs of our families, our children, going back to the time that my children were little. And we also lost a lot of artwork. We're both artists. And anything good that we've ever done is gone.

COOPER: I know, Bonnie, I understand also your fiance is disabled.

RAIO: Yes.

COOPER: Because of a stroke. No longer able to do his art and so really everything that he had, you believe, now is gone?

RAIO: Yes, it is.

COOPER: How are you dealing with that?

RAIO: They're just things. That's what people have to realize. What's important to us is that the love we have for each other and our family on the mountain.

We are a very close community and we call each other family. We leave our doors open. In the wintertime, we support each other when it's snowing. We make sure that we all have firewood. We go through everything together, the family on the mountain. And many of us work in the establishments on the mountain and made it a great place to come visit and for families to de-stress and spend time together.

COOPER: Will you rebuild?

RAIO: It's hard to say at this point. We don't know what we're going to see when we go up the mountain. We heard that it's pretty devastating.

And our main focus is to stay together, all of us, all the evacuees that live full time on the mountain, it is real important for us to stay together. We are talking about going up there and pitching tents if we have to.

I think what we need is a miracle, like a Donald Trump to step up and save a tree. We certainly appreciate all the help from the American people, that they've donated money to the Red Cross. They've been wonderful to us. But it is going to take a lot of funds and a lot of materials to put that village back in order.

COOPER: Well, Bonnie, we wish the best to you as well, as your niece and your fiance, Jesse. I'm so sorry for your loss, but I wish you a lot of strength in the coming days. Thank you very much for being with us.

RAIO: Thank you.


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