Return to Transcripts main page


Southern California Burns

Aired October 23, 2007 - 23:59   ET


LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, hell on Earth. Agony and anguish in Southern California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there was no time to think of anything except getting out of there.

KING: Devastating fires fueled by relentless winds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Utter devastation.

KING: Over a half million people have abandoned their homes.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: And then all of a sudden, you know, from one hour to the next, these homes are destroyed.

KING: More are fleeing by the minute. A quarter of California's coast is burning, an area larger than New York City, torched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what is left of my home.

KING: Can it get any worse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is devastating to see so much of this all at once.

KING: Next on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Good evening or good morning, depending on where you're watching. And thanks for joining us. Those fires still raging in California. This is a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, geared mainly for our West Coast viewers. And a reminder that "Planet in Peril," which was supposed to air at 9:00 p.m. Pacific, will now air immediately after LARRY KING LIVE at 10:00 p.m. Pacific.

Given the latest example of Mother Nature's fury, this show is even more important and one you will not want to miss.

Tomorrow night, LARRY KING LIVE will air at 8:00 Eastern, preceding part two of "Planet in Peril." We'll return to our regular scheduled time of 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

We'll be hop scotching various places throughout Southern California, picking up people as we go along. Let's start with John King, CNN's chief national correspondent. He is in Rancho Bernardo, California.

John, you have covered your share of tragedies and events. What's this one like?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Larry, it's simply devastating. I'm standing in front of what you would call a relatively modest middle class home, and it's completely destroyed. And the randomness of the destruction is what really strikes you about the fires like this.

Because they are blown in by the wind, a row of houses, too hard to see in the dark here, obviously at this hour, but four or five houses in a row simply reduced to rubble. And you can still hear, if you get down low, the embers crackling still, smoke coming up from beneath them.

And the fire department is worried about that. And you have directly across the street, up the hill, beautiful homes that have been untouched. The families can't get back in, Larry. They don't know when they'll be allowed back permanently. Today with a police escort, they could come in to get medications, if they needed to get them out of the house, to simply see if their house was still there or to get vital documents.

But because there's a concern that the winds could shirt again or that some of these embers could re-fire up, you can see ash blowing around a bit in the wind, the families get back in. And that is what strikes you most, the randomness of where the flames hit and what they have destroyed, and just the simply anxious, nerve-racking wait that so many families now still have to endure.

KING: Rick Sanchez is the host of CNN's "OUT IN THE OPEN." He is in Rancho San Diego.

I know from your days in Florida you have covered a lot of hurricanes. How does this compare?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'll tell you what, it's an interesting question, Larry. I've been thinking about this on the plane on the way up as I was looking at this, very similar effect with so many people losing their homes. Think back to Andrew, for example, and South Dade, when that hit, and you had all those people who were devastated in one of the biggest property losses in U.S. history.

This is very similar because we're not seeing a lot of people injured or dying as a result of this, thank goodness because the word got out and because of the firefighters who have been on the scene.

But the property damage is immense. I mean, the amount of people who have evacuated their homes or have lost their homes at this point and the possibility that that trend could continue through the night tonight because those fires that you see behind me, if the wind picks them up and takes them over that ridge, there's more homes behind that mountain. And firefighters and Cal Fire are saying, look, we're going to do everything we can, we're going to try and put buffer lines down. But you know, they've got their work cut out for them, Larry. This thing is not over yet.

KING: Anderson Cooper, the host of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is doing yeoman-like work. He also co-hosts "Planet in Peril." He'll be -- when we do our show tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern, he will be one of our guests preceding "Planet in Peril" part two. He's stationed at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. As a sports fan, I'm very familiar with that. The Chargers are supposed to play there on Sunday. I doubt if they will.

Can we compare it to the Superdome and Katrina, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: No comparison at all, Larry. This is well-organized here, clearly lessons learned from what -- the disaster we saw -- the manmade disaster we saw in New Orleans at the Convention Center and at the Superdome, this is well-organized. There is medical care here. There is food here. Really just about all the needs people have are being taken care of,

There were sort of games for the kids. There were magicians here. They actually have a deejay right spinning music out in the back. People are sleeping outside because it is relatively cool and pleasant out right now.

But it's actually a really nice atmosphere here in terms of a lot of residents of San Diego who haven't had to evacuate have come here just to help volunteer, to pick up trash, and do whatever needs to be done. Announcements will be made. We need 15 volunteers to pick up trash. Suddenly 15 people will materialize, pick up some garbage bags and go off.

So it is really -- it seems as no one likes to be here, but it's as good as these kinds of things can be done.

KING: John King, how, in your opinion, are the officials in all of this handling the event?

J. KING: So far, Larry, what we have seen is remarkable. And what you have to do is tip your cap, as we do in any of these natural disasters, to the young men and women, the first responders. We've seen the fire department come through here several times during the day just to simply re-douse these areas because again they're worried the fire could restart up again.

They are coming from more active fire sites. And they swing back through the neighborhoods where they've already been. And they frankly, Larry, are exhausted. You see the wear and tear in their faces.

So the rank and file, if you will, are doing yeoman's work and around-the-clock work and they're exhausted personally but keeping at it. And the officials here say they could use more men. There has been some debate about whether the California National Guard is up to par in this case, because it has been deployed to Iraq.

Some in Washington say yes, that they could use more help, if they were not deployed, you'd get more done. I talked to Congressman Duncan Hunter here earlier tonight, he says he doesn't believe that, he believes they have everything they need.

And he had one bit of encouraging news, Larry. He said that additional National Guard C-130s that are specially equipped to fight fires came in late this evening. Several more, he says, that will be available at daybreak.

So, so far, there's always a question of where the resources are being deployed, a question of priorities, but so far, whether you're talking to an everyday fireman or to some of the Congress people or the governor's office involved, they say they pretty much have what they need and their big concern and their big hope is that the winds die down and the weather helps them in the next 24 to 48 hours.

KING: Thanks so much, John King. Rick Sanchez, what's the forecast on those winds?

SANCHEZ: It doesn't look good. Boy, I wish I had good news for you. I just happened to be in one of the vehicles driving around with one of the Cal Fire captains. And we went over to the other side of the ridge and I happened to be listening to the radio when the weather report came out for them specifically.

And they said as of 11:00 tonight, they're expecting that the winds are going to be picking up. You know, right now they're pretty slow. But they are looking at 25 mile-an-hour wind gusts and exceeding that as it goes into the morning.

And you know, Larry, one thing that you just asked John, which I've got to tell you, I just saw it moments ago myself. Picture this. I went over to the other side of that ridge and I saw a team of firefighters climbing up that mountain with chainsaws on their shoulders going into a pitch black mountainside with a fire 100 feet from them as they are trying to cut a line so that they can stop the fire from destroying the homes that are right there on the other side of that ridge.

I just thought to myself, what kind of intestinal fortitude do you need, if you know what I mean, to be able to do something like that? Look, these guys are gutsy, these guys are tough, and they are doing a hell of a job.

KING: Anderson Cooper, do you think the title "Planet in Peril" was fortuitous?

COOPER: Well, certainly in California, it feels very much in peril tonight. And you know, there are those who link this to larger climate changes that we have seen, to warmer temperatures, snows melting off the mountains sooner, a drier summer leading to drier conditions.

You know, some may argue with that, but certainly we are seeing some weather which is raising a lot of questions tonight. And "Planet in Peril" certainly seems to be a timely documentary.

KING: Thanks, Anderson. Anderson Cooper will be a guest with us tomorrow night at 8:00 preceding "Planet in Peril" part two. "Planet in Peril" part one will be repeated following this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. And we thank Rick Sanchez and John King as well.

When we come back, John Zarrella and Ted Rowlands and others will be checking in with us as we continue to cover this horrendous scene. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes and the many peoples who have been evacuated from their homes. We send our prayers and thoughts with those who have been affected. And we send the help of the federal government as well.



KING: Let's check in with John Zarrella, our CNN correspondent in Santa Clarita, California.

Is today worse or better?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, no, Larry. In fact, you know, it's much better here. We had an opportunity to fly over the fires in Los Angeles County just a couple of hours ago. You know, what strikes me is that in every direction you look, there are pockets of flames, billowing smoke. It's not just one main column of flame.

It has spread out in all directions, three, four different fires that have been burning. But you can start to see smiles on the faces of the firefighters here at the command center where we're at. And there's good reason for that because they are saying that the Buckweed fire here is about 80 percent contained.

They've got about 5.5 miles of fire line, they have finished building around that one. And they're just hoping that they can keep it contained behind those fire lines. The Magic fire we've heard so much about, about 93 percent contained. The Ranch fire, they're getting a handle on that one as well.

So at least here in Los Angeles County, Larry, the news is far, far better than what they are facing down to the south in San Diego -- Larry.

KING: Nice to get good news. At Qualcomm Stadium is Ted Rowlands, our correspondent who, by the way, spent much of the day with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. How has he reacted to this, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDET: Well, Larry, we were able to fly with the governor in a Black Hawk, we went to Lake Arrowhead and then down here to San Diego. And he was working on three hours' sleep, but he said he really wants to be on the front lines here.

Let's be honest, something like this can really impact a politician's career, and Arnold Schwarzenegger says he wants to be here and manage this thing as best he can, make sure the little things are taken care of. We're talking about almost a million people displaced. Anything can happen.

He said at one point they had to get medical help for some people that were evacuated from a medical facility. He said he made that happen, and he's trying to his best to make sure the needs of these people and everywhere in this state get what they need, try and avoid anything like we saw in Katrina.

We also talked to Michael Chertoff, same thing. They're in place here. People do not want to make those same mistakes, the government agencies, federal or state level. So it's fair to say we haven't heard any complaints; that things right now are running as smooth as possible given what they're up against.

KING: Did the governor speak to the president while you were with him?

ROWLANDS: Yes. He went -- we were at a middle school up at Lake Arrowhead. He went into a room in the administrative offices and talked to both the president and to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, gave them updates and urged the president to come out and, of course, the president is coming out here to see firsthand the damage on Thursday.

KING: Let's check in with Chad Myers, CNN's meteorologist in Atlanta.

Anything hopeful, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely, Larry. The winds are dying off. This is the worst night we're going to get now for the next five. It's just about over. It's the beginning of the end. Yes, there's still choking smoke in the sky, but last night we showed you all of the smoke that was on the radar.

Well, tonight there's barely anything to show you, which means the fires are calming down because the winds have calmed down. I mean, we're looking for red. If you find red, that's 30 miles per hour or more. This is now. This is throughout the morning hours. Sure, there's some 20-mile-per-hour gusts, but the firefighters can handle that. They're not worried about 20, they're worried about 40, they're worried about the 75-mile-per-hour gusts they had yesterday and they're not going to get that.

Larry, this whole thing, Santa Ana is kind of like a breathing dragon in itself. During the day, the sun comes up and warms the Earth and air rises. But then at night it falls back, and that falling-back air pushes out through the canyons. I know you live out there. You know what these winds are like through the canyons. It could knock semis over here. And that's what we have, one more night and that's tonight. We'll have those winds 25, 30 miles per hour and that's it. A lot of ground fires today, not in the treetops. If it was up here, it would be called a crown fire. Down on the ground today, that's the good news, those are easier to fight. Why? Because as soon as you get that fire in the treetops, it will jump from crown to crown to crown and all of a sudden you've got a fire that you can't get ahead of because it keeps getting behind you as you keep running for it.

Especially as the wind blows it up the hill, you get the wind blowing up the hill, these fires take off. A lot of fuel gets to the top, and all of a sudden the firefighters are on top trying to battle it, and then the sparks and the embers fly a mile or two down the road and all of a sudden the firefighters in between where they shouldn't be and they have to scramble their way out.

That's why there are so few ground fire troops on the ground right now because they can't afford this. Tomorrow they'll be all over it.

KING: Thanks, Chad. That's great news. When we come back, we'll check in with a couple who lost their home. And unfortunate, crazy circumstances, too, by the way. We'll also talk with Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he can slow down and really put it right where he wants. There's one right there. Dropped that right there right next to that home. Look at that. We've got fire burning within feet of those homes right now.



KING: Welcome back to a special live Tuesday night/Wednesday morning edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Joining us now in Rancho Bernardo, Jim and Carol Wall. They lost their home in Rancho Bernardo. The only thing they recovered was a fireproof safe. Jim's 81-year-old mother was house-sitting at the time and was able to rescue two of three family pets from the home before it was burned.

What was that like, Jim, to come up and look at that?

JIM WALL, LOST HOME IN RANCHO BERNARDO: Well, it was pretty devastating...


J. WALL: ... at first when we came in. We assumed that everything that we had was lost, and we realized after we were looking at the house and kind of walking through the rubble that we had a safe we forgot all about it. And it was a fireproof safe that we bought years ago at Costco and it had all of our important papers in it, our birth certificates and everything. And it was on the second floor. It was in the bedroom closet. And when we calculated where it should be, it should have been in front of our fireplace if it fell straight through. And we walked through there and absolutely found it right at the fireplace.

C. WALL: That's where it was.

KING: Carol, you must have been concerned about your mother-in- law.

C. WALL: Oh, definitely. She called us at 5:00 in the morning when we were in Vegas and said, what do I do? We said, get the heck out.

J. WALL: Yes, she just took the two dogs and got out. She couldn't find the cat and she was worried about the cat, but there was just no way that the cat was going to come out anyway. So unfortunately, we lost that animal, but we have her safe. We're safe and the two dogs are safe.

C. WALL: And a neighbor helped her with the dogs.

KING: What are you going to do now, Carol?

C. WALL: We're not sure what we're going to do yet.

KING: Are you going to build a house again? Are you going to build a new home?

J. WALL: Well, I think it's going to get rebuilt, and it's going to take some time, obviously. So we just don't know what we're going to do in the interim. We're right now sharing a small one-bedroom apartment with my mother. And it's in a senior complex, and we can stay there one more night because of the size of the dogs. We've got two shepherds and so we're kind of intruding on them.

KING: Best of luck of to both of you, Jim and Carol Wall. Tragedy occurs in spades in things like this, and we've never seen anything like this in California. This is the largest evacuation, I believe I heard it before, in American history, the largest movement of people.

Sanjay Gupta, I know as CNN's chief medical correspondent, you know everything about medicine. You're not a psychiatrist, but I'm going to ask you to give me your educated guess at what the psychological damage is of the loss of a home.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously, when you have some sort of loss of permanence like this, a home is something that offers people stability in many different ways, psychologically certainly. It's just that sense of permanence which people lose and it happens so suddenly and so tragically, it's devastating.

And not to mention that in addition to the home, Larry, as you know, so many of your personal artifacts, so many of those things that make up you are lost as well. So it's devastating and it takes so long to recover from that because people are still sort of figuring out how they're just going to recover from their physical ailments which are obviously present around here. You can just see it in the air here, Larry.

KING: The other day here we were talking in the makeup room about the effects of smoke. Have you come upon any cases where that has taken its toll?

GUPTA: It's exactly like what we were talking about the other day, Larry. People pay so much attention to the fire for obvious reasons. They can certainly cause burns, but the inhalation injuries are equally if not more important, Larry.

I actually had an exclusive chance to actually go into the burn unit in this area. There is one burn unit that is sort of for this entire county, they gave me an exclusive look to actually go inside, look at these patients. If they have both burn injuries as well as what are known as inhalational injuries, their likelihood of not being able to recover from this is exponentially higher.

And this is what the burn surgeons told me in there. So they really are concerned about that, in addition to also looking at the actual physical manifestations of the burns, to also look at the airway to see if there was any smoke damage to the airway or to the lungs as well. That's what they're doing in those burn hospitals right now, Larry, lots of patients in there. They were full tonight. They expect them to remain full over the next several days.

KING: Sanjay will be with us tomorrow night at 8:00 when we have a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE preceding part two of "Planet in Peril."

Now, is the Restifo family with us? OK. Dan and Annie Restifo in San Diego. Dan, I understand you also lost your home, right?


KING: What happened? Where do you live? Or where did you live?

D. RESTIFO: We lived on Lincolnshire (ph) Street in Rancho Bernardo.

KING: And what happened?

D. RESTIFO: Well, the fire was about 40 miles away from us at about 2:00 in the morning. And so then I was keeping an eye out, and this was about 2:00 in the morning. Then about 4:00 I heard the winds blowing really fast, so I went out the front door and looked up. And little embers were coming down, and we had a wood roof. And they started landing on the roof.

So at first I put the hose on it. But then more embers came. So I went and got the family and some of our belongings, and the baby and our dog, and put them in the car. And we left. And the roof was on fire as we left. KING: Annie, how are you dealing with all this?

ANNIE RESTIFO, LOST HOME IN RANCHO BERNARDO: We're doing OK. Still a little and mixed emotions, but we're hanging in their.

KING: Where are you staying?

A. RESTIFO: We're staying at the Carlsbad Inn (ph). They gave us complimentary rooms until Sunday. And so -- and we have a pet. We have a dog. And they allowed us to keep our dog with us.

KING: That is very nice. The children are Jacqueline (ph), Elisabella (ph), and 18-month-old Nicholas (ph). Danny, are you going to rebuilt?

D. RESTIFO: Well, we have a different situation. We were actually renting and we didn't have insurance. So we lost everything that we had. And so yes, that was kind of devastating for us. So we just went out with the clothes that we had. And pretty much it was a total loss for us.

KING: Unbelievable. The best of luck to you and anything we can do, let us know.

A. RESTIFO: Thank you.

KING: Dan and Annie Restifo and their kids.

John F. Kennedy said it best, life isn't fair. We'll be right back.


RANDY BABBITT, FIREFIGHTER: Every one of us out here feels like these homes are our own. You know, we know what it's like to see people's faces when they've lost everything. And it's devastating to see so much of this all at once.


KING: We're back with this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE airing late on Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning. And joining us now is Michael Turley, he's at Qualcomm Stadium. He's a volunteer in all of this. And he says he witnessed some unauthorized people taking things from a relief supply tuck.

What did you see, Michael?

MICHAEL TURLEY, VOLUNTEER: Basically a bunch of us all day yesterday spent countless hours, hundreds of volunteers sending stuff in and working our butt off to really go and get all the supplies we needed for everybody. Today I got in around 2:00 or 3:00 looking to where I can volunteer, can I go and help fold some clothes outside of the stadium. And in the process of it I saw some homeless people going through, taking stuff, not displaced homeless people, going through, taking stuff in shopping carts, whatever and so forth. And when in the process of that, I noticed through a lady I was talking to that in the parking lot there was five cars -- two trucks, three cars and two giant tents. And what appeared to be happening is that they were filling up throughout the course of the day all of the supplies in this tent, and then putting it in the trucks and the cars.

There's really no one there to go and do anything about it. So I went over there and I confronted the person, got a camera and started taking pictures saying, hey, what are you doing? They didn't speak much English. But you know, I didn't want this guy to just go away, they were looting literally five full truckloads of stuff.

KING: So what did you do?

TURLEY: I went and called one of the parking guys who happened to be in the area. There wasn't really anybody else, because I think everyone else was preoccupied in what they were doing. Ended up getting him, then I went and ran down to police officers, brought them over, they went and searched through, spoke Spanish to them, pulled out of the bags brand-new sweaters, tents, canopies.

KING: Did they arrest them?

TURLEY: ... blankets, you name it. And there was -- I'm not sure what happened, if they arrested them or not. They went in -- they loaded everything from the trucks. And then individuals were escorted out at that point.

KING: Thanks, Michael. These kinds of tragedies happen in events like this. Not unforeseen. Sad, but not unforeseen.

Chuck Maner is the assistant region chief for the Southern Region of the California Fire Division. We're getting some good reports, Chuck, that things may be a little better tonight. Do you hear that?

CHUCK MANER, SOUTHERN REG. CHIEF CAL. FIRE ASSIST.: Yes, Larry, good evening. The wind is diminishing some areas where it's going to allow us to take a little more aggressive action on the fire. As long as the wind was blowing hard on it, it would be extremely dangerous for the crews to get right out in front of the fire.

It does pose some problems for us because now if the normal wind that comes through here takes over in the next day or so, the fire will actually take 180-degree turn on us. But we know that is going to happen and we'll try to prepare for it.

KING: So are you going to report that right now things right now are optimistic?

MANER: Things are looking better. We've still got a lot of work to do from the suppression site, to contain fires. The heavy wind is diminished. Right now it's not blowing right here. I think there's still some wind forecast in to tomorrow, but it is dropping off, and we'll get into a transition period where we'll move into the normal on-shore.

KING: Thanks, Chuck. Great job. Chuck Maner, the assistant regional chief, Southern Region of California Fire.

And we are -- you're watching a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We're checking in now with Suzy DeFrancis who is a spokesperson for the American Red Cross.

What has this been like for the Red Cross, Suzy?

SUZY DEFRANCIS, SPOKESPERSON, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Good evening, Larry. We know it has been actually very tough for the people of Southern California, and particularly those who have lost their property.

So we are here, all of our volunteers and workers to help them, to shelter them, to feed them. Those who have evacuated their homes. We have about 14 shelters open in Southern California. We've served about 3,500 meals so far. And we are going to be there to help them in the days that come to kind of get their feet back on the ground and get a recovery plan going.

KING: Is this the California Red Cross or national?

DEFRANCIS: The national is also here. We've sent in about 2,000 volunteers to help our California chapters, but all of the chapters across California are engaged in this effort. One other thing I'd like to mention, Larry...

KING: Sure.

DEFRANCIS: ... really important, is that our Web site,, has a site where you can go called "Safe and Well." And if you have been separated at all from one of your loved ones or family because of the evacuations, you can go on, register your name, and that's a way for people to check and make sure you're OK. You can also call1-800-RED-CROSS to do that.

KING: How many volunteers you have there, Suze?

DEFRANCIS: We have about 2,000 now, Larry, and a lot of the volunteers are people who themselves may have lost their own homes. But they're here to help. And that's what the Red Cross does, provide comfort, provide some counseling when needed, and help people get back on their feet.

KING: Thank you so much, Suzy. Amazing what a catastrophe can do in bringing people together. Suzy DeFrancis, spokesman for the American Red Cross on the scene in Southern California. And we'll be on the scene right after these words.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just keeping up with things on the Internet when I saw that the area where my condo is at was a mandatory evacuation zone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad. We actually even saw some apartments that we used to live in, they're like condo apartments, and -- on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been really thankful for everything that has been here, and we have a house to go back to, at least at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boy, community -- definite sense of community in San Diego.



KING: Welcome back to this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. "Planet in Peril" will be repeated at the top of the hour. We'll be with you tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern preceding "Planet in Peril" part two and return to our regular time Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. Let's go now to Wendy Walker, our senior executive producer of this program, been doing this for over 12 years. But she was with us again last night, returns again tonight. She left her house in Rancho Santa Fe.

Are you home yet?

WENDY WALKER, SR. EXEC. PRODUCER, LARRY KING LIVE: No. No, we're not home. We are in Del Mar, on the beach with all of our friends. But tonight I got a call from a friend who said that they actually got to see my house and that it was standing, and they actually, you know, drove into the driveway and saw that it was fine.

But the only way they got in was to say that they needed a prescription at their own home. That's the only way you can get in. But there are houses down behind me and very close to me, and now the National Guard has totally blocked all access to Rancho Santa Fe, and we can't sneak in anymore at all.

KING: Wow.

WALKER: And the only thing that I could do all day was to watch the scroll on local news to see the status of my house. So it's pretty scary to watch the scroll, but so far the house was not mentioned. And then tonight, you know, we're hearing that it's still standing.

But I think, you know, Larry, the hard part is that it's a really weird experience not being allowed to go to your own home.

KING: I'll bet.

WALKER: I have my house key in my pocket for good luck, but I'm just praying that everything works out and every time that we hear that it is calming down, we hear about another danger or another fire. So all of us are just trying to stay positive, and one of our friends today, the McNallys (ph), lost their house. So we're all with them tonight, rallying around them.

You know, it's just a really amazing experience. KING: We're getting optimistic reports tonight that the winds may be changing and that things could look a lot better tomorrow. Do you have any indication when you can return home?

WALKER: No. We have no information at all. And that's the thing. That's what -- the hard part is to not be able to be in control of knowing when you can go to your own home. I mean, the next thing for us is to try again in the morning to see if I can see my house.

And the next hope tomorrow is just a hope that we can go and find out when we can go home. The problem is that we are all in the dark. We don't know if our houses are in danger, and we don't know when we'll be able to go home. So it's really out of our hands. And when you are home, the place you live is -- you're not allowed to even defend it. It's just a very, you know, hard decision.

KING: Yes. How are the children dealing with it?

WALKER: Well, they're excited because they don't have school.


WALKER: But I think -- yes, so schools have been cancelled. You know? Remember what that was like when you got a school day off. But they're really anxious to know, too. They want to know that their house is OK. But they're good because they really also understand, you know, when they see the people at Qualcomm and they see that we -- you know, at least we have a nice place to stay with all of our loved ones and our friends. You know, they're the luck y ones. So we just want to go home.

KING: Well, you're doing a great job of reporting, Wendy. I salute you and Godspeed, good luck, and keep us posted.

WALKER: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Wendy Walker, the senior executive producer of this program. Let's go to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Christine Fiero, she and her four kids had to leave their home yesterday under dire circumstances.

What happened, Christine?

CHRISTINE FIERO, EVACUEE: We were watching the news regarding the fires, and about 10:00, right when I was getting ready to go to bed, I received a call stating that as soon as I received another call that they would -- we would have to evacuate immediately. I received a call at 6:00 in the morning for us to evacuate.

I packed as much as I could, which was only blankets -- well, some blankets, three days worth of clothes, my photos, important documents, birth certificates, Social Security cards and that's about it.

KING: Where do you live, Christine? FIERO: In Rancho Penasquitos, right off of Stargaze and Black Mountain.

KING: Have you heard any word about your house?

FIERO: No, not at all, at all.

KING: How are they treating you at Qualcomm Stadium?

FIERO: Great. And I'm very thankful. We got here. We were accommodated with cots, blankets, additional blankets, warm food we were served at 5:00, I believe it was around 5. We ate a nice dinner. And we stationed by -- I stationed myself and my children up on area E-17, 18 section, and pretty much try to make it as much -- as comfortable for my children and I.

KING: Good luck, Christine. We're sure you'll be back home very soon. Christine Fiero, out of her house, and Wendy Walker out of her house.

By the way, Qualcomm Stadium is the home of the San Diego Chargers. There is a major doubt as to with whether the Chargers will play their game this Sunday. It either will be delayed. They are working out now in Arizona. It's doubtful if they'll play. San Diego State, which was scheduled to play BYU, that game has been postponed to December 1st.

We'll be back with more. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We chose this place because, you know, it's just something we have to do financially. You know, we couldn't afford to stay in a hotel and we don't know how long this is going to last.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just hanging in there and just waiting. You know, this is a very comfortable area. There's concrete around you. And there's military. And you know, there's food and water. You know, we probably could (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard. It's hard. Because you're supposed to provide for your kids, and something like this happens, you can't. You don't know what to tell them, you don't know what to say.



KING: Before we meet some military officers, let's check in with James Towery. He is in the L.A. bureau. He lost his house in Lake Arrowhead fire in the San Bernardino Mountains, got out with his life, his laptop and his golf clubs.

Did you see the fire engulf your house? JAMES TOWERY, LOST HOME IN LAKE ARROWHEAD: Yes, Larry. I got out of the house. As I drove down Brentwood Drive, the street that I used to live on, the flames had begun to engulf my roof. And as I left, I witnessed many other homes that were engulfed. And it was a very large blaze, a fire.

And then I managed to get back to that house later to check and see what had happened to the homes on my street, in my home, in particular. And then I did manage to bump into -- of all things, I'm a realtor in Lake Arrowhead with the Parkinson (ph) Group, and I bumped into my -- well, not my client, but the client buying my clients' home.

And Victor (ph) actually saved one of the homes by breaking in a home and putting out a fire. And that home that would have compromised and jeopardized probably seven or eight more homes on that street, and he actually watched my home become engulfed with flames.

KING: What must that be like?

TOWERY: Well, the difficult part is I lost my home. The encouraging part is that we have people that love Lake Arrowhead so much, they're willing to go to those extremes to live in a beautiful place that we live in. And the challenges that we face, we face those challenges, and we accept the good and the bad, and we did lose a lot of homes, but we saved a lot of homes, too.

KING: Where are you going to live now?

TOWERY: I'm going to stay Lake Arrowhead. It's a beautiful place. I'm going to make sure I don't lose another home, though, Larry.

KING: Good luck, James. James Towery. What...

TOWERY: Thank you, Larry.

KING: ... incredible stories.

On the phone with us now is Colonel James Seaton III. He is in the United States Marine Corps based at Camp Pendleton.

What has been the Marines' involvement in all of this, Colonel?



SEATON: The Marines have been involved in this from the get-go. We've got seven different bases in Southern California and Arizona. All of us have been engaged in this fight. I call it a fight because that's how we're treating it.

At Camp Pendleton, we've had thousands of folks, actually over 23,000 vehicles evacuate across our base last night. We've had hundreds of horse from local communities come aboard the base. We've had thousands of military civilians who work for the Department of Defense, military family members and retirees come to the base, many of them spent last and then moved on today. Others are still here.

We have had many of our fire trucks from Camp Pendleton deploy to surrounding communities to assist, provide mutual aid.

KING: Colonel, for the Iraqi veterans involved in this, are there some flashbacks?

SEATON: I don't know that there is any flashbacks. I haven't heard anybody talk about that, Larry. We tend to look at this as just another thing that we have to deal with. Marines train to do a variety of things. We train to operate in clime and place. And this is one of those climes that we have to operate in.

The place is, it happens to be our home. And here aboard Camp Pendleton, we were safe today from any of the fires. We had some come pretty close yesterday. But we did have two fires break out on the base today. We've been dealing with those. We had to relocate Marines from a couple of the camps. This is a huge base. I don't know if you've ever been here.

KING: I have.

SEATON: Then you recall, it's about 200 square miles. And we've got various camps spreads throughout. Two of those camps we did relocate Marines from. The camps are OK. One of them it came up real close.

KING: That's great.

SEATON: But we'll continue to work on those.

KING: We're going to be calling on you again, Colonel. And by the way, Pendleton is one of the more beautiful camps in the United States. Beautiful area where it settles in Southern California.

Back with quick remaining moments after this.


KING: I'm told we're back. Apparently we had to cut into the commercial. Let's hit some windup reports from our reporters on the scene who began the show.

John King, are you encouraged by the optimistic reports we've received in this past hour that the tide may be turning?

J. KING: The firefighters believe, Larry, in the next 24 hours they'll learn about those winds. And they certainly hope so. And let's remember that I was just told, some of them are now going on 40- plus hours without any sleep. So we tip our hat and certainly say a prayer for them.

But as they await to see what happens with the weather, Larry, you look around and you just see the charred wood here, the devastated homes, just a reminder of the awesome power of the combination of the winds and the fire.

KING: And Rick Sanchez, the awesome ability of people to react under pressure.

SANCHEZ: That's amazing. And you know what? You hear these reports all over the country about Californians about being chardonnay-sippers and quiche-eaters, low key, different from anybody else. Let me tell you something, when you're here firsthand and you see what the spirit of these people is, what they are really like, these folks are tough, they are hanging tough and they're pulling together. Good for them.

KING: John Zarrella, are you surprised by the way the officials, the public, everybody has reacted to this calamity?

ZARRELLA: No, not at all, Larry. I think everyone pulls together in these situations. And you know, as John King was saying, the firefighters here telling us the same thing, going on 36, 40 straight hours, but the hope really is that in the next couple of days, unless something unforeseen happens, mop-up duty here in L.A. County, they're really starting to get a handle on these fires -- Larry.

KING: We also have a quick word from Major Jeff Davis of unit HMH 465, CH-53 pilot with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

What has been your involvement, Major?

MAJ. JEFF DAVIS, PILOT, 3RD MARINE AIRCRAFT WING: Sir, I spent about seven hours today fighting one of those two fires that Colonel Seaton was talking about out there at Camp Pendleton.

KING: Fighting them from the air?

DAVIS: Yes, sir, fighting them from the air, basically we dropped 900 gallons of water on each pass. We had 400 helicopters up there, fighting it for about seven hours today. So very successful.

KING: What does that feel like?

DAVIS: It's certainly a unique experience. A lot of smoke. A lot of heat, obviously. Firefighters on the ground trying to talk you into your target as to where you want to drop that. Sometimes you do good, sometimes you have to adjust a little bit. But overall it's certainly a unique challenge.

KING: What kind of plane are you in?

DAVIS: I was in a CH-53 Echo (ph) helicopter.

KING: And that is very effective in things like this. Were you ever concerned about your vehicle and yourself?

DAVIS: No, sir. We trained to handle situations like this. We know the tactics that it takes to fight these fires. We do it every summer pretty much. And it's not a problem.

KING: Do you have to go up again, do you think, tomorrow?

DAVIS: I do not, sir. But we do have members of our unit who are going up there tomorrow, many of them have been evacuated from their homes, but they're still out there, fighting the fire every single day, and fighting that fight Colonel Seaton was talking about.

KING: You didn't think that would be part of your duty when went into the Marine Air Corps, did you?

DAVIS: Did not, sir. But I look forward to every unique challenge that I get handed to me, so.

KING: You're a hell of a soldier. Thank you, Major Jeff Davis of the Marine Corps Air Station, based in Miramar.

A reminder to check out our Web site, You can download our current podcast, Stephen Colbert, you'll also find quick votes, Web extras and guest commentaries too. It's all at king.

Coming up next, part one -- part one repeated of "Planet in Peril." With all nature's destruction we've seen in the last few days, it's a show well worth watching. We'll see you at 8:00 Eastern tomorrow night. Good night.