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Prairie Wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma; Iraqi Oil Minister Calls It Quits

Aired January 2, 2006 - 11:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to watch prairie wildfires in parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Two small Texas towns, Ringgold and Kokomo, have been virtually wiped out. Dozens of homes have been destroyed. The number of acres charred by the fires is in tens of thousands. Fire crews are on the frontlines, dealing with winds, dry grass and high temperatures. Traci Weaver is with the Texas Forest Service, and She joins us by phone today.
Traci, hello.


KAGAN: I'm doing OK, but I imagine things are very tough where you are. What about the latest on the conditions there?

WEAVER: The latest is that we are under red flag warning conditions again for extreme fire danger, and we have pretty strong north, northwest winds right now, which is not good for the fires that we're on. This fire up here in Ringgold is kicking up on us pretty good. We're flying heavy air tankers on it.

KAGAN: What about the winds? What about the winds? Does that make it difficult to fly and have air attacks on the fires?

WEAVER: Actually the winds are about 10 to 20 right now, which is safe to fly. Yesterday we did have difficulty using any aircraft on the fires because the winds were so very strong.

KAGAN: And how big of a difficulty is it just human carelessness, somebody either starting a fire or flicking a cigarette out of a car window?

WEAVER: Well, we've really been working hard to get the word out through the media and other means to let people know how extremely dry it is here, and try to get them to be very carefully. What we're seeing on at least two of the large fires that we're on in Texas right now, they have both been caused by arcing power lines. So it's not being carelessness. And, fortunately we didn't have people out there being crazy with fireworks yesterday.

KAGAN: And are you getting the kind of resources that you need?

WEAVER: We are getting all sorts of resources. We have firefighters from 22 states in here. (INAUDIBLE) from the National Guard. They're also helping. And we have nine National Guard helicopters working the fire, the carbon fire in Eastland County. We're also getting heavy air tankers from Portsmith (ph), Arkansas. That's the national resource.

So, and fire department from everywhere. This fire had 50 fire departments from as far away at Fort Worth on it.

KAGAN: What this I'm hearing about the crews having to do house- to-house searches?

WEAVER: They are doing house-to-house searches as a precautionary measure, just to make sure that everyone is accounted for, where we had significant structure loss. We don't have any reports of loss of life yet.

KAGAN: Well, that's one bit of encouraging news. Traci Weaver with the Texas Forest Service. Traci, thank you. We wish you well, and your firefighters as well.


KAGAN: To Iraq now, where the oil minister there has called it quits. He stepped down in an uproar over higher gas prices. The announcement comes as protests over gas hikes turned violent.

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston has more now from Baghdad.

Jennifer, hello.


That's right. Well, hundreds of motorist waiting in line today for hours at gas stations until they were told to go home, an that was because they had no more fuel left. Now stations across Baghdad have been out of fuel because they haven't been resupplied in days, and that's because the main distributor north of the capital was temporarily closed after tanker truck drivers walked off the job after threats of insurgent attacks. Now even if those motorists could buy, the process would still be exasperating.

And, Daryn, the fuel prices have jumped here fivefold since early December. They went from three cents a liter to about 16 cents a liter. That's around 60 cents a gallon. Now that may sound low to our viewers in the United States, but in a country where unemployment stands around 50 percent, and when the average income is roughly $35 a month, to most Iraqis that price hike is outright extortion. With some motorists telling us today they now spend about half their income on gas. Now, that price increase was introduced as a part of a loan agreement with the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. They want this oil-rich nation to lessen its dependence on subsidized fuel. The man in charge of oil, Bahar Al Olum (ph), agreed with that, but he said the price increase should be phased in over time. They weren't. So as you mentioned, he resigned.

And Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi will now take over the oil ministry helm until the new government is formed and a new minister is selected -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Jennifer Eccleston, live in Baghdad, thank you. Well, there's a new cold war, and we do mean cold war, in Europe today. Russia cutting the national gas spigot to its neighbor. Ukrainians aren't freezing yet, but they do face a long, uncertain winter. Our correspondent Ryan Chilcote looks at a showdown that is fueled by money, politics, and maybe even a few old grudges.


RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The gas war, as it's now known, between Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine is heating up, sending shivers across Europe. Russia cut off gas supplies to the Ukraine on New Year's Day in a dispute over prices, then Monday accused Ukraine of stealing from the pipeline that carries its natural gas across Ukraine to customers in Western Europe.

ALEXANDER MEDVEDEV, DEP. CHAIR, GAZPROM (through translator): The amount of gas stolen on January 1 by Ukraine from the European pipeline is around 100 million cubic meters, with a market price of over $25 million U.S. If the theft will continue at such a tempo, then the value of the stolen goods will be extremely significant.

CHILCOTE: Ukraine denies the charge, though some Ukrainian officials say they will take some of Russia's Europe-bound exports if the temperature drops a few degrees below freezing. But it won't be stealing, they say. It will be extracting payment for transit fees.

Russia cut off gas sales to Ukraine after the Kiev government refused to pay what Russia calls market rates for fuel. The new rate is more than quadrupled the old subsidized rate Ukraine paid.

The price hike is punishment, Ukraine says, for its orange revolution and desire to develop closer ties with the West. It calls the new rates an attempts to undermine the economy and blackmail.

(on camera): Ukraine, a country of 48 million, is believed to have enough gas in its own reserves to get through the winter. But Western countries' reserve of patience is running dry. The United States and the European Union, which gets a quarter of the natural gas it needs, have called for a speedy resolution.

(voice over): In what's been the coldest winter in years, some European countries have already experienced a drop in their supply from Russia. Russia's Kremlin-controlled gas company says it has a plan but isn't announcing details.

MEDVEDEV (through translator): To ensure the energy security of Europe, we have taken all necessary measures to restore the expert levels.


CHILCOTE: That reassurance, Daryn, appears to have done very little to ease the concerns of Western Europeans. It seems that with every cold winter day, the battleground and the cost of this so-called Russian-Ukrainian gas war get a little bigger -- Daryn. KAGAN: And what kind of pressure, realistically, will Russia be getting from the West in all of this?

CHILCOTE: A whole lot of pressure. There's a lot at stake here. Immediately what we're looking is a lot of natural gas on the line. The Ukrainians and the Western Europeans need that natural gas in the winter to keep their homes warm. They also need it to keep their economies going. So there is going to be a whole lot of pressure. And there will be pressure not only from the Western Europeans but also from the United States.

Let's keep in mind the big picture here. Russia has global ambitions as an energy supplier. It has always characterized itself as a stable, a predictable, a reliable energy partner that can supply the whole world with not just natural gas but oil, including to places like the United States. So what people are -- would like to see is that indeed happen. A lot of people out there that think that what is going on right now may really hurt Russia's image as that stable partner and that alternative to the chaotic Middle East as a supplier for fuel. Daryn?

KAGAN: Ryan Chilcote, live from Russia. Ryan, thank you.

This just in to CNN. News out of West Virginia. A mine explosion -- underground explosion at a coal mine there, leaving as many as 13 miners they believe trapped underground. This explosion happened at the Sego mine, south of Buckhannon. It occurred about 8:00 this morning. The officials there are saying 19 miners were underground when the explosion occurred. Six made it out without getting hurt. But 13 miners are trapped more than a mile underground. The condition of those miners at this time not available. Efforts to reach them have not been successful, but mine emergency crews are en route to that mine in West Virginia.

We'll continue to follow that story as more information becomes available.

Meanwhile, how would you like to make a million bucks without ever leaving the comfort of your chair? You are going to be jealous when you hear how a young man pulled this off, how his home page made him rich.

First, for a look how to get your finances in order in 2006, let's check in with Melissa Long at the desk.

MELISSA LONG, CNN.COM DESK: If you resolve to get smart with your money in the New Year, log on to for ten tips for 2006. Are you really stashing away all you can for retirement? Tip one: save more money this year by maxing out your 401(k).

If you're overwhelmed by credit card bills from excessive holiday spending, tip three helps you to perform plastic surgery. Pay cash instead of charging and use another kind of plastic -- your debit card. Also, shop around for lower rates as you pay off your purchases. Tip nine: keep your paperwork organized and pay the taxes you really owe and not more. A recent government study shows more than 2 million taxpayers overpaid an average of $438 because they failed to itemize.

For these and other financial resolutions, log on to For the Dot Com desk, I'm Melissa Long.


KAGAN: Let's update you on the story we're following out of central West Virginia: 13 miners trapped a mile underground after an explosion at a mine just south of Buckhannon, West Virginia. Happened around 8:00 this morning. Nineteen miners were underground at the time when the explosion occurred -- six made it out, they weren't hurt, they're fine. But 13 miners trapped underground at this time -- they have not been able to reach them and have any kind of communication. So their status at this time unknown. We'll continue to follow that story out of Buckhannon, West Virginia.

Meanwhile, how does this sound? A millionaire at age 21. One innovative college student discover a recipe for quick success -- mixing the technology of the web, sprinkled with a little business savvy, and then pops out the million-dollar home page. You're looking at it, there.

Here's the idea: Advertisers can buy pixels for a dollar each. A hundred pixels are transformed into an icon linking consumers to their site. Pure genius -- pure cha-ching, as well.

Meet Alex Tew, he's the brains behind the operation. He's joining us live from our London bureau. Alex, hello.


KAGAN: Congratulations on your great idea. How did you come up with it?

TEW: Well, like all good ideas, I came up with the idea out of necessity, really. About a month before I went to university in August, 2005, I decided that it was necessary to make some money to cover my university expenses, because I was pretty much broke at the time. So I wrote down on a notepad, How could I become a millionaire? You know, I wrote down the question in order to kind of spark the creative aspect of my brain.

And 20 minutes later, this idea to sell a million pixels for a dollar each just kind of popped into my head. And built the site in about two days and off it went.

KAGAN: So how does it work, and how did you spread the word?

TEW: Well, how it works is, the home page is divided up into a million pixels, which are effectively dots that build up a picture on a screen. And advertisers have been buying for the last few months the various pixels. They can buy a minimum of a hundred, and there was no maximum. So some advertisers have larger adverts than other advertisers.

And when an advertiser displays a logo on their pixels, it then links through to their own website. People looking at the site can see a big collage of adverts which then links through to all the advertisers different websites.

And I spread the word. First thing I did, I told all my friends and family. So I started in a pretty normal kind of way. And I managed to sell a few pixels to my brother and a couple of friends to kind of build some degree of interest. And then it was picked up in blogs and people started talking about it in chat rooms. And the idea just spread across the Internet pretty much overnight.

Within, I think, two weeks, I had made about $50,000, so I covered my university expenses. Then it just kept on going.

KAGAN: So how much did you originally hope to make, and where are you at right now?

TEW: Well, my original hope was that I would make just a few percent of a million dollars. So even if I made, say, $10,000 or $20,000, that would really help me with university. That was my original scheme. If I aimed high, then I would get a small percentage and that would help me out.

But it just went beyond that. At the time we're speaking, I've sold 999,000 pixels on the home page, which leaves 1,000 pixels left. Due to exceptionally high demand for my pixels and not enough supply, obviously, there's only a thousand left, I've put the final pixels on eBay. So I'm auctioning them off to the higher bidder. And that auction went live last night, runs for ten days.

So it will be interesting to see how valuable those thousand pixels become.

KAGAN: It will. Amazing. Final quick question: you wanted to go to university to study business -- you already have figured out how to make a million dollars. Is it necessary to continue your studies?

TEW: At this stage, my aim is to continue my studies. I value getting a degree, and there's lots of good reasons to be at university. But obviously now there's lots of new opportunities that have sprung up as a result of my home page, and companies are talking to me about consulting on Internet marketing with them. I've had approaches from investors, and basically a whole lot has happened. So I'm just going to take the next few months and see what happens, and you know, see how things progress. But it's going to be an exciting time, and yes, it's going to be...

KAGAN: Yes, I think so. We'll hopefully you'll make time as you figure out what that next thing is, so stop by and let us know what's next for you. It's a million-dollar homepage.

Alex Tew, congratulations, and thanks for making time for us in your busy millionaire schedule. Thank you, Alex, live from...

TEW: Thank you very much. Cheers. Bye.

KAGAN: Cheers to you, too.

Our daily dose of health news begins with a serious topic, nicotine and pregnancy. You know that smoking during pregnancy can cause problems.

Now a new study says nicotine substitutes may also increase the risk of birth defects. Researchers in Spain interviewed more than 76,000 expectant mothers. They found a slightly higher risk of birth defects among former smokers who used nicotine substitutes, compared to those who did not use them.

If you're New Year's resolution is to quit smoking, the American Lung Association has tips to help you succeed. You can write down a list of reasons why you want to quit, and refer to it when you have the urge to light up, set a date to quit, instead of trying to do it on a whim, reward yourself for not smoking, with specific rewards for each milestone. Cut down on alcohol and caffeinated beverages and drink lots of water. And then do something physical, especially when you're angry, stressed, or bored. Good luck.

Coming up, baby boomers -- and you know who you are -- we're going to hear what the original baby boomer has to say about her generation as they approach retirement age.

We're back after this.


KAGAN: And we're looking at new pictures getting in from Texas, and the wildfires they're dealing with there. A big problem as they try to fight the fires after losing so many homes. No rain, has been very little rain in the last couple weeks, and dry and windy conditions have been hurting the situation there as well. Also we're following a story out of West Virginia. Thirteen miners are trapped a mile underground at this hour. There was an explosion at the Seago (ph) mine south of Buckhannin (ph), 19 miners in the mine at that time. A few of them, six of them got out and were not injured, but 13 still trapped a mile underground. And so far, they have not been able to establish any communication with the miners. We continue to follow that developing story out of West Virginia.

For the generation who made youth the center of American culture, the '60s took on a whole new meaning. The first official baby boomer turned 60 yesterday. Kathleen Casey Kirschling was recognized as the first boomer in a book back in 1980. And later when "Money" magazine went looking for boomers turning 40.

Now Kirschling once again finds herself once again the poster child for her generation.


KATHLEEN CASEY KIRSCHLING, OFFICIAL "FIRST" BABY BOOMER: I think that one of the things that defines it is most probably diversity, and change and growth, because I think we embraced diversity over the last 40 years. And I think that's a real great legacy. I think there was lots of changes, and we brought a lot of good, but we also most probably brought a lot of negative. But that's changing right now.


KAGAN: True to her generation, Kirschling is not alone. Almost 8,000 boomers will turn 60 each day this year.

I'm Daryn Kagan. International news is up next. Stay tuned for YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Jim Clancy and Zain Verjee will be with you after a quick break.



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