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AMERICAN MORNING

Wildfire Emergency: Hundreds of Homes Threatened; Wrestler Murder-Suicide?; Gas Prices Fall

Aired June 26, 2007 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. Thanks so much for being with us on -- today is Tuesday, June 26th. I'm Kiran Chetry.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.

A lot happening today. Paris Hilton got out of jail overnight. While you were asleep, she got in a limo and drove away from the detention center.

CHETRY: She sure did.

ROBERTS: Thousands of paparazzi chasing her down last night.

CHETRY: What a shock. We knew that was going to happen. But we'll have much more on that as well.

The Lake Tahoe wildfires right now.

ROBERTS: Right.

CHETRY: Some progress being made, but still the devastation in that area and they're declaring a state of emergency.

ROBERTS: And also "On The Radar" this morning, a death in the world of professional wrestling. Chris Benoit was found dead in his home near Atlanta, along with his wife and seven year old son. Police say the bodies of the family were found in three different rooms. We'll have the latest on that investigation coming up for you.

California has ordered a state of emergency to fight the destructive wildfire that's been burning for a few days now near Lake Tahoe, California. As of last night, the fire was only 40 percent contained. Hundreds of homes are threatened. Hundreds of buildings have already burned. And the lake's famously clear waters are now filling with falling ash. More fire crews are on the ground and in the air, but will they get some help from nature. Two hundred and forty buildings destroyed. A state fire official calls this the worst structure loss from fire that he has seen in at least 100 years. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence is live for us this morning in Meyers, California.

And, Chris, just how -- we've heard a lot about how destructive this fire is. How long before they can get it under control? CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maybe Sunday. You know, that's what they're looking at right now, John. You know, everything from modest homes to, you know, million dollar homes, they all burn.

And now, not only from the fire, there's another problem as well. The National Weather Service has issued a smoke advisory. Warning people that there's this thick layer of ash in the air that is making it extremely difficult to see and breathe. I can tell you just from standing out here, all of our eyes have been burning here for the past few minutes. And I don't know this for sure, but I'm just wondering if it's going to affect firefighter's plans to kind of bring in some of the folks to see some of the more moderately damaged homes that they were planning to do later on today.

On a good note, the winds have died down compared to a few days ago and so has the fire. It has stopped advancing. The firefighters say they've got it at least 40 percent contained. But later in the week, those winds are going to kick up again. So they are racing the clock, so to speak. A thousand people so far have evacuated their homes. And, you know, some of these folks just have nothing to come back to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We loved this place. We lived for it. We did everything we could for this place and it's done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just don't believe that this would happen to you. You're always on the other side, you know, and you see it happen to other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: Yes, those folks are, unfortunately, not alone. About 175 homes were completely destroyed. Another few dozen damaged pretty badly as well.

John.

ROBERTS: Yes, we see this time and time again out west.

Chris, any idea, are investigators any closer to figuring out how this fire got started?

LAWRENCE: Well, they know where it got started, on a ridge a few hundred yards from this area called Seneca Pond, which is an area that's really popular for runners and for teenagers hanging out during the summertime. They believe it was started by a human because there were no lightning strikes in the area on that day, although right now they say that it could have just been an accident.

ROBERTS: OK. Chris Lawrence for us live this morning from Meyers, California. We'll be checking back in with Chris.

Let's check in with Chad Myers right now. He's got the fire forecast live in the CNN Weather Center. Any hope for those folks out there that they're going to get some moisture, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No. No moisture at all. Other than, if it doesn't come from an airplane or a helicopter or a hose, no way.

The winds were so calm yesterday, some of the planes couldn't fly because it was too smokey. Today, the winds blow a little bit, just enough, 10 miles per hour, but tomorrow the gusts go to 32. So if they don't get a good handle on it today, it's going to be back out of control, at least in some spots, for tomorrow.

We'll keep watching it for you. But as the week goes on, the winds only get stronger.

Guys, back to you.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Chad.

CHETRY: Well, Paris Hilton is a free woman this morning. It happened about three hours ago, 3:15 Eastern Time, 12:15 Pacific. CNN's Brooke Anderson was on the air live for CNN International when Paris walked out of jail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Paris Hilton is exiting the jail. The women's facility here in Linwood, California. It is reaching a fever pitch here. It is, of course, a media circus. Paris Hilton exiting now after serving 23 days behind bars, give or take a few hours, serving time, serving a 45-day sentence for violating probation. You see Paris now.

Paris, what are your plans?

Paris is smiling. Paris is waving. And she is walking to her parents' black SUV. They were waiting in the car at the end of this walkway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: That was CNN's Brooke Anderson on the scene in L.A. I mean this is preposterous, but unbelievable. Lola Ogunnaike joins us now.

She's sauntering out, smiling, she's like putting her shoulders like this and there's how many thousands of cameras out there?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She's giving you the demure Paris Hilton saunter. It's like she's on the red carpet. But it's not the red carpet. She's leaving jail.

Again, she's out after serving 23 days in jail. Apparently, our West Coast affiliates say, that she's at her grandparent' house right now resting. She's, you know, she will be on probation until March 2009. She can reduce that, apparently, if she does a PSA or if she does some public service, public service announcements or something of the sort.

But, yes, she's out there. The paparazzi is out there. It's thousands of people out there trying to get a shot of her. Her first interview is with Larry King tomorrow.

And we did not pay for that interview. That's something that we have to make clear. We did not pay for that interview.

CHETRY: No. And she doesn't look bad for being without that moisturizer, like she was so concerned about with the dry skin.

OGUNNAIKE: She's got the cute, skinny jeans on. She's got the little blazer on. She's got the little white t-shirt on. She looks great, actually.

CHETRY: Yes, her extension intact. So things are looking up.

OGUNNAIKE: No fake lashes, but, you know, she's got the hair. And if you've got your weave, you've got the move.

CHETRY: All right. Well there it is. A reminder, Paris Hilton's first post jail interview will be right here on CNN. She's going to be talking to "Larry King Live." It's tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Lola, thanks.

OGUNNAIKE: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Six minutes after the hour now. First it was pet food, then toothpaste, now tires being made in China are being recalled. Four hundred and fifty thousand of them. Ali Velshi joins us now live with the story.

What's up, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Yes, as you said, almost half a million tires ordered recalled by a distributor in New Jersey. These tires coming in from China. The story is that they don't have enough gum or adhesive to keep the tires from separating. This was something that was discovered actually a couple of years ago. There's some discussion as to why it's taken so long to figure this out. As you recall, back in the year 2000, 6.5 million tires were recalled because of separation. Those tires belonged to Firestone. Two hundred and seventy-one people were killed in incidents that were linked to this tire separation.

So far we don't have any news of that. We're looking at, as I said, 450,000 tires that go under the brands of Westlake, Compass, Telluride and YKS. These are truck, van and SUV tires. We'll get more on this as we find out more about it. But the federal officials, federal government asking this distributor to recall almost half a million Chinese-made tires because they could separate. John.

ROBERTS: All right, Ali Velshi, thanks very much. We'll check back with Ali with more on business in just a few minutes time.

CHETRY: In the meantime, more finger pointing this morning over how the air at the site of the World Trade Center was declared safe in the days after the September 11th terror attacks. Alina Cho is following this story for us and she joins us from the newsroom.

Hi, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Kiran. Good morning.

A lot of he said, she said going on. Democrats say the Bush administration lied to the public about just how safe the air was at Ground Zero after 9/11. Meanwhile, the former head of the EPA, Christy Todd Whitman, says it's person and she would never lie. We're going to tell you how it could be bad news for one GOP presidential candidate, coming up.

Kiran.

CHETRY: Alina, thanks.

Well, tragedy rocks the world of pro wrestling. Pro wrestling champion Chris Benoit, his wife and their seven-year-old son all found dead in their Georgia home. Police are now investigating the deaths as a possible double murder/suicide. They say there were no signs of gunshot wounds or stabbing. Benoit was scheduled to wrestle on a pay- per-view event on Sunday night. The WWE called police after he failed to show. WWE scrapped its planned show on Monday night and instead ran a three-hour tribute to Benoit.

A judge sets bail at $5 million for Bobby Cutts. He is the man accuse of killing Jessie Davis who was nine months pregnant with his child at the time. Myisha Ferrell, a friend of Cutts, is being held on $500,000 bond. She's accused of lying to investigators about the case.

ROBERTS: We'll be looking for a response from the White House this morning after a top Republican pushes the president to change course in Iraq. The calls came from Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. He said the changes need to happen "very soon." Lugar is the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. And take a listen to what he said last night on the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, (R) INDIANA: In my judgment, the costs and risks continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interest over the long-term.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Lugar, though, says he does not support a complete withdrawal of American troops. Instead, he called for a downsizing the redeployment. We'll check in with John Dickerson in about 20 minutes time, get his take on all of this.

Another vote is scheduled today to see if the immigration reform bill can go forward in the Senate. The president is predicting victory, but he's getting opposition from within his own party. Only seven Republicans supported it last time. The bill also getting luke warm support from Americans. A new CNN/Opinion poll shows only 30 percent are in favor of it, while nearly half oppose it.

CHETRY: There was a major step forward overnight in relations with North Korea. For the first time in a half decade, United Nations nuclear inspectors are in Pyongyang. That's what China's news service is reporting this morning. U.N. inspectors were kicked out of North Korea five years ago and have not been allowed back since.

ROBERTS: We're getting a shocking look at a violent confrontation. One that ended in the shooting death of a New Hampshire police officer by the cousin of skiing champion Bode Miller. It happened last month. This is dash cam video.

Corporal Bruce McKay had chased down and pulled over Miller's cousin, Liko Kenny. McKay pepper sprays him here and then talks away. Kenny then sticks a handgun through the window and starts firing six or seven times. He then tries to drive way, but off camera he's stopped by another passing driver who saw what happened, pulled over and grabbed Officer McKay's gun and shot Kenny dead before he could get away.

Turns out that the entire confrontation between McKay and Kenny was the bloody finale to a long simmering family feud. It dates back to Kenny filing an assault charge against Officer McKay. Even Bode Miller himself claims that McKay purposely harassed him.

CHETRY: There is a search for new clues in the Virginia Tech shooting. It tops our "Quick Hits" now. Police are going to drain a pond on campus. The shooter, Seung Hui Cho, was seen in the area before he killed 32 people back on April 16th.

And there is some more signs that the housing market could be slowing down. The latest numbers show the rate of existing home sales is the slowest its been in four years. The median home price also fell for the 10th straight month. And there are a lot of homes on the market. Inventory at the highest levels we've seen in 15 years.

Well, she said the air around the World Trade Center was safe in the days after the September 11th terror attacks. Now Christie Todd Whitman's words are coming back to haunt her and it's her that's having some trouble breathing. We'll get that story when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fourteen minutes after the hour. Extreme weather in England tops your "Quick Hits" now. Heavy rains produced massive flooding across the country. At least two people were killed, hundreds more had to be rescued from rooftops by helicopter.

AAA is predicting a record number of Americans will hit the road for the Fourth of July holiday. An estimated 41.1 million people will travel during the holiday week, 84 percent by car, 11 percent by plane. And get this, with the fourth on a Wednesday, many people are expected to take the entire week off. But don't worry, we'll be here for you.

One of the original Iwo Jima flag raisers has died. Charles Lindberg, who's no relation to the aviator, died Sunday in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday. He was 86-years-old. The Marine cameraman captured Lindberg's patrol raising the first flag over Iwo Jima. He spent a lifetime explaining that it was hours before the second flag raising when the famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo was taken.

CHETRY: The former head of the Environmental Protection Agency is standing by the statements that she made in the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Christie Todd Whitman said at the time that the air in the area was safe. Yesterday, she faced a fierce grilling on Capitol Hill over those very same claims. Alina Cho is following this story for us this morning.

CHO: Very heated hearing, Kiran. You know, remember, nearly six years after 9/11, they're still trying to find out why the public wasn't given proper information about the air quality at Ground Zero. A sweeping study shows 70 percent of 9,000 rescue workers at Ground Zero have some sort of respiratory illness and Congress now wants some accountability.

Now yesterday, after initially refusing to testify, the former head of the EPA, Christie Todd Whitman, went before Congress. She told a House subcommittee that when she declared two days after 9/11 that the air was safe, she believed it was. Whitman says when she made that statement, she was talking to the general public, not rescue workers at Ground Zero. Last week, a General Accounting Office released a preliminary report saying the federal government misled the public about contamination at Ground Zero and some members of Congress says that was negligent and has even caused lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE WHITMAN, FORMER EPA ADMINISTRATOR: It's important for people to understand, that these were not wimps. These were not decisions by a politician. Everything I said was based on what I was hearing from professionals. My son was in building seven on that day, congressman . . .

REP. KEITH ELLISON, (D) MINNESOTA: And, governor . . .

WHITMAN: And I almost lost him.

ELLISON: Governor . . .

WHITMAN: This is as personal to me as it is to anyone . . .

ELLISON: No one -- governor, governor . . .

WHITMAN: And I would never lie to the public if . . .

ELLISON: No. No, governor, excuse me. I'm not going to allow you to turn this into a personal thing. It's personal for the people out here.

WHITMAN: It's personal with everybody. And I would . . .

ELLISON: It's personal to the people out here, too, governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Two and a half hours of that on Capitol Hill yesterday. Whitman says the government did the best that it could at the time. And, Kiran, she says if anyone's to blame, it's the terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11.

CHETRY: Certainly a chaotic situation in the days after 9/11. There were people that were wearing the paper masks that you would use if you were painting your home. And there were people saying, you know, we've got to get these respirators down there for the rescue workers. But a lot of chaos in the days after.

CHO: That's right. Absolutely. In fact, you know, all these air quality tests were done in the days just after 9/11. Christie Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator at the time, said, listen, you know, we believed that the air was safe. Of course, we now know that 70 percent of 9,000 rescue workers have some sort of respiratory problems. But remember, this is political, too.

CHETRY: It's definitely heading into 2008. You have Rudy Giuliani as a candidate. He was mayor at the time.

CHO: That's right. And a lot of finger pointing. A lot of he said, she said. Listen, Whitman says that her agency, the EPA, repeatedly warned rescuers at 9/11 to wear some sort of protective masks, like those surgical masks. But she says that the city was ultimately responsible.

Well, who was running the city at the time? Then mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is now a GOP presidential candidate. Giuliani has come out with a statement saying, "Administrator Whitman never voiced any of those concerns at the time." And to do "so now is revisionist at best."

CHETRY: Thank you very much, Alina.

CHO: All right.

ROBERTS: More Americans are living without health insurance. Your "Quick Hits" now. The Centers for Disease Control reports the number of uninsured Americans jumped by 2 million from 2005 to 2006, up to 43.6 million. The report cite diminishing employer coverage and pricier private insurance as reasons why. Watch for that to become a big issue in the presidential campaign.

And a piece of junk mail helps a wedding ring, missing for nearly 40 years, get back to its owner. A 74-years-old Catherine Zincas (ph) received the ring that her diseased husband lost. The man who found it had moved into Catherine's house some 30 years after she moved out. He tried to find her based on the inscription, Kitty to Johnny, 3-31- 51, but he had no luck until the junk mail arrived and with it her last name. A quick Internet search and she had the ring right back.

An important day for Rudy Giuliani as he tries to win over some Christian conservatives. He'll make his pitch at Pat Robertson's Regent University.

Coming up, John Dickerson from slate.com on all things politics this morning. What we can expect to hear from Rudy Giuliani, Dick Lugar's speech, the immigration bill coming back up for a vote. All of that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Paris Hilton. There she is walking out of jail overnight. Sprung from the L.A. county lockup just a couple of hours ago, in fact. CNN's Brooke Anderson joins us live this morning with the latest on Paris.

Hi, Brooke.

ANDERSON: Hi there, Kiran.

Well, first thing's first for Paris Hilton. She has returned to the lap of luxury. We are told that she is currently at the Hilton family compound in Bell Air, California. But she won't have much time to rest, get some relaxation. Her first post jail interview is scheduled for Wednesday with our own Larry King. And her attorney, Richard Hutton, says it will be an opportunity for people to really get to know the real Paris Hilton. We'll see.

Meantime, Paris will be on probation until March 2009. Kiran, she can reduce that time by 12 months if she completes community service or if she records a public service announcement.

Back to you.

CHETRY: And, Brooke, just how crazy was it out there last night?

ANDERSON: It was complete chaos. She walked out of these doors behind me about three hours ago, shortly after midnight local time. There were probably easily 50 news crews here. She had a spring in her step. She was clearly elated. She was hi-fiving the media and fans who had gotten themselves out of bed, they told me, to be here to witness her exit. So it was crazy. And as she made her way to the end of this walkway, which she looked like she was treating it more like a red carpet the way she was strutting.

CHETRY: Right. ANDERSON: She walked into the open arms of her mother, who was here, also with her father, Rick Hilton, to whisk her away after her incarceration.

CHETRY: All right. Well, she did it and she's back out. I wonder if this will be the last of it. Probably not.

ANDERSON: Probably not.

CHETRY: Thanks so much.

ANDERSON: Thanks, Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, it won't be the last definitely that we'll hear from Paris, because she is going to be doing her first post jailhouse interview. It will be right here on CNN. She's talking to Larry. "Larry King Live" tomorrow 9:00 p.m.

ROBERTS: Another Republican defection on the president's Iraq policy. Indiana Senator Richard Lugar says it's time to change the policy. He made the declaration in an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor last evening. John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent for slate.com. He joins us now from Washington.

John, pretty remarkable what Lugar had to say last night when you look at his position as the ranking member on the Republican side of the foreign relations committee to suddenly say, hey, this policy's not working. It's time to make a change.

JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE.COM: That's right. I mean, Richard Lugar is not a bomb thrower. He's a very sober, thoughtful, careful man. And the reason this is a problem for the White House, is it's not only the deflection of a Republican, but it also means the Democrats, who have been arguing a version of what Lugar said, and even a stronger version, can't be called crazy or can't have their motives judged because now a sober, thoughtful Republican is essentially agreeing with them.

ROBERTS: Yes. Let's take a quick listen to what he said last night, John.

Well, apparently we don't have that, but he did say, "in my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved." And he went on to offer a suggestion. He said, "downsize the U.S. military's role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options." That sounds an awful lot like what the Democrats are saying.

DICKERSON: It's what the Democrats have been saying, it's what the Iraq study group has said. It's not -- there's nothing terribly new in that. And the question now is whether Lugar will do anymore. I mean, we'll see when we get into the fall when General Petraeus reports what the new shape of Iraq looks like. But this was a big moment and the question is whether Lugar will continue playing a role in what the new shape looks like or whether that comes from the president now.

ROBERTS: Yes, the big question is, is this the beginning of a slippery slope? Are a lot of Republican defections going to happen after this?

Hey, the immigration bill is coming back today, John. It needs 60 votes to get back on to the floor. Are the votes there?

DICKERSON: Well, the votes may be there for this first vote. It's quite tricky. There are several votes. There's a vote today to get it back on the floor. Then we'll have a bunch of discussions about amendments. Then will the votes be there to vote to get on the final bill or to have a vote on the final bill. And then, will the votes be there for the final bill itself. So it's incredibly tricky with a thousand moving parts, but there may be enough to actually get the debate started.

ROBERTS: You know, we got some interesting new information in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that we took between the 22nd and the 24th of June. It shows a real shift in public sentiment for this thing. Thirty percent of respondents favor the bill. Forty- seven percent now say they oppose it. That's a pretty dramatic increase. Nineteen percent don't know enough.

So it's not quite the majority of Americans, but very close to that, John, saying they don't like this bill. Is there any, then, political capital to push it through?

DICKERSON: No, there's not a lot of political capital to push it through. And the man who wants this the most, the president of the United States, as his supporters on The Hill have said, has no capital on The Hill with senators who might be waiving. So this bill is in tough shape. And it's extraordinary. Those poll numbers, they really have changed as this debate has been in the public in the several weeks since it first died in the Senate debate.

ROBERTS: Since it first died. Suggesting it may die a second time.

John, thanks very much. Hey, we'll get you back in a little while, talk about Rudy Giuliani's appearance at Regent University.

DICKERSON: Great. Thanks.

ROBERTS: All right.

And a reminder that CNN is going to be home to the last Republican presidential debate before super Tuesday. Super, duper, ultra, unbelievable Tuesday now. It will be at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. You can watch it live on CNN on January the 30th. So mark your calendars. Get an early seat. "The Los Angeles Times" and politico.com are our partners for the debate.

Kiran.

CHETRY: You called it the super, duper . . . ROBERTS: Super, duper, ultra, can you believe how many states are in it, primary.

CHETRY: That's not going to fit on our screen. I can tell you that right now.

ROBERTS: I mean it's unbelievable how many states are jumping out on February the 5th.

CHETRY: It really is.

ROBERTS: And it could really . . .

CHETRY: And it's changing the face of the . . .

ROBERTS: Could really change the equation.

CHETRY: John, all right, we'll check in with you in one more second.

Right now, though, cnn.com's top stories. Smoke hindering air attacks on Tahoe while fire. Two hundred forty homes already lost. They've declared a state of emergency there in El Dorado County. We're going to have a live report from the fire zone straight ahead.

Also the most popular on cnn.com, a super bug. It may be worse than previously thought. They're talking about a drug resistant staph infection. We'll see how worried you should be about it. Are you at risk to catching it. We're going to talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta just ahead.

Also, a mystery in the world of professional wrestling. Chris Benoit, wrestling champ, his wife and their seven-year-old son all found dead in their Georgia home. We're going to tell you where the police investigation is heading this morning.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: And there's a shot of a hazy New York City skyline. A lot of humidity in the air. It's going to be a warm one, as well.

And you know, when the humidity just comes down on you like that in a city like New York, it makes it a little bit uncomfortable.

CHETRY: A little sticky -- 71 right now.

ROBERTS: A little sticky.

CHETRY: It's shaping up to be 93 degrees today as a high.

ROBERTS: Going to be a day to spend inside with the air- conditioning on.

Good morning to you. It's Tuesday, June the 26th.

I'm John Roberts, along with Kiran Chetry, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: Good to see you.

How about good to see Sam Alexis, the Tiger Woods cub, as they're calling it. His little baby girl.

Here are some pictures. Oh, there is another one. So adorable.

We're going to show you more and his wife. How great does she look after just giving birth?

Hats off to you.

Meanwhile, California ordering a state of emergency to fight the destruct wildfire near Lake Tahoe, California. As of last night, this fire was only 40 percent contained. Hundreds of homes are still threatened, and hundreds of buildings and homes have already burned. A state fire official is calling this the worst structure loss from fire in at least 100 years.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence is live from Meyers, California, with more for us.

So they are making some progress there, trying desperately to save some of these homes.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kiran.

You know, the winds are going to whip up in a few days, so they're really racing the clock, trying to get a real handle on this fire. And if they can, they might get it completely contained by Sunday.

Now, of course that doesn't do anything for the folks, about 175 or so, who have already completely lost their homes. And we got a chance to see first hand what it's like for a family to come back to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice over): South Lake Tahoe residents watched the roaring fire incinerate their homes like paper. Now they're wondering, did anything survive?

We follow this couple back to their neighborhood as they're seeing it for the first time.

HECTOR HERNANDEZ, FIRE VICTIM: Oh, my god.

ANDREA HERNANDEZ, FIRE VICTIM: Right here, this is our house.

H. HERNANDEZ: Oh.

LAWRENCE: Andrea and Hector Hernandez lost everything.

H. HERNANDEZ: The kitchen, the living room was here, the back bedroom.

LAWRENCE: Ten years of memories destroyed.

A. HERNANDEZ: That's your safe zone. And now we don't have a safe zone. We're kind of just in limbo. So that -- I think that's pretty hard right there, just not being able to come home.

LAWRENCE: Firefighters believe someone started the blaze Sunday, whether intentionally or by accident. Within a day, it had destroyed well over 200 homes and buildings.

A. HERNANDEZ: What's that right there? Is that the -- that's the heater.

LAWRENCE: Hector tried to save his home, but it got too hot too fast, and rescuers were ordering him to leave.

H. HERNANDEZ: Yes. You know what? The thing was is that the Red Cross guy, I yelled at him. I'm sorry. I just wanted some help. And I couldn't get it.

LAWRENCE: They've got no home, no clothes, no money.

H. HERNANDEZ: The nightmare is just beginning, actually. Just the rebuilding, just dealing with insurance companies and taking care of everything else now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Hector and Andrea both say, you know, the first is going to be to their insurance company sometime today, but just the overwhelming job of trying to get tax returns, paperwork, passports, clothes on your back, provide for the kids -- I think when we talked to them it was still a little bit overwhelming, but just that checklist of things you have to do to try to piece back your life together over the next few weeks and months is just, you know, overwhelming.

CHETRY: Yes. And they're certainly going to need to rely on friends, family and hopefully the help of organizations like the Red Cross as they try. It's unimaginable. And just their reaction upon seeing their house destroyed in the car for the first time, very powerful to see that.

Chris, thank you.

Firefighters have a narrow weather window to make some progress today. As Chris Lawrence said, they're expecting the winds to start whipping up in the next few days.

Some relative calm now, though. And Chad Myers has the fire forecast for us live in the CNN weather center.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: Police are investigating what they think is a possible double murder-suicide after professional wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife and 7-year-old son were found dead in their Georgia home. Benoit, who was known as the "Canadian Crippler" or the "Rabid Wolverine," spent 22 years in professional wrestling, ending it with the WWE.

Rusty Dornin is live in Fayetteville, Georgia, outside of Benoit's house for us this morning.

And how did this all come to the attention of the authorities, Rusty?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it turns out, John, that Benoit was supposed to be at an event over the weekend in Houston for a Pay Per View called "Vengeance," and when he missed two events in Houston, apparently the WWE called the sheriff's department here and asked them to make a "welfare check" on the family.

It was when they arrived here yesterday afternoon about 2:30 that they discovered the three bodies -- Chris Benoit, his wife, Nancy, and their 7-year-old son, Daniel. Now, at this point they're not really saying the cause of death in this case, but it was very quickly after the bodies were discovered and that the media was alerted that apparently USA Network decided to change their programming last night and did a three-hour tribute to Chris Benoit from 8:00 until 11:00 Eastern last night. Several interviews with the people that he'd worked with, that sort of thing, and regaling all of his exploits over the last 22 years.

Now, as you can see, there's not many close neighbors, you have got a gate here, a rather large house. You have to get across even dirt roads to get here in the first place.

But probably the strangest thing that we have learned about this is one of our affiliates in Atlanta did tell us that people have been calling that station and asking if Benoit was dead for the past two weeks. Now, where that came from, we have absolutely no idea -- John.

ROBERTS: Rusty, you say that the cause of death has not been released yet, but there are reports that there were no gunshot wounds or other signs of violence on the bodies.

DORNIN: That's what we've heard, that at least gunshot wounds did not have anything to do with it. But the toxicology -- at least the preliminary toxicology report -- is scheduled to be released about 1:00 Eastern this afternoon from the coroner's office.

ROBERTS: All right. We'll look forward to your report on that.

Rusty Dornin in Fayetteville.

Thanks very much.

CHETRY: Well, it didn't seem possible a couple of months ago, but now gas is back, it's below $3 a gallon. And Ali Velshi joins us now with more on the big price drop.

So, it's dropping just in time for the big Fourth of July holiday.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Go get your gas now. Fill up now. They're giving it away.

Yes. Yes, it's down. I mean, look at how excited we are. It's just under $3 a gallon.

Take a look at the drop that we've had over the last couple of weeks -- $2.98 right now a gallon. Last week it was $3. Last month, $3.22.

So a fairly substantial little drop. But, I mean, this is where we come, that we're excited about gas that is $2.98.

CHETRY: Well, there was a lot of talk, oh, are we going to see $4 a gallon at the height of the summer driving season.

VELSHI: Right.

CHETRY: So this is good news.

VELSHI: Yes. It means these refineries are getting back on line and we're OK. And we have no particular reason to have increased demand for gas.

We haven't had any storms that damaged the refineries or the transmission of gasoline. So at the moment, all things are well. There's no particular reason this trend wouldn't continue down, but because we are so tight with our refineries, any little thing can set this off again, including oil prices.

So, right now, under $3 for the first time in a while. Go and get an extra tank of gas and save it.

CHETRY: Go get an extra tank.

VELSHI: Yes.

CHETRY: Where would you...

VELSHI: Yes. Unfortunately, it's not useful information because you can't, right? You're going to drive when you're going to drive. But that's what it is.

CHETRY: Ali, thank you.

VELSHI: OK.

CHETRY: We'll check in with you in a few minutes.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods has a new baby girl and he's showing her off to the world.

Internet reporter Jacki Schechner joins us now with our first look at Sam Alexis Woods.

And will people stop with the "Tiger has a new cub"? It's a baby.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: I'm not going to say it, Kiran.

CHETRY: Thank you.

SCHECHNER: I promise. It's a good way to avoid the paparazzi and protect your privacy. Just put the photos online for free -- tigerwoods.com.

The photos online of Tiger and his wife Ellen and their new baby, Sam Alexis Woods. They have got some family photos with the dogs, Taz (ph) and Yogi (ph). You can see the beautiful photos there of father and daughter.

Sam Alexis Woods born on Monday the 18th. The family originally said, "Please protect or privacy." But now they're putting the photos online themselves. A note on Tiger Woods' Web site that he's not going to be playing in the Buick Open this weekend. He's decided he wants to spend more time with the new little one -- Kiran.

CHETRY: So adorable.

Jacki, thank you.

(NEWSBREAK

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: It's a race against time now for firefighters in California trying to get control of the wildfire near Lake Tahoe.

Frank Mosbacher of the U.S. Forest Service joins us now.

Frank, thanks for being with us. You're in Meyers, California, right now.

First of all, give us an update on containment.

FRANK MOSBACHER, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Well, as of last night, the fire was forecasted to be about -- or predicted -- evaluated to be about 20 percent contained. That number may change when the sun comes up and the final numbers come in to start the morning off.

CHETRY: Do you have enough help in terms of firefighters and resources?

MOSBACHER: Yes. The response was tremendous. We had 750 resources available yesterday. And the fire didn't move yesterday, so that was a very good sign. So the resources that came from all over the place were able to keep the fire pretty much where it was at the end of the first day.

CHETRY: State officials in California did declare a state of emergency. How will that impact how the fire is fought?

MOSBACHER: Well, actually, I don't know that it's going to impact how it's fought. It will probably impact how the residents are able to recover some of their losses here. But I'm not familiar exactly with all the details on how that happens.

CHETRY: They were also talking about this dense smoke advisory, and even the crystal blue waters that make Lake Tahoe famous being filled with ash. Is there a long-term environmental damage, in your opinion?

MOSBACHER: Well, the statement of being filled with ash is a bit of an overstatement. The concern here is that every acre that burns has the potential of contributing some material into the lake, and that is what we've been working so hard up here to try and prevent from happening, and we'll continue to do so.

CHETRY: What about the people who have lost their homes and the people that are -- that are, you know, waited on baited breath to see if firefighters are able to salvage theirs? When will they be able to return and survey the damage?

MOSBACHER: Well, the sheriff last night at a public meeting indicated that within the next two days, today and tomorrow, we should be able to stabilize the area enough so that they could come into the area escorted and do a survey.

CHETRY: Frank Mosbacher, with the U.S. Forest Service.

Good luck out there. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate with the firefighters as they work to save the homes, as well as the forest there.

Thank you.

MOSBACHER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Forty-six minutes now after the hour.

A cry for passport help tops our "Quick Hits" now.

The Sate Department is backlogged with three million passports applications, and they have sent an urgent cable to all foreign service personnel to help process them. Passport requirements have been temporarily suspended while they try to clear that backlog.

Newark, New Jersey, school district is apologizing for censoring a gay kiss in a high school yearbook. Eighteen-year-old Andre Jackson (ph) was pictured kissing his boyfriend but the photo was covered up. Jackson says he won't accept the school district's apology unless it's face to face in public.

Well, Paris Hilton is back out on the streets, soon to be back on the red carpet. The crush of reporters and a virtual red carpet greeted the heiress as she was finally sprung from jail overnight.

Our Lola Ogunnaike looks at what's next for Paris when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fifty minutes after the hour.

Paris Hilton is a free woman. She walked out of the Lynwood jail overnight all smiles after 23 days behind bars.

Lola Ogunnaike joins us now to talk more about where Paris is headed from here.

I was stunned to see the level of coverage of this overnight. It was almost like, was there nothing else happening in Los Angeles?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Apparently, nothing else was happing last night. Apparently, nothing else has been happening all over the world, because all the paparazzi was right there to capture her leaving yesterday.

ROBERTS: So where is she now?

OGUNNAIKE: She apparently is at the Paris Hilton -- her parents' estate in Bel-Air.

ROBERTS: So she didn't go back to her house?

OGUNNAIKE: We thought that she was going back to her house, may have gone back to her grandparents' house. Rumors of that, but she actually went back to the Hilton Bel-Air estate.

ROBERTS: Right.

OGUNNAIKE: So that's where she is right now.

ROBERTS: There was all this talk that she wanted to go sleep in hr own bed, but I guess when you can go sleep at the Hilton family estate in Bel-Air...

OGUNNAIKE: Why not?

ROBERTS: ... why not lay your head down there?

OGUNNAIKE: Exactly. I mean, it's better than what she's been accustomed to for the past 23 days in lockdown, right?

ROBERTS: Yes. Well, you know, it's kind of like going to camp, right? You know, you've got to sleep on the hard ground.

But what is she going to do now? I know there was all this talk about how the old Paris has been left behind, she's going to get out there and start doing charities.

OGUNNAIKE: Well, we know what the first thing -- we know what the first thing she's going to do, she's going to talk to Larry King tomorrow. And we're looking forward to that. All this, you know, brouhaha about who is going to land the first interview, we actually landed it. She's going to be on air tomorrow talking to Larry King Wednesday, and talking about lockdown, her post- prison life, what she's going to be right now.

Because she says, I'm over the dumb blonde thing. I'm going to be all about charity right now. I'm rehabilitated. I don't want people to think that I'm just a party girl.

ROBERTS: Do we believe all this?

OGUNNAIKE: You know what? We've got to see. She said some things to this sort before. I interviewed her a few years ago and she said, "I'm a businesswoman now," and she went back to the partying. So we'll see what Larry King gets out of her.

ROBERTS: So she's got to be on her best behavior, though, for, what, two and a half years?

OGUNNAIKE: Absolutely, because she is on probation until March 2009. So she has got to be all on her best behavior. She'll land back in the pokey.

ROBERTS: Because it was a parole violation that got her there in the first place, right?

OGUNNAIKE: Parole violation landed her there the first time, a parole violation could land her there again. So, Paris Hilton, she's found God. So maybe she'll be really, really good, bible in hand, hand on heart. Paris Hilton staying good.

ROBERTS: We can only hope. We can only hope.

OGUNNAIKE: I know you don't believe it, you're a skeptic, but...

ROBERTS: Lola, thanks.

OGUNNAIKE: Thank you.

ROBERTS: And a reminder that Paris Hilton's first post-jail interview will be right here on CNN. She talks with Larry King live tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: That $54 million lawsuit by a disgruntled customer against his dry cleaner over a pair of pants got us asking the question, just what does customer satisfaction guaranteed really mean?

Ali Velshi is here with more on this right now.

Well, he tried to argue that, you know, he was not satisfied and he should be getting $54 million in payment. The judge smacked that one down. VELSHI: Yes. And I've got to say, I typically fall on the side of the customer. I think there are some egregious customer service complaints out there. This one was ridiculous.

But let's think back to the one that really did -- did stick in people's minds. It was back in 1993. There was a very large judgment against Domino's Pizza from a case stemming from 1989 when a driver who was trying to make the 30-minute guarantee ran through a red light, collided with another car.

Since then, Domino's has changed its policies. No longer a 30- minute guarantee. It's now a total satisfaction guarantee, they'll remake your pizza or refund your money if you're unhappy for any reason.

So the time thing wasn't working for Domino's. But it has shown that customer service or satisfaction guarantees are good business if they result in customers coming back or making a retailer your choice over someone else.

And I just wanted to give you some examples of good places that offer services.

Since we're talking about a dry cleaner, companies that offer services and have really good guarantees.

One of them you might expect, Four Seasons Hotels. You would expect that kind of service if you pay for it.

They have a guest historian in each hotel. They're not telling you about the hotel's history. It's your history as a client. They are tracking your preferences to try and ensure that things are as you want them to be every time you visit. The retention rate -- only two percent of customers report problems with their stay at Four Seasons.

CHETRY: That's pretty low for a hotel.

VELSHI: Very low for a hotel. So that's one method of doing things.

The other one is Enterprise Rent-A-Car. And I really found this, they really are big on the service end of things. They often pick you up and drop you off when you rent your car. Their staff's promotions are tied to customer feedback.

CHETRY: Wow.

VELSHI: So it's in the interest of the manager and staff of a particular branch to make sure that you're served well. And I have noticed when I rent from them that you really do get that warm and fuzzy feeling.

CHETRY: You know what else, also? When you deal in Web sites, if they make it easy for you to ship things back when you're not satisfied. VELSHI: Return policies. Just had that problem last week, where I bought something online and went to return it at the bricks-and- mortar store...

CHETRY: Yes, they don't like that.

VELSHI: Big complication.

CHETRY: Always.

VELSHI: To me it should be seamless.

Washington Mutual, a bank -- one of the biggest mortgage brokers in the country -- mortgage banks in the country -- they have a concierge that greets guests. And again, you'll be the client and you'll judge if this works for you. But worker compensation is also tied to customer loyalty, how long the customers stay with the bank. In the banking industry it's very easy to switch between organizations.

So, some examples.

CHETRY: It seems like a no -- it seems like a no-brainer.

VELSHI: Yes.

CHETRY: I mean, if your customers are satisfied, they're going to come back.

VELSHI: And by the way, if your workers are satisfied, your customers tend to be more satisfied. There's an absolute direct link to how you treat your employees and how your employees treat your customers.

CHETRY: Very true.

VELSHI: I'll be back in an hour to tell you about retail operations, places you buy things from and what their services are all about.

CHETRY: Sounds good. Ali, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: See you soon.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

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