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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

California Wildfires; Malibu Misery; Water Woes: Atlanta Drought; Planet in Peril

Aired October 22, 2007 - 23:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is being called a perfect storm, and that is not a compliment. You can see the disaster all the way from space.
Southern California is burning. Massive plumes of smoke blowing miles out to sea. The fires uncontained, growing and spreading in San Diego, where a 250,000 people have been told to evacuate.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is at the local stadium with evacuees tonight. And we're expecting to hear from him shortly.

A terrible scene as well in Malibu, where landmark homes, college campuses, rehab centers, you name it, have either been threatened, charred, or burned to the ground. More than a dozen fires in all, hundreds of hot spots, battle lines shifting even as we speak. We're covering all of it all night.

Also, when we can, conditions permitting tonight, wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin is going to show us some of the last remaining wonders, the last remaining wonders, in a place where unique creatures are vanishing fast. Part of our "Planet in Peril" special coverage.

Right now, though, it's California in peril. The fire lines now stretch from Santa Barbara down to the Mexican border and deep into the mountains, including a fast-moving front up at Lake Arrowhead, east of L.A.

You're looking at live pictures right there. And, as you pull back, you see the scope of just one of these fires. You're looking at live pictures from the Stevenson Ranch area near Santa Clarita, just off the 5 Freeway, which is the main north/south interstate in California -- this taped just moments ago.

Again, the resort area of Lake Arrowhead is taking some of the worst punishment -- at least 123 homes and buildings destroyed so far. The reason for it all -- hot, dry winds. The locals call them Santa Anas, blowing in from the desert. Through the canyons, they go, fanning flames in places that have seen just three inches of rain all year.

We're talking about an area where more than 20 million people live.

Let's go down in San Diego County now, that massive exodus -- 250,000 people told to flee these flames. The stadium there has been turned into an evacuation center. Schools are being used as shelters. And people have been told, stay off your cell phones. The system simply cannot handle it.

CNN's Dan Simon is there.

Dan, what is the latest?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, still too early to assess the extent of the damage, but I'm told by one local firefighter that, already, in all likelihood, hundreds of homes have been destroyed.

In this one neighborhood, where we are, we have seen 12 homes burn to the ground. It's just incredible to see the extent of the devastation. You can see this home behind me that is still smoldering. As you mentioned, 250,000 people have evacuated their homes.

We're told that as many as 10,000 people will spend the night at Qualcomm Stadium, the home to the San Diego Chargers. Good luck in trying to find a hotel room in San Diego tonight. Everything is booked.

At this point, we don't have any numbers, really, in terms of containment. At this point, it's still too difficult to contain this fire, because the winds are still so intense. All firefighters can really do is put out the hot spots when they see them, try to protect the structures. At this point, the winds are still so intense, that they can't contain this fire -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Dan, we're looking at pictures that we have been looking at really throughout this day and this evening. Do we have a sense -- I know you don't have hard numbers -- do we have just a sense of the scope of this fire in the San Diego area? Do we know how much ground it's covering right now?

SIMON: All they can pretty much go on is what they have seen when they canvassed the neighborhoods. It's pretty anecdotal at this point.

When you go through the various neighborhoods, you may see 10, 11 homes that have been destroyed. Other homes are standing. And it's like that in neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood. So, their best guess at this point is hundreds. We won't know for several days, in terms of how many homes and businesses have been destroyed -- Anderson.

COOPER: And that number of 250,000 evacuated, is that asked to evacuate or that -- they know that number has evacuated?

SIMON: That is a mandatory evacuation. And everything that we have seen, all the evidence shows that people are -- are heeding the evacuation order, because, when you drive through San Diego, it looks like a ghost town.

And -- and, when you come into neighborhoods like this, the power is off. It's just completely barren everywhere you go. So, the thought is, is that 250,000 people have evacuated. And, as I said, tonight, Qualcomm Stadium is going to be a very busy place. It's opening up as -- as an evacuation center, much like, in Hurricane Katrina, when you had -- had the Superdome open up -- Anderson.

COOPER: Again, as we're looking at these live pictures from Stevenson Ranch in California, how far are the fires from, say, downtown San Diego, just to get a sense?

SIMON: I'm not that...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Or where are you in relation...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you know where you are in relation to downtown San Diego?

SIMON: We're about 20 miles away from downtown San Diego.

And -- and that's where the zoo is. The zoo is in that general vicinity. And we're also told that some animals there have gone to a safe place, because the smoke, obviously, is no place for some of these endangered species to be living.

So, a lot of people being evacuated tonight. And, again, we just don't know when this fire is going to be brought under control.

COOPER: That's what's so scary about it.

Dan, we are going to check in with you later on throughout this hour.

Again, as we look at live video, the fires tonight in Stevenson Ranch, which is courtesy of our affiliate KCAL -- look at those pictures. That is just -- it looks almost like lava when you look at it from this height. But, of course, it is not. Those are flames burning now out of control.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in seven counties. He's asking the National Guard to send 800 troops now patrolling the Mexican border. He wants them up to help fighting the fires. President Bush is promising federal aid. It is going to be needed. That much, we know. How many millions or billions, we don't know.

Here's how things got so bad so fast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): It all began near the affluent community of Malibu. It was before dawn on Sunday when the Canyon fire was reported on Malibu Canyon Road.

Within hours, the fire had grown, destroying mansions, homes, and two landmarks -- the Malibu Presbyterian Church and Castle Kashan, a fairytale-like castle that stood atop a hill.

Malibu is home to stars like Robert Redford, Richard Gere, Barbra Streisand. As of tonight, director James Cameron and singer Olivia Newton-John have been evacuated, along with hundreds of others.

The news kept getting worse. North of Malibu, two more wildfires broke out, the Ranch and Buckweed fires, both massive. Together, they have devoured more than 50,000 acres, larger than the size of Washington, D.C. Thousands of residents have been forced from their homes.

The flames continue to rage out of control, with the Buckweed fire roaring closer toward Magic Mountain, a popular amusement park. And, as bad as that is, the greatest threat is south of Los Angeles in San Diego County. There, several wildfires are also burning.

Right now, officials are most concerned about two of them, the Harris and Witch fires. The Witch fire started northeast of San Diego near the community of Ramona. The Harris fire began less than 100 miles from the city.

As for one family, the fight wasn't about stopping the flames. It was about trying to stay alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife, my kids, I yelled for them to get them in the car, got them in the car, grabbed the dogs, and grabbed the homeowners insurance, and that was it, I mean, no -- no personal belongings at all. Didn't even think about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, more now on Malibu. In the best of times, it's a kind of paradise. Not now.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the flames raced through the hillside for a second straight day, firefighters had their hands full, and so did homeowners, grabbing pets and valuables, whatever they could carry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just burned up in an explosion. And, you know, at that point, we pulled the hoses off, and just -- I made a beeline for it.

ROWLANDS: But even getting out was hard. Roads in and out were lined with flames and engulfed in thick, black smoke, the picture of a community being vaporized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really hard, if you have kids, to just get out and go. So, I can see why some people can't leave. If you're anywhere, if you feel uncomfortable, listen to your gut. You should move.

ROWLANDS: Making matters worse, this isn't the only fire. Resources are stretched to the breaking point.

(on camera): They're attacking the fire mainly from the air using aircraft, chopper and fixed-wing, but also, in front of the homes that are most in danger, they're putting fire trucks, so that they can attack the fire and try to save as many homes as they can.

The problem is, they don't have enough, in terms of resources, because of all the fires in California, to try to save every house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The winds are doing just about any and everything it wants. It's dancing around like crazy.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Firefighters have been working around the clock around the state to save homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we lose a house, it's like we're losing our own house. So, I mean, we get depressed. And we do everything our -- in our power not to have any losses.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Ted joins us now from Malibu, where it is really windy. He was knocked off the air. He's back on.

Ted, are the winds expected to die down any time soon?

ROWLANDS: No. Unfortunately, Anderson, they are expecting these winds to continue through the night and into tomorrow. And it's the worst-case scenario because of the dry conditions. And the winds are changing direction.

Today, we saw homes that were supposedly in the clear, within minutes, they were told to get out as soon as they could. And this chaotic atmosphere is not only in Malibu, but it's across the state, up north, where you saw those pictures of Stevenson Ranch, and all the way down south to San Diego, where Dan Simon is.

It is really a horrific scenario, as one person put it today, the perfect storm.

COOPER: And Ted, again, as we're looking at these pictures from Malibu earlier from KTLA, it is -- I mean, from the air, it looks almost like -- it just looks like molten lava.

How big -- do you -- do we have a sense of how big the fires are right now in Malibu, or have been throughout the day?

ROWLANDS: In Malibu, they were growing, and then they would go down, because what would happen, after a wind shift, it would start to eat itself up.

Tonight, we just talked to a resident up the hill. They say it's coming back towards them a bit. A lot of that ground, though, has already been burned. The Stevenson Ranch area, like Arrowhead, different scenario, that's where you're seeing that lava-type burning. And that is fuel that is ripe for burning. And, with these winds, it is a catastrophe, because they're simply overwhelmed, firefighters, in certain areas. You can't send helicopters up in these winds in certain conditions, and they can't save every home. They're telling people to get out. They're trying to save as many homes as they can, but this is a losing battle until these winds die down.

COOPER: And so, how do you fight that battle? Is it a matter of digging fire lines? Is it, you know, dropping water from the air? How do you go about it?

ROWLANDS: Well, they're mobilizing all of the assets they can from the state and the Western region, both from the air and ground crews. They're coming from miles away.

And what they are trying to do, when they can predict which way winds are going, which has been difficult, they'll put people at each house that they want -- that they can save. But this is overwhelming, there are so many fires, they just can't do that.

So, what they're simply doing is trying to save what they can and crossing their fingers, hoping for the best, and telling people to just get out.

COOPER: All right. We are going to check back in with Ted throughout this hour as well.

As I said, though, it is very windy there. Occasionally, he's getting knocked off the air. We will continue to check back with him.

The fire season -- this is fire season, of course, in Southern California, but, this time around, the conditions were ripe for disaster. The question now, when are those conditions going to improve?

And, for that, let's turn to Chad Myers in the Severe Weather Center in Atlanta.

Chad, what are we looking at right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're looking at Wednesday before it gets any better at all, Wednesday.

We just had a wind gust at Poway, which is just north of San Diego, at 50 miles per hour. Now, the winds were gustier yesterday than that. But the problem is, when you get a wind gust of 50 miles per hour, the embers are thrown miles, literally one or two miles away from the main fire itself. And so, therefore, you create more fires in the wake of the wind.

This is kind of to give you a perspective of -- I will tell you, any fire near your house is a big one. But to give you an idea of the smoke from the Malibu fire -- and there's where it started, up here in the mountains -- the smoke from the Lake Arrowhead fire, and then now down to Rancho Bernardo, and also down to Poway, can show you how much larger this fire is. And that's why there's 250,000 people without their houses today, because they had to leave because of the mandatory evacuations. So far, a couple hundred homes have been lost to the fire, so, not bad compared to what it could be. But, even south of San Diego, there is weather there as well.

One thing I find completely amazing, Anderson, you can find the smoke on radar. The radars out here in L.A. are confused. They think it's raining, but, in fact, what's going on, the smoke particles are in the way. The radar goes out. It bounces out there. The radar thinks it's raining, but all it is, is smoke.

The smoke is so thick, that the radar thinks it is raining itself. It's a Santa Ana wind event, high pressure in the mountains. That wind blows offshore. This happens three or four times a year, but this is the worst one all of us can remember for at least two or three years. This is a big one.

Winds were gusting yesterday to over 100 miles per hour. Point Mugu, right there, 101-mile-per-hour wind gusts there at Mugu.

COOPER: And, I mean, the reason we're seeing these flames so high, the reason we're seeing this fire season last so long and -- and so damaging, as compared to other years, is, what? Just conditions have been so dry for so long?

MYERS: No, not really.

Actually, the dry conditions weren't a bad thing, to be all that honest -- to be truthful about it. They only got two inches of rain, which means there wasn't much growth. What you hate is, when you get 15 inches of rain, then there's a lot of growth, and then it dries out. Well, then, you have a lot of fuel. And that fuel burns.

These are from Lake Arrowhead. We were watching these fires all day long. They were -- they were just going from one house to another. And it was unstoppable. The wind has been blowing. It's been going up the hills.

And what happens, as soon as the wind gets to the top of the hills, the embers come off. The embers come off the top of the mountains, and then throw the embers another two to three miles away. And we were hearing, at Twin Peaks, that these embers were flying the size of milk cartons. Could you imagine that flying, a fireball for two miles, Anderson? Amazing stuff out there.

COOPER: That is just incredible.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: ... need to be careful.

COOPER: All right, Chad, we are going to check in with you.

We're going to be on the fire lines throughout this hour, bringing you updates, as we get them, on evacuations and where the flames are heading. We're also investigating a drought in Atlanta that raises, frankly, an incredible question: How does one of America's biggest cities end up with some saying it's now on the verge of running out of water? A lot of people making excuses on this one. We're "Keeping them Honest."

Also, a new message from Osama bin Laden, and why it may spell trouble for American troops in Iraq. Details ahead -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You're looking at live pictures from Stevenson Ranch in California, a distant shot from here. It looks small.

But, as we know, as we have been seeing all day, these things are burning out of control, very high winds now, mostly contained there in San Diego County and across Southern California tonight. That is where the problems are. They've gotten far less rain there than needed to prevent the disaster, and those winds have just been devilishly fast.

Elsewhere across the Southeast they're not worrying about having enough water to drink. You can't just blame the weather on this one. There seems to be plenty to go around -- blame, that is. Remember, we're not talking about the third world here. We're talking about a major American city -- Atlanta. So what happened?

CNN's Rusty Dornin is keeping them honest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A reservoir nearly empty. Headlines scream only 90 days of water left for the Atlanta region with more than 4 million people.

New pumps and pipelines can make the water last for nine months, says Colonel Benjamin Butler of the Army Corps of Engineers. Even that number, to some, is incredible.

(on camera): How did we -- how did we get here? You know, this is pretty critical in terms of a drought.

COL. BENJAMIN BUTLER, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Right. OK, the dam was built back in the '50s. When we built the dam, we did not build it for water supply. We built it for hydropower and for flood control.

DORNIN (voice-over): Eventually, Lake Lanier became Atlanta's main source of water. But the city has quadrupled in size since then.

(on camera): The city of Atlanta has not built a water storage facility in more than 40 years. Then, last year, they bought the Bellwood Quarry. But it won't be ready for at least four to five years.

(voice-over): "Keeping them Honest," we took a look at Atlanta's water system and found it's leaking 14 percent, even though it is more than four years into a $4 billion renovation. Critics say Atlanta showed no foresight in water shortage, but the mayor says they were blindsided by a real-life climate change.

SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, MAYOR OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA: We didn't expect the climate to change. We didn't pay attention to the climate change. We did not really expect quite as many people to move to Atlanta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There should no be use on your irrigation meters.

DORNIN: Now water cops issue citations to anyone daring to sprinkle their lawns. So, who is getting the water? Cities and power plants downstream in other states. And most galling to people here, the mussels and Gulf sturgeon protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue wants the federal government to stop sending so much water downstream.

GOV. SONNY PERDUE (R), GEORGIA: It doesn't do any good to conserve if the Corps and the Fish and Wildlife still send more than twice the water needed down the stream and beyond that dam. We can't conserve our way out of this if they don't cooperate. And that's what I'm asking the president to intervene.

DORNIN: Alabama's Governor Bob Riley wants President Bush to just say no, saying his state needs the water, too -- one big user, a nuclear power plant in Alabama that needs water for cooling, and a coal plant in Florida, plus numerous cities downstream from Atlanta.

Butler expects, they will be screaming soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the next one that is going to say, hey, now you're killing me?

DORNIN: An extreme drought that no one expected, now causing battles that some say, with climate change, may be only just beginning.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, extreme weather takes all kinds of shapes. In New Orleans, eight inches of rain prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to close a floodgate on the Harvey Canal in Jefferson Parish, about five miles from downtown.

Mayor Ray Nagin shut down City Hall early. Schools are closed, and more rain is on the way.

We continue to follow what is happening along the fire lines tonight.

Also, when we come back, one of the most incredible places on earth is being destroyed. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Go to the ends of the earth and see what you see -- or think you see.

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: If you let your eyes just sort of drift down the trunk of this tree, you'll see spots of liken and moss. What's so amazing is that there is a lizard here. It's hard to see. The camouflage is that good. Isn't that amazing?

COOPER: Travel with wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin and experience the wonders vanishing fast of a "Planet in Peril."

Also tonight, if he throws a punch...

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion.

COOPER: ... and he pulls a switchblade...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney, you have been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record.

COOPER: Who wins? You will never see this one coming. "Raw Politics" -- only on 360.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We have got breaking news for our bulletin and live pictures there of the Stevenson Ranch fire. The pictures take your breath away.

North of Los Angeles is where these images are coming from, along the 5 Freeway. Fires now raging there. Also, in San Diego, Lake Arrowhead, Malibu -- 250,000 people told to evacuate in San Diego County. Scores of homes and buildings now destroyed. Dry conditions, high winds making a bad situation even worse.

Chad Myers said it a few moments ago. Conditions are not expected to improve until Wednesday. We will have more of this throughout the hour.

Scientists say these wildfires in California appear to be a clear reminder of the changes happening in our climate. It is getting warmer out there and our planet is in peril.

Over the next two nights, we're going to be taking you to the frontlines of our changing planet. It's a yearlong worldwide investigation we have undertaken. It begins tomorrow at 9:00 p.m., Eastern.

But here's a quick preview of what wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin found literally on the brink of extinction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CORWIN (voice-over): Trailblazing through the Andasi Bay (ph) Forest in eastern Madagascar...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see him.

CORWIN: ... we are searching for one of Madagascar's flagship species of lemurs, one on the brink of extinction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, look at the way he leapt like that.

They are what you call vertical clingers and leapers. Rather than moving quadrapedally, they bounce from vertical support to vertical support. They can go 30 feet at a single jump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, look at this guy right there. Look at him. He's very close. Oh, this is fabulous. This is a great view.

There he goes. Boom. Do you see the way he hops like that?

CORWIN (voice-over): Out of the 100-plus species of lemurs living in Madagascar, the indri is the largest and can weigh as much as 20 pounds.

(on camera): It's very -- it's very eerie, very melancholy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when they start in the morning, you can hear them calling all over the forest.

CORWIN (voice-over): But it is only here, in these remote rain forests in eastern Madagascar, that the indri exist. They will not breed in captivity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no backup. There's no safety valve, in terms of a captive colony. You have got to protect them in the wild.

CORWIN (on camera): And if they disappear here, they are...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're gone forever.

CORWIN: ... lost forever.

(voice-over): Lost forever due to hunting and massive habitat destruction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst erosion you will see anywhere on the planet. I have never seen anything like this.

CORWIN: Forests are not only essential to the survival of wildlife; they also provide stability for the landscape. Without them, the soil literally collapses.

(on camera): Unfortunately, Madagascar is disappearing. Today, in the 21st century, less than 10 percent of the original pristine habitat remains to support all this life.

(voice-over): So the threat to Madagascar's animals doesn't just come from illegal wildlife traffickers, like the ones we saw in Bangkok. It's also from the loss of habitat. Conservation International says, every year, roughly 350 square miles of forest are destroyed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Jeff Corwin joins me now, along with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And to find out more about inside Madagascar, you're going to have watch "Planet in Peril" tomorrow starting at 9:00 p.m., Eastern.

You know, why does it matter? You talked about 90 percent of the species are found only in Madagascar, but only 10 percent of the habitat remains. Why does that matter? Why does saving one species there -- what kind of an impact does it have on the rest of us?

CORWIN: Well, it's very likely that, if you save one species, a positive impact, a rippling effect will -- will -- will touch other life forms within that ecosystem.

In Madagascar, for example, it's important to note that 90 percent of the species that live there are only found there. As with many hot spots, these areas of rich biodiversity like you find in the Amazon rain forest and the rain forests in Southeast Asia, these creatures have evolved to diversify into a great plethora of species.

So, by focusing in on conserving one species, chances are you can protect other life forms there, as well.

COOPER: And Sanjay, I mean, you're also talking about medicinal plants, which are in these habitats.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it's remarkable, Madagascar. And I was just watching that piece with you guys. There's 90 percent of a lot of these plants can be used for medicinal purposes, as well.

In fact, just next to China you have the most medicinal plants of any place in the world. And this is a place, you know, where if you start to lose some of that, you might lose some potentially life- saving or life-altering medications later on down the line. And we don't even know what they haven't explored yet or used for medicinal purposes.

COOPER: One of the other places, Jeff, that you and I went, obviously, was the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. Again, big picture, you know, the Amazon has been being cut down it feels like for my entire lifetime we've been warned about deforestation there. Why does that matter? What is the impact that has on the rest of the world?

CORWIN: Well, we're starting to see a byproduct of that deforestation. It's quite possible that deforestation contributes, with other environmental factors, that could potentially raise the temperature of the planet.

COOPER: Because as trees are burnt, as trees are cut down, it releases CO2? CORWIN: It releases carbon dioxide, which is one of those classic greenhouse gases which prevents radiation from exiting into the atmosphere, into the solar system.

It also is important to note that these trees themselves are a filter. They lock up that carbon. So not only are you releasing carbon; you're also destroying the system for storing carbon.

And the most important thing to note is that, with Brazil in itself, 20 percent of that rain forest is gone. It is lost. A mass of trees, plants and animals the size of the United Kingdom.

COOPER: We're going to want to talk more with Jeff and Sanjay after this break.

We're going to take a look at why an island in the South Pacific is literally being washed away. Sanjay went there.

We're also going to tell you how some of the chemicals that are being used wind up in our blood stream. We're going to take a look at what a lab found in my blood when they tested it for chemicals.

We'll also return to the fire lines, covering the breaking story in Southern California where the fires are now and where they may be headed next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're continuing to follow our breaking story tonight, massive wildfires now burning across Southern California.

Joining us now by phone, L.A. County Fire Chief Michael Freeman.

Chief, what can you tell us about the Stevenson Ranch fire which we're looking at right now?

FIRE CHIEF MICHAEL FREEMAN, L.A. COUNTY (on the phone): OK, Anderson, be glad to do that. Understand, I'm not at that particular fire, but I did just get an update.

That fire is approximately 1,000 acres. The firefighters are actually using the wind and the terrain to actually fire out some flanks of that fire to try to contain it.

At this time, there are not any structures that are threatened by that fire, and the tactical actions that are being taken are expected to have some high degree of success.

COOPER: Where are you? What location are you at now? And what most concerns you?

FREEMAN: Actually, I'm at the command post location at the fire in Malibu, and our greatest concern is the tremendously large number of fires that we have in the Southern California area. We actually have three significant fires within Los Angeles County, and the Stevenson Ranch fire is one of them. We have the other fire up in the canyon country, which is not too far from that fire and then, of course, this fire in Malibu, which is 3,000 acres.

We still have the very strong Santa Ana winds and single-digit humidities, which are predicted to persist for the next couple of days. The winds are supposed to abate somewhat late tomorrow, so we're very much looking forward to that.

COOPER: How many folks do you have fighting the fires right now?

FREEMAN: Here on the Malibu fire we've got 1,400 firefighters. On the fire in the canyon country area, we have about 1,100 firefighters. And the fire in the Stevenson Ranch area, we probably have about 400.

COOPER: And, I mean, are they contained or are you -- what are you able to do? How are you actually able to fight them at this point?

FREEMAN: We have used the traditional engine companies, the pumpers with the firefighters to protect structure, and that's number one priority is life and property.

And under these wind conditions -- and, as you know, we've had extreme drought here in Southern California. So we have to protect the structures and then just try to catch the fire when we can and where we can when we have the very strong Santa Ana winds, low humidities. We just pretty well have to work to a control point where we might be able to have some effect.

I think the canyon country fire is about 30 percent contained. The fire in Stevenson Ranch, we don't have any containment figures on that at this time. The Malibu fire is about 10 percent contained, but we do expect that containment to go up because we've worked very hard out here today.

COOPER: Well, Chief Freeman, there are a lot of folks around the country, praying not only for the homeowners in that area but also for the brave men and women under your command. We appreciate you being with us on this busy day. Thank you very much, sir.

FREEMAN: Thank you, sir. You're welcome.

COOPER: We're back with "Animal Planet's" Jeff Corwin and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The three of us teamed up for CNN's "Planet in Peril" documentary, which premieres tomorrow and Wednesday at 9 p.m., Eastern.

The fires are probably one example of some of the peril we're facing. Our reporting took us to, really, some of the most remote corners of the world, but we also learned that some of the biggest threats to the planet, no matter how far away they seem, are actually showing up in our own bodies. I know that firsthand, because I had myself tested. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): I don't like going to the doctor, so this is no fun.

(on camera): Not a big fan of needles.

(voice-over): I'm here for what's called a body burning (ph) test. It's not the most pleasant of procedures. It will take a 120 CCs of blood, almost a pint, for scientists to look at traces of 250 industrial chemicals in my body.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'm going to start with Dr. Gupta.

So what is the importance of this test? I mean, the fact that -- I didn't realize that all these chemicals that we've been exposed to for our entire lives actually remain in your body.

GUPTA: Yes. And I think part of it is just -- is curiosity at this point. I mean, so many of these chemicals that you were tested for have become so ubiquitous as our manufacturing processes change. And I mean, you get them in all sorts of different ways -- eating them, breathing them, drinking them.

COOPER: Even little kids in our story, who were exposed to flame retardant chemicals on their pajamas, on their carpets, were -- had high levels of flame-retardant chemicals in their blood stream.

GUPTA: Yes. Sometimes even higher than their parents, which just shows, I think, the evolution of our society in terms of how ubiquitous these chemicals have become.

COOPER: Is there anything you can do about it once you have it? Because I mean, I was told I had some chemicals which kind of alarmed me that I actually had them. Some of them actually come from the makeup that we wear on television. Is there anything you can do about it?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I mean, some of them are considered heavy metal. So they really do sort of reside in your body or they get into your bone. They get into some of the structure of your body. So it may be very hard to get rid of them.

The question a lot of people wonder is, well, how bad is it, really, for you? And you know, we don't know the answer to that right now. Some of this is brand new. I mean, some of what we're seeing is brand new, like the kids that you tested or saw tested. I mean, we're finding this information out for the first time.

We know some of these things, for example, in laboratory animals, do cause problems. It doesn't seem to translate to human beings, but we've never been exposed at the levels that we are right now.

COOPER: One of the places that you traveled to, Sanjay, was the Carteret Islands, an island which is basically sinking, or at the sea levels are rising around it. Why is that happening?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting, Anderson, because I think one of the things -- you sort of look at that and say, well, this is because of the rising seas. It's because of what you and Jeff saw in Greenland and saw the effects of that down in the South Pacific.

When you get there, though, you actually see that that's probably part of it. But you're also seeing that the reef has been damaged, maybe from dynamite fishing in the past.

And you also notice, you can see the chain of violence here. This is actually as we study the topography of this area. It was actually part of an old volcano reef. And we know the natural history of a volcano is to subside, eventually, as well. So there's probably lots of different factors going on here.

COOPER: And, Sanjay -- Jeff, Sanjay went diving to check out the reef. What does a coral reef do? I mean, why is it important?

CORWIN: A coral reef is very much a navel in the universe of life in that part of the world. I'm sure, Sanjay, when you were diving there, what you noticed is that the water is very clear. The clarity is incredible. You may have 70 to 100 plus feet of visibility.

That's because it's really a liquid desert. So, whatever life exists there is concentrated around a reef. A reef serves as home, habitat, breeding, reproductive, nursery grounds for many life forms that live in this ecosystem.

And around the world in many tropical oceans we've noticed this disastrous phenomenon of coral bleaching. I don't know if you noticed when you go with the corals you'd see these patches of just sort of dead, bony, white or gray-colored coral surrounded by little sparks of life, the polyps actually moving.

Because what's happening is the -- these corals are made up of this tissue. It's almost like a liquid-like tissue of the edge. And it's a colonistic organism, a whole bunch of creatures living together in symphony, in unison.

But they get stressed out, possibly because of environmental changes such as temperature, and they stress and they bleach. They actually regurgitate or push out the chlorophyll that they use to process energy. And we're noticing this around the world, especially where you were at.

COOPER: These people called -- the people who live on this island are considered the first environmental refugees, because they're actually having to move off the island as the waters come up.

GUPTA: That's right. They're going to Papua, New Guinea now. But there's not really a home for them there right there. So, you know, this is sort of political as well as environmental aspects of a very interesting.

COOPER: Sanjay, Jeff, thanks. As we said, we've been working on this project for about a year now. We're excited to get your reaction. "Planet in Peril" airs over the next two nights -- tomorrow and Wednesday, starting at 9 p.m., Eastern.

We also want to give you a chance to take part in a global discussion. Send us a video of any question you may have about our changing planet. We've been getting some great questions from all over the world. We're going to put them to some renowned scientists.

Take a look at one of the questions we got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Myna Nervin (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm Ashley Kula.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we were wondering...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... with the ice caps melting...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and the sea levels rising...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... what can we expect to happen concerning the functions of the Panama Canal...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and other structures like it...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... since they heavily rely on sea level?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Our panel of experts will be answering questions like that and others, Thursday night.

If you want to be part of the conversation, don't delay. Send us your video now. Just go to our web site: CNN.com/360. Click on the "Send a Video" link. If you're concerned about our planet, we want to hear from you.

Up next, "Raw Politics." GOP presidential candidates taking off the gloves in a raw debate.

Plus, more of our breaking news. Wildfires burning out of control in Southern California. More than 250,000 people told to leave their homes. More than 100 homes destroyed. It is far from over. People are sleeping in the stadiums tonight. We're going to check in with our reporters on the ground, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Homes burning in Malibu -- hundreds of homes so far destroyed that we know about. But, again, these fires are moving fast. There's a lot we don't know at this hour. We're going to have more on the wildfires in just a moment. But first, "Raw Politics." With that, here's John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's just 73 days to the Iowa caucuses. That's ten weeks and change. And the big events that are designed to narrow the field seem to be doing just the opposite.

(voice-over): First, the weekend's value voters summit straw poll. Mitt Romney was the winner, when votes cast online and by mail were added in. But among those actually at the meeting, Mike Huckabee was the runaway winner.

Then, showdown in Orlando. Broadcast on another network, as they say, but plenty of "Raw Politics" just for us.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney, you've been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record.

KING: And the winner is?

WHIT AYRES, GOP POLLSTER: I can make a case for any of five candidates winning the nomination.

KING: Stay tuned.

It's a "Raw Politics" pop quiz. Which candidate for president has raised the most money from members of the military? Has to be former Vietnam POW John McCain, right? Wrong.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've invaded this country and this is just another unintended consequence.

KING: That's right. Antiwar crusader Ron Paul leads the pack, raising more than $53,000 from military members, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The price tag of the Iraq war is going up, again. The president is asking for $46 billion in additional emergency spending on Iraq this year.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must provide our troops with the help and support they need to get the job done.

KING: Add it all up, and the new money would push total war spending well past the $500 billion mark, which brings us to Larry Lindsey. Remember him? He was President Bush's top economic advisor. And before the first bomb was dropped, he suggested war in Iraq might cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.

(on camera): Then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld howled that Lindsey was way off, and he was soon sent packing. By today's math, you might call that a raw deal -- Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Raw, indeed.

Up next, breaking news. The wildfires in California. Wildfires are common, but what is going on? What's happening tonight? It's worse than most people there have ever seen. More than a 250,000 have been forced from their homes. The fires are spreading. A live report, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY HIMMEL, KFMB REPORTER: On any given day, I would say welcome to my home. This is what is left of my home just outside the Forest Ranch area. Fire crews have fought valiantly to save every house on this hill, but they took a shot at it, were nice enough to let us up here.

That was our garage, the living room over there. There was a porch. Back there the bedrooms. No pets left behind. Family out, cars out, safe. But you can see my hose right here valiantly trying to do something, but this is it.

This is a southwestern style house. I've been in it about 25 years, out here when there was nothing. We did the clear brush. We did what we could. This was a living hell coming over the hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's Reporter Larry Himmel from our San Diego affiliate, KFMB. We wish him and his family a speedy recovery.

More than 250,000 of his neighbors have been told to leave their homes tonight, hoping they'll still have homes to go back to when this is all over.

The Associated Press now reporting 500 homes, 100 businesses destroyed, and that is just in San Diego County.

CNN's Dan Simon is there for us tonight; and in Malibu, Ted Rowlands.

First Dan with the latest where you are. Dan, what's it looking like?

SIMON: Well, Anderson, we're actually expecting to see more of the same tonight and tomorrow. Perhaps you can make out that glow in the distance. That means the fire, it is still marching along.

Governor Schwarzenegger has asked for more resources. Perhaps that help will start arriving tomorrow, but with the winds, they can really only do so much. Really have no idea when this fire will be contained, when this fire will be under control. Meanwhile, you can only imagine what is going on in the minds for the people who are spending the night at Qualcomm Stadium. Some 10,000 people expected to spend the night there. Will they have a home to come back to? And if not, certainly there will be a lot of pain and stress in the weeks and months to come -- Anderson.

COOPER: Dan, stay tuned. I want to bring in Ted Rowlands into the discussion. Ted is up in Malibu.

Ted, brief us on the situation there.

ROWLANDS: Well, Anderson, the winds are up, again, here in Malibu and north of Los Angeles and the Stevenson Ranch area, where there's another fire burning out of control.

And, as Dan mentioned, thousands of people have been evacuated. Thousands of people in hotel rooms tonight or with friends or at evacuation centers, not knowing what they'll come back to tomorrow.

The bad news, this is expected to not only to last through the night, but into tomorrow, as well.

Firefighters, though, out 24 hours a day, and they are doing what they can to save as many structures as possible. But these winds are just horrific. They're unpredictable. They're changing direction and they are very, very intense.

COOPER: Ted, AP reporting now some 500 homes, 100 businesses destroyed in San Diego County. Any count there in Malibu?

ROWLANDS: In Malibu, we only have six homes that were destroyed, and there are few hundred that are threatened. A couple hundred have been evacuated tonight. And they are on pins and needles.

But Malibu, they hit hard today with air assets. They were able to fly low for most of the day. They made a lot of progress. And only 10 percent contained now, but we expect by morning for that number to jump up.

It's the Stevenson Ranch fire that is the most concern, near Los Angeles. And that Arrowhead fire. You saw the pictures of that one. Literally hundreds of homes went up, about 136. They expect more today. That out of control, along with the Stevenson Ranch. Fires everywhere here in South...

COOPER: We just lost Ted's signal. Obviously, the winds there picking up. Ted's been knocked on and off the air all evening long.

Let's quickly go to Dan Simon, down in San Diego.

Dan, have they been able to use air assets down in San Diego?

SIMON: Yes, this evening we started seeing the helicopters, and it looked like they were making some good progress in certain areas.

But take a look off in the distance. You can see that ridge there. The fire is out of control. Certainly, there's going to be some embers. And with those embers and with the winds -- the winds are supposed to pick up again tonight -- you're going to see some more structures go up in flames. Unfortunately, we're going to see that tomorrow -- Anderson.

COOPER: Bad news, indeed.

Dan, appreciate the reporting. Stay safe.

Up next, more on the flames. How the wildfires are impacting lives, putting hundreds of thousands of people in danger. The up close snapshots, unbelievable images "On the Radar." See the i- Report, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We've been getting photos and videos all night from our i-Reporters.

"On the Radar," this clip from Andrew in San Diego, homes facing flames on broken Bow Court (ph) near the 15 Freeway. Just check out how close the fire is to that house. We're not sure if the homes are still there tonight. We certainly hope so.

Arvin in Escondido submitted this photo. Certainly not the view you want to see from your swimming pool.

And look at this snapshot from Trevor in Malibu. A very smoky day on Carbon Beach.

If you have an i-Report you'd like to submit or want to share a comment, we'd love to hear from you. Go to CNN.com/360 for a link to our blog.

Get the latest on the fires in the morning on "AMERICAN MORNING," starting at 6 a.m., Eastern.

For our international viewers, "CNN TODAY" is coming up next. Here in America, "LARRY KING" is coming up.

I'll see you tomorrow night.

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