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California Burning

Aired October 25, 2007 - 21:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, GUEST HOST: Tonight, the winds have diminished, but disbelief hangs in the air.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: This fire is among the worst disasters in Californian history.


SANCHEZ: Bodies have been found. Evidence of arson is uncovered. The state may burn for weeks.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got a big problem out here.


SANCHEZ: Residents return to see what's in ruins and what remains.



SANCHEZ: But recovery is underway. Picking up the pieces, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Hi, everybody, I'm Rick Sanchez, filling in for LARRY KING LIVE.

The California fire story is shifting in a couple of brand new direction and one of them has to do with an arson investigation, a very important arson investigation. Imagine the possibility that some of these homes that we've seen burn here, that we've watched people come back to just today in the area where we are now, may have been caused by somebody setting these fires on purpose. That's what investigators are looking into right now.

Let's get started now with our round robin of CNN reporters.

John Zarrella is handling that part for us.

He's in Orange County -- John, where are these arson investigators saying that these fires may have been purposely lit? JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, this is what we know. The Santiago Fire here in Orange County, which has consumed more than 25,000 acres -- up in Santiago Canyon, along Silverado Canyon -- where these two canyons meet there are at least two spots where investigators say the fires were deliberately set.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were out there today sifting through the debris, looking for any clues they can find out there. One of the things they say, Rick, is it's clear this was an arson fire because -- they can eliminate the fact there was no lightning, there were no downed power lines. When you eliminate natural causes, you leave the human cause.

What other evidence they may have found they are saying. But this fire for sure caused by arson -- and possibly some of the other fires here. At least five arrests have been made of people trying to set fires between San Diego and Los Angeles, although none of those arrests have yet been linked to the major fires burning here in Southern California -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: What possible explanation could there be for someone doing something like this?

What are officials saying to you?

ZARRELLA: Well, officials say one thing, for sure -- that whoever did this either got very, very lucky with the Santiago Fire or they knew what they were doing. And the other thing they say -- the individual is very, very sick. And residents we talked told us, Rick, the one thing they want to do -- two things. They want to get back into their homes. And the other thing is, one resident said, I want 15 minutes alone with this guy -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Is there any way that police officers and officials investigating this at this point, John, are going to be able to figure out who these guys were by talking to any of the witness is in the area?

Is there anything they think at this point link information to them?

ZARRELLA: Boy, that is a great question. What we understand is they've gotten, so far, about 250 tips.

Have any of the tips led to anything concrete?

No, not at this point.

Were there any witnesses?

Maybe one witness that might have seen something. But that's pretty sketchy at this point. And they tell us very privately that it's going to be very, very difficult for them to find whoever did this. They're going to have to get lucky.

SANCHEZ: Let's bring in John King now. He's been following another part of this story.

You're in Rancho Bernardo.

Amazing to look around and see this, isn't it?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is amazing, the devastation. People cleaning up the sites here. Yet a house just steps from us, Rick, it's virtually untouched. The randomness of the fire is just stunning.

SANCHEZ: You did a couple of things today. First of all, you were following along with the trip for the president. And you were also following up on a story of some bodies that have now been found, too, earlier today. I saw your report on that.

And now I understand there's four more?

KING: Four more where they're on the scene right now. It's in a migrant camp about 33 miles east of San Diego. A very sad story, no matter what you think of the illegal immigration problem in the United States. The authorities are saying three men, one woman, almost certainly illegal immigrants in a camp down a steep canyon wall populated by up to 100 people at some times.

They found the four charred bodies. The medical examiner is on the scene right now with other investigators. Cadaver dogs looking. They don't think there are any more, but they're going to look in that site. It's an incredibly sad part of this story. You've covered this issue quite a bit.


KING: They're in no man's land. They have no services. They don't have reverse 911 calls. There's no warning system for those people.

SANCHEZ: What about the other two, the ones found earlier today inside a house, right?

KING: This one is more tragic because it is avoidable. We are told -- and they've been identified tonight -- a husband and wife, 55- year-old Victoria Fox, 58-year-old John Bain -- in the Poway section. It's a little bit to the north of here. In their home. The neighbors told them to leave Monday at midnight, said get out, the Witch Creek Fire is coming. They refused to leave. They would not leave their home. We were up there tonight -- a beautiful hilltop home.

They apparently retreated down to a garbage in a workspace area where there was some steel that they thought may have protected them. Their charred bodies were found there about six hours apart late last night/early this morning.

SANCHEZ: Do you suspect that we will be finding more bodies as police start going into these neighborhoods?

KING: That is what the police are doing now, as people start to back into these neighborhoods. Most are reopened. Some still have the power problems down. That is one of the issues.

Now they're going through the list of missing persons reports. Most people who fled went to a shelter, went to a friend, went to a family, went to a hotel. They've checked in with family members.

Now the police are going through. And they're saying, thank god, it's a relatively small list. But they have a list of missing persons reports and now they're going back to those sites. When they first go through, they look very quickly to see if there's any evidence of human remains. Now, if they still have a missing persons report, as was the case in Poway, they go back with much more of an effort to look through the rubble and find the bodies. I think some more. They're hoping not many.

SANCHEZ: Finally, let me ask you about the president. You were following his trip here today. I understand he just now arrived, moments ago, back at Andrews Air Force base in Washington.

His trip here?

KING: Important for the president. Remember how punishing politically it was for him -- the federal aftermath of Katrina. This is a very different tragedy, but also a very different president. You know, he came right away. You've talked to Governor Schwarzenegger. There are some questions for him to answer on the state level.

SANCHEZ: Absolutely.

KING: But he says President Bush called him on the first day, in his first briefing. And so far -- there are always questions about the timing, the number of resources, the scope of the resources. But by most accounts, from the local officials up to the state officials, the federal government this time is on the phone sending help when it can, almost as fast as California can ask for it.

So the president out here to promise more help today. And, stylistically, you see Mr. Bush has learned the lessons of Katrina.

SANCHEZ: All right, thanks a lot, John.

Let's turn over to Ted Rowlands now.

He's following some of the fires that are still burning in many places -- the Harris Fire; also, the Witch Fire and Arrowhead Fire. That's what Ted Rowlands is going to start us off talking about -- Ted, pick it up for us, if you would.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, it's still burning. They're still dropping into the night here. There was a time today where they lost the fire and it was headed toward a small community. They were able to stop it there. Basically, Mother Nature has really helped them today. The air assault was in full gear. Yesterday, we had so much smoke they couldn't fly for most of the day. But today that changed. They were able to hit everything that crept around where they didn't want it to go -- toward houses. They've been letting some of the area in here burn. You can see behind us here -- I don't know how difficult it is to see -- but it is still burning in earnest here. And they are still working very hard.

Twelve thousand people still evacuated. And unlike the situation in San Diego, where many people are being allowed to go back into their homes, up here, because the conditions are so severe -- downed power lines and windy roads that are covered -- they say that most of these evacuees will not be able to return to their homes, even if their homes weren't damaged, until sometime next week.

Shelters -- there's more people in shelters here now than there are in San Diego. About 1,200 still remain in shelters. And, again, 12,000 people still out of their homes. Some of them still don't know if they'll have a home to come back to. The fight still going on in earnest up here in Lake Arrowhead.

SANCHEZ: You know, you cover these things and sometimes you see when people first get to these evacuation centers, they're festive. They're happy. They're happy to be away from the danger. But as the days go longer, suddenly they start getting a little bit more antsy.

What's the spirit like for some of these folks you visited in some of these evacuation centers, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Well, I've got to tell you, we were down there today and the folks that we talked to seemed to still -- although the party like atmosphere definitely was worn off -- they still had good attitudes. We talked to one guy that said he was told it might be two weeks. He said you know what, you've got to do what you've got to do. And that's really the attitude that we've seen, not only here, but down in San Diego.

People seem to really be sucking it up and dealing with this tragic situation and rolling with the punches as best as they can. They're uncomfortable. They wouldn't -- they don't want to be there. They're all -- they're sleeping with strangers in a huge gymnasium. But they're dealing with it. You're right -- whether that will change in the next few days remains to be seen.


ROWLANDS: But right now, so far so good.

SANCHEZ: Ted Rowlands, we thank you.

We're drilling down into this arson investigation. As a matter of fact, when we come back, we're going to be talking to a couple of officials who are going to be giving us some of the inside information on this. And we're also going to be talking to residents here coming back to find scenes like that, that you see behind me. In fact, we're going to be talking to the gentleman who owns that home. He takes us through the story of the night he had to flee at the last minute because of the fire.

You're watching a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Rick Sanchez.

We'll be right back.


BUSH: Really, it's important for me to come out here and see firsthand the situation. And there's no question a lot of people are suffering. And there's no question there's been terrible losses. I also am out here to make sure these firefighters behind me and the first responders know how much I appreciate and how much the country appreciates their courage and bravery.



SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

We want to give you a long view now, as we bring you this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

This is Richard Joseph.

What an amazing story that you've been sharing with me.

So you fall asleep thinking that you're probably going to be all right. You're tired of waiting. Take us through what happens after that.

This is what, Sunday night?

RICHARD JOSEPH, HOME DESTROYED BY FIRE: Sunday night. I had been watching the shows all night long about the fires and so I was up all night long and fell asleep roughly about 3:30 right on my couch -- what used to be my couch. And since I had been up all night, I went down hard. And so some time after 4:00, I heard that two phone ring and...

SANCHEZ: That's that reverse 911 call that they're talking about.

JOSEPH: Which I hadn't heard about ever until that night.

SANCHEZ: So that phone call wakes you up?

JOSEPH: And that is what woke me up, because I was just completely out of it. So I got up. As soon as I heard it, I knew what it was. I didn't even have to answer the phone. And...

SANCHEZ: And you went to the back, right?

JOSEPH: I did.

SANCHEZ: You were telling me that you were over here when this happened. You go to the back of the house...


SANCHEZ: ...and you realize the fire is basically on your back porch.

JOSEPH: The first thing I did was yell for my wife and my daughter Cicely (ph) to get up. And knew I that I only had two minutes to get out of there. But when I walked back and opened the curtain up, it was already on fire. The whole thing was ablaze. And I...

SANCHEZ: You wake...

JOSEPH: ...thought it was actually too late.

SANCHEZ: You wake up in the middle of the night and your house is on fire?

JOSEPH: Completely. I -- and the whole back is flaming. And at that point, I thought it was too late. I thought the whole house was engulfed. So we did a textbook evacuation. I got like...

SANCHEZ: Which is like, everybody, let's go now, right?

JOSEPH: Without anything, with -- these are the only jeans that I own (INAUDIBLE).

SANCHEZ: This is -- that's the back -- this is what's left of your house.


SANCHEZ: That's the back over there. Just walk over here and we'll try and get as close as we can. That's the back of your house over there. So this is the front.


SANCHEZ: This is where you -- so you roust your daughter and your wife out of bed.

JOSEPH: Right here.

SANCHEZ: Right here. And you take off.

That's your car?

JOSEPH: That was my beloved Boxster. But I had another car right outside in the driveway, luckily. And I wasn't ready to go for the fire.


JOSEPH: And as soon as I opened it up, I knew there was an inferno. I opened up this front door with my baby in my arms and it looked...

SANCHEZ: Your daughter? JOSEPH: My daughter.


JOSEPH: And it just looked like lava flowing in the air and the wind was howling.

SANCHEZ: So you literally -- you literally got out in the nick of time?

JOSEPH: That was it. Without that call, you wouldn't be talking to me right now.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you a question. This report today that these fires may have been set intentionally by arsonists, how does that make you feel as you look at what's left of your home?

JOSEPH: I'm thankful to be alive, because without that 9/11 call, I wouldn't be talking with you.

SANCHEZ: But I mean the idea somebody could have set these fires on purpose and your house may be destroyed because some joker decided it would be funny to start a fire.

JOSEPH: It's upsetting no matter how the house went down. But when it comes to arsonists and looters, you know, this -- these are my friends out here helping me. And so I've been focused more on that.

SANCHEZ: And you're just trying to go through everything you can.


SANCHEZ: Richard Joseph, thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

JOSEPH: It was a pleasure.


SANCHEZ: We certainly appreciate it.

JOSEPH: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: The arson story, though, you know, that's a -- that's a very important part of this whole subject. It's what has been the big buzz here all day long today with investigators. What they're saying is that there is a possibility that, you know, they might be able to make a couple of arrests soon on this. They've been looking at a couple of different things.

In fact, we're joined now by a couple of people.

First of all, we've got Sheriff Mike Carona from Orange County, who's joining us to talk about this investigation.

And we also have Mike Jarvis, who's here with us now, also talking to us about what's going on.

Let's start with this -- is there a possibility, do you think, at this point, that this thing will be solved any time soon?

Or is it really hard to nail cases like this down, Mike?

MIKE JARVIS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CAL FIRE: Well, we're pretty good at getting the details on a case and the evidence put together to get a conviction. The question is putting all the pieces together. My law enforcement folks tell me -- just a few minutes ago they told me we've two cases that look like definite arson, two that look suspicious and the rest are probably going to be connected to wind-driven events.

SANCHEZ: Mike Carona, how do you solve a case that involves destruction?

I mean if someone burns all the evidence, how can you find evidence that you can use against them?

SHERIFF MIKE CARONA, ORANGE COUNTY: You know, the people who work on arson files, Rick, are very good at what they do. One, we find the point of origination. We look at the detonation devices. They start to work through that. Now, with technology and the ability to analyze not only the source contents, but DNA, there's a lot of technology that's out there.

Ultimately, though, what we're looking for is leads from the public. The best thing that we can possibly get is somebody who saw something unusual in the area before the event took place.

SANCHEZ: Is there a possibility that somebody who does something like this would want to go and brag about it and tell somebody, who would then, perhaps, pick up the phone and call you?

CARONA: Well, you know, Rick, I'm not a behavioral scientist. But when you look at profiles of the individuals who have committed arson in the past, they like to watch their work. They like to talk about the work that they've done. So your point is very well taken. Those are the types of leads that we're looking for -- somebody who seems to be very interested in the fires that have taken place out in Santiago Canyon; somebody who's talking about it; somebody who may be even bragging about it. All those are great leads for us to start working in trying to solve these crimes.

SANCHEZ: Mike, do we know if these particular fires were involved in burning down people's homes in the Santiago Fire?

JARVIS: I can't go into any detail on specific fires. I wish I could give you something. I just know that they're looking at all the angles on it.

SANCHEZ: I guess what I'm trying to figure out is just how much damage did these guys do?

Did they just -- did they burn down wild land or did they actually burn down property? JARVIS: Well, I can't stop -- I can't talk to specific fires. But any time you have an arson, it does damage. It does damage to property or even wild land. Arson is arson.

SANCHEZ: How bad was the Santiago Fire, Sheriff Mike Carona, do we know?

CARONA: Yes, Rick, it's been horrific out here. We have over 23,000 acres that are burned. We have about 20 structures that have been burned.

Thank god -- good unified command. We lost no humans in this process.

But when you ask that question, Rick, about what's the impact of this -- millions and millions of dollars. And, frankly, if we could have redeployed the resources that were extended here in Orange County to Los Angeles County or to San Diego County, we probably would have been able to save lives out there and save structures.

This took a big chunk of resources out of a major metropolitan area in the State of California -- very expensive, very damaging, very, very destructive.

SANCHEZ: So that's the reason you tell people that you should be real careful, Mike, about calling firefighters unless you absolutely need them, because every time you have to send one of them to a citizen, that's fewer firefighters that you can use to put out fires?

JARVIS: Well, yes. The costs associated with it are staggering. But the main thing we want people to do right now is we want people to keep their eyes open, because it's still very dry down here. And, you know, you do get copycats. Things can happen.


JARVIS: So people need to be vigilant.

SANCHEZ: And the fires are still burning, aren't they?

JARVIS: They're still burning. We're getting a corner turned on some of them, but, as you can see today, it keeps rolling so.

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much.

JARVIS: Thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: We appreciate it.

Mike Jarvis, Sheriff Mike Carona.

When we come back, we're going to be talking to some of these people, who are going to be telling us their unbelievable stories of what it's like to come back to your home. It's heartbreaking, in many cases. But these are people who want to share their stories. They're Californians. They're resilient. This is a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

I'm Rick Sanchez.

We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was asleep in bed and the phone started ringing. It was the reverse 911, I guess. We picked up the phone, went down and made coffee and looked out the window and there were flames coming up the hill. The flames were at the house within minutes. So we had less than five minutes to get out. We didn't even have time to put on shoes when we left.



SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

I'm Rick Sanchez.

We want to take you now to Steele Canyon High School. That's right next to where the Harris Fire has been burning. And that's where we're going to be met by Tony and Brandy Clark. Their story is an interesting one. They still don't know if their home has survived the fire.

Tony and Brandy, what's the latest that you've heard from officials there?

When are they going to let you go and check out your belongings?

TONY CLARK, DOESN'T KNOW FATE OF HOME: About an hour ago, they started -- about an hour-and-a-half ago they started evacuating more people because the fire is being hit pretty hard in that area right now. So (INAUDIBLE)...

SANCHEZ: That's a stubborn fire.


SANCHEZ: I was just going to say...

CLARK: Yes, it is.

SANCHEZ: ...that's a stubborn fire, that Harris Fire.


SANCHEZ: So what are they telling you?

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.

CLARK: Well, the latest that we'd be able to get up there is November 4th. And that's -- that's maybe. That's if, you know, there aren't downed power lines, which there's going to be. So it may be two weeks.

SANCHEZ: I even understand that they wanted to evacuate you from the evacuation center there at Steele Canyon High School.

Is that true?

CLARK: At one point, it was going around, sort of, because on my left hand here where I'm standing, that whole mountain was on fire at one time.


Well, you know what?

We're being told that we might possibly lose this satellite. So we'll try and come back to you guys later.

Thanks so much for hanging in there.

We wish you the best of luck.

Juan Espana and Milena Carbarisa (ph) joining us now.

I understand you had a similar plight. You've come back and found that you've not only lost one home, but two homes?


SANCHEZ: How did that happen?

J. ESPANA: Well, we -- the homes are next to each other. We lived in one of the homes and rented the one right next to it.

SANCHEZ: Did your broken arm have something to do with this?

J. ESPANA: Oh, this was a few days before. So this has been a very lucky time for me.

SANCHEZ: What happened to your home?

When did you see the fire coming?

Do you have any idea or did you just find out afterward when you came back to visit?

MILENA ESPANA, FIRE DESTROYED THEIR 2 HOMES: Well, a friend of mine called me and told me that they were evacuating Rancho Bernardo.

Were it not for this friend, we would not have been able to save the little that we could save because the last we heard was the police telling people to evacuate. We never got the 211 call.

SANCHEZ: Take me through it, though. You went back to the home.

What did you do?

Did you start looking for the proper papers, maybe some special belongings?

What did you find?

J. ESPANA: Well, you know, I saw that the winds were extremely, you know, strong. So I imagine if there is a fire, it will be here in any -- any minute. So I started throwing documents into our van, in the back of our van, and trying to get anything of, you know, irreplaceable value.

SANCHEZ: Like what?

Like what?

What did you find?

J. ESPANA: Like documents, maybe, you know, one electronic device here and there that I really needed. And some pictures of our family, you know?

SANCHEZ: Did you get what you feel you needed to get out of there?


J. ESPANA: No. If we had had time -- if we had had 15 more minutes. But there was no time. It was like matter of seconds -- not seconds, maybe -- but, well, 20 seconds, 50 seconds.

SANCHEZ: Do you ask yourself, after you go through something like this, why me, god?

Why did you choose my house and let my neighbor's house still stand?

M. ESPANA: Well, those are questions that you try to ask yourself. But, you know, you never know. It's fate.

SANCHEZ: Is it frustrating, though?

M. ESPANA: Very.

J. ESPANA: Well, it is, obviously, yes.

You know, the first question is why me, why us?

Not only one house, but two houses. Well, they were next to each other so that explains a little bit why both.

But if you win the lottery, probably, you don't say why me, right?


J. ESPANA: So it has to happen to someone. And it's just matter of how -- it's probabilities.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Life is about good things and bad things, huh?

J. ESPANA: And, you know.


J. ESPANA: And I am not happy, but, you know, we'll try to make the best out of it.

SANCHEZ: It's very nice of you guys to come and share your story with us.

We certainly appreciate it.

J. ESPANA: Thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Another part of this very important story in California is why it's possible that some of the tankers -- tankers that maybe could have put out some of these fires on, let's say, either Saturday or Sunday, didn't get called down until Sunday -- or, pardon me, Monday.

I'm going to ask the governor of California about that directly.

Also, Chad Myers is going to be joining us to try to give us a sense of what's going to happen with what's left of these fires here in California.

You're watching a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

I'm Rick Sanchez.

We'll be right back.


BUSH: We're not going to forget you in Washington, D.C. That we want the people to know that there's a better day ahead. That today your life may look dismal, but tomorrow, life's going to be better. And to the extent that the federal government can help you, we want to do so.



SANCHEZ: A lot of questions still about weather, about wind, about whether there's enough wind to sustain what's left of these fires, also about the wind conditions on Saturday and Sunday and whether they really prevented some of those super tankers from flying. Some argue, you could have put these fires out. It's a very important part of the story.

Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez for this special edition of "Larry King Live." Let's go back out to Chad Myers in our Severe Weather Center. Chad first question is there enough winds still to sustain what's left of some of these fires, for example, the Harris fire that is getting extremely stubborn out in the southern part of the state.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's been so dry, honestly, Rick, they've had 2 inches of rain this year, you don't need wind to sustain a fire. A fire will just keep going by itself, whether you have the Santa Ana winds or not. The winds will be blowing back from ocean now, bringing in, one, marine layer and that is going to bring in humidity that will help, but it won't bring in rain but it will bring in humidity.

But it will also try to push the fire back on to the areas that has already burnt. That will help a little bit. The firefighters have to be very careful when that happens they're on the correct side of that wind, they're on the correct side of the fire.

Look at all this smoke we still have to deal with. Now, the wind is going to shift directions and blow in from the west. What will that do? It will take all the smoke and it is going to blow it back in land again and you will be breathing it all the way from Long Beach to almost Yuma, Arizona and all the way to the Palm desert and inland empire, you guys will smell a lot of smoke tomorrow. Winds are like 5, 6, 7, 8 miles per hour. That's about it for right now. You ask, Rick, how bad were the winds? They were really really blowing there for the end of Sunday into Monday.

I have this graphic; we worked this up for you. Look at these wind gusts. Laguna Peak, 50 miles an hour, this was Tuesday night and Camp Nine, 45 miles an hour. But on Sunday night we had Point Magu, 101 miles per hour and Laguna Peak 122. So there was certainly some limiting factor there how much you could get away with getting a plane in and out.

Now we also had some flight delays out of L.A.X. and others. So, yes, the winds are calming now but they were certainly ugly, very ugly as we got into the evening hours on Sunday and all day Monday. Where does this smoke go? This is national graphic service, excuse the colors. You will get a feel for the smoke that is now over the Pacific Ocean, where does it go? By tomorrow afternoon, it floats almost over Vegas. That's Nevada, all the way to Palm Springs, almost all the way to Parker and Needles and this red zone will be unhealthy for everyone as this smoke comes in from west to east, rather than the other way, blowing out to the ocean now.


SANCHEZ: Chad Myers thanks so much. I know people here will be say, as long as it gets out of here because they have been dealing with it so long. I asked Chad to explain what the weather conditions were here on Saturday and Sunday in particular because there's a story that we've been following about why those large international guard tankers weren't used on Saturday. Last night, I found Governor Schwarzenegger when he was visiting Steele Canyon High School and I asked him that question point-blank. There it is.


SANCHEZ (voice over): Do you wish those tankers, National Guard tankers had been called out on Saturday instead of Monday?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA: You have to understand, before you talk about infrastructure and before you talk about the resources, it's very important to first talk about the weather conditions. Can those aircraft fly? And one of the things from three different briefings was that the firefighters and the chiefs were very frustrated that they had aircrafts but they couldn't fly. This was the biggest problem was they had big winds and they had weather conditions that are unlike anything else. As a matter of fact, they said, of everything they've learned in the past was this time so different.

SANCHEZ: Let's fact check the governor, if we can. Joining us now is the commanding general of the California National Guard, major general William Wade is good enough to join us now. You heard what the governor said, that it was impossible to fly those planes and that decision was made on the ground. Is that right, sir?

Rick, we have an agreement when we fly National Guard assets in fire support that we would always be in support of call fire. It's cal fire that makes the decisions on whether or not it's safe to fly. They are the experts and I would never even try to second-guess their ability to determine what safe and unsafe conditions are.

SANCHEZ: Let me just ask you point-blank, you know c-130s, you've been around the military long enough. Have you seen c-130s fly in the past in those types of conditions, apparently tropical storm winds is how they're being described?

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM H. WADE, CLAIFORNIA NATIOANL GUARD: We've all seen aircraft fly in different conditions, and they bounce around. Once again, cal fire are the experts. I fly for them. If their experts say it's not safe flying conditions, the aircraft do not leave the ground because they are the ones whose determine who flies and who does not fly.

SANCHEZ: What I'm hearing you say though is that they made the decision. Did at any time they call you and ask you whether you would be willing to put your planes in the air?

WADE: No. That was not something that was asked of me. I can't stress enough, they are the experts in this, Rick, they're the ones that make the call as to whether you fly or you don't fly.

SANCHEZ: So for the record, then, the state of California made a decision that they would not call the National Guard over at the channel base, to see if they could possibly use those c-130s to douse the fires either on Saturday or Sunday, is that correct?

WADE: I can't speak to what the state did or did not do. I'm telling you--

SANCHEZ: Well lets just, we'll go with the California flyer then.

WADE: Once again, I think the easiest way I can say this, cal fire makes the determination and tells the fire manager on board the aircraft will fly or won't fly.

SANCHEZ: Do you suspect that in the future, they're going to be looking at this possible to see if they should maybe use these types of aircraft in a situation like this?

WADE: Rick, every time we do one of these emergencies, we always follow it up with a very in-depth after action review. We go back and look at our policies and procedures and every time we can make an improvement, we do. We do it internally and also do it with the other state agencies we support.

Major general William Wade is good enough to join us, a job well done as usual, thank you.

WADE: Thanks, Rick.

SANCHEZ: We're going to be talking to a couple named the Pivos. I went to visit them today. Their story is unbelievable. We were there just as they arrived to see what was left of their home, a magnificent home, husband, wife, their two children. They share their story. It's a heartbreaking one. Stay with us as this special edition of "Larry King Live" will be right back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

There it goes, 12,000 gallons of fire dropped from a dc-10, can lay down a fire line 3/4 of a mile long. blanketing part of the Harris fire. An average IR tanker can cover a few hundred yards of the Harris fire. The dc-10 can lay down a fire line three-quarters of a mile long.


SANCHEZ: It is indeed a harvest moon over parts of southern California today. The death toll, as you can see, seven now related to fires, more bodies that they've been finding throughout the day. There's also an arson investigation going on and there are a lot of questions that are taking place as well.

Welcome back everyone, I'm Rick Sanchez filling in for LARRY KING LIVE. One of the most gut wrenching stories today for southern California, is that of families, many of them going back to their homes today. They were allowed in, in many parts, unfortunately, what they found when they returned to their home was just ashes. They're trying to go through and see what they can kind of their belongings. It's heart wrenching just to watch. I joined a family today, the Pivos, Bob and Kathy, as they shared with me and now with you, what it's like to go through an experience like this.


SANCHEZ: You turned this into a room, right?

BOB PIVOS: Yeah, it was garbage and we, you know, took the garbage door out, built a porch out of it and made it look like the rest of the porches around the house.

SANCHEZ: How tough was this for you to come back and see this? KATHY PIVOS: It was really tough. Glad the cameras weren't on when I first looked at it. It's unbelievable. I saw the flames coming. I was standing over there watching them. This was my house. My kids were freaking out. I told my husband, that's it.

SANCHEZ: What did you think?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): It was scary.

SANCHEZ: Does it bug you when your momma's sad? She's OK, though, right?


SANCHEZ: She needs you to give her a big hug, though? You going to do that? There you go. Where are we here? This was the kitchen?

K. PIVOS: This was the kitchen. We made them into double doors you could see out, the view.

SANCHEZ: Look at that. That's the view looking out your kitchen. Wow.

K. PIVOS: You know how hard it is to house hunt and find something you agree on. This was it.

SANCHEZ: Look at this view. It actually looks, even after the fire, as we're looking at this frame that we're looking at a picture.

K. PIVOS: It was --

SANCHEZ: It looks like a mural.

K. PIVOS: It was a serene place to raise your children.


SANCHEZ: Unbelievable story. Beautiful home, beautiful family, by the way. We'll keep tabs on the family. They say they will be rebuilding their homes. We have another family we'll be introducing you to in just a little bit. This is the O'Sullivans. They have an unbelievable story to share with you as well. Stand by. We'll be telling you as this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE continues from southern California.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Anderson Cooper standing by to tell you what's coming up in the next hour. Anderson, what you got?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Rick. Tonight on "360," a ride through the air to kill the fire's blow, we'll take you on a navy water dumping mission and some are questioning whether it's too little too late, we are keeping them honest,

Plus the latest on the investigation into the fires themselves. We are tens of thousands of acres deliberately scorched? We are going to go up close on the arson investigation. And I join one family on their journey back home to see if their worst fears have been realized, it is quite a story. All this on "360" at the top of the hour.

SANCHEZ: We'll look forward to it Anderson, thanks so much.

Meanwhile, we have got another family to introduce you to. Imagine coming by and finding so little of your home left. This is the O'Sullivan family; they are good enough to join us. This is Patrick and Patricia and Lauren. Lauren, you are a newlywed?

LAUREN: Yes, I am. About four months now.

SANCHEZ: Four months after you get married, something like this happens?

LAUREN: Yes. My dress was still in the house but we have so many memories of the backyard barbecues and family coming together. At least we have that.

SANCHEZ: Seems like you're in great spirits. Somebody else might go through the situation and be less strong?

LAURA: We're really lucky to have great friends and family coming together and we are going through al the rubble today and people just showed up and said where can I start helping and we're really really lucky.

SANCHEZ: Part of what people are doing, you were taking me through this Patrick a moment ago, going through the rubble and sifting and looking for any belonging and memento that you might want to keep. What is that like?

PATRICK O'SULLIVAN: It's tough. We know what it means to us to if they lost their prize possessions in their home. So they are volunteering and we don't even know who these people are.

SANCHEZ: Absolute strangers are come into your home and going through everything?

P. O'SULLIVAN: Absolute strangers. Several came by today and they started sifting through the rubble with us, asked us what they should be looking for and we told them and they started looking.

SANCHEZ: Seem like good people. Mom, what have you found out there so far?

PATRICIA O'SULLIVAN: Well I don't have any memories of my parents and all of my mother's jewelry and being an only child, it had all gone and my husband actually found my dad's wedding ring. That is important, some family history. Every photo that we had is gone, every item of clothing is gone and devastating to come back to your house and find nothing but ash, not even a trace of a picture.

SANCHEZ: This gentleman over here I was talking to, I was helping him go through what was left of his house and we found a lot of coins, much of it melted away. He's finding it in bunches almost. Are you finding that as well?

P. O'SULLIVAN: Exactly the same thing, all the crystal has melted together, all the metal has melted in one big lump. Hard to identify what it was, we just know from where it fell, positioned in the house from where the fire started.

SANCHEZ: From where do you draw your strength to be able to get through something like this?

P. O'SULLIVAN: Well I have to say, it's this community. I am so honored to be a member of the San Diego Community, I'm so in ah how people have reached out to us, all the love that they've shown, people offered us their homes, meals, come in and given us cash. We are absolutely blown away by that. We are so touched.

SANCHEZ: Lauren, how is this going to affect the marriage? Are you guys going to be able to get through this? Maybe have another ceremony or something to celebrate when you redo the home?

LAUREN: We are really lucky because my husband's family is like our second family and already started helping us with rebuilding plans and making sure that they are our second family here and making sure we have the backup that we need. We're really lucky to have them. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Family has been really good in something like this, huh? It almost brings you closer together, doesn't it?

P. O'SULLIVAN: It certainly does, not just our immediate family, call from Ireland, all over this nation, but neighbors, we really are closer to our neighbors than we were and real genuine concern, people actually offering things, not just calling to see if we can help but actually doing things. That's so comforting to us to find the kind of relationship.

P. O'SULLIVAN: Strangers have walked up to us and given us hugs and food and just offers of help.

SANCHEZ: You seem like wonderful people. Patrick, Patricia, Lauren, thanks so much for sharing your story tonight.

P. O'SULLIVAN: Thank you, San Diego, thank you for all your caring and concern and prayers and we really appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.

SANCHEZ: That's great. That is wonderful. Guys we'll be talking to you as the story continues. Certainly a lot more here as this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE continues with stories of so many people coming home to find really nothing but rubble. The resilience is absolutely astounding. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I've been talking to a lot of police officers here and they said there's a lot of confusion today, because the city of San Diego put out an announcement that all the folks who live in San Diego proper, the city that is, could return to their homes. People as far away as several miles and to the south and north decided they thought they lived in San Diego so they tried to return to their homes and they were turned away. Somebody who can clear this up for us is deputy chief special ops Byron Fennessy. If you live in the city of San Diego, you can go back to your home tonight?

That's correct. I really don't know how that message got mixed up. It was provided and appeared to be very clear. We saw it on television being streamed below. It's been chaotic. People are very upset, lost homes. It's not unusual, having been through this many times before in many areas of the western United States, this isn't at all uncommon.

Is this the toughest crisis this city or under your leadership has ever gone through?

DEPPUTY CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY, S.D. FIRE DEPT. SP OPS: I have to say it is or it is very close to being it. I mean devastated. Look at our citizens. Our community has been put out. Our firefighters, our police officer, you probably heard it, stories of heroism; we're so proud of our firefighters and of our police officers here. That has been the upside. The tragedy is the community.

SANCHEZ: You guys have worked seemingly, as I've been watching it, following and covering the fires, your relationship with the state guy, cal fire, seems to be pretty dead on. I'm not sure with the Feds but with the state, it's been so good.

FENNESSY: Well let me tell you this, it's so good, that we have partnered with Cal fire to bring down the Martin Mars water bombing airplane, I don't think you've seen it yet, 7200 gallons, it drops gel. Right now it's at Lake Ellsinore ready to fight fire down there.

SANCHEZ: When is it coming in?

FENNESSY: As soon as there is a request for it. It's a seaplane that drops 72,000 gallons. We the city of San Diego are managing it. Cal fire is bankrolling it. It came out of Vancouver yesterday and it is ready to go. That's how good our relationship is.

SANCHEZ: Thanks for coming by. We appreciate it.


SANCHEZ: We have another family we want to introduce you to before we go. This is Dan Restifo and daughter Alisha?

I just met your mother moments ago and said she was a little queasy about coming on here. Your message is that the people of this community have been doing a wonderful job for you and you lost your home? DAN RESTIFO: They've been very helpful and people that still need help. The Rock Church is helping people with bed and food and shelter. If anyone wants to help, they can send money and food in that direction.

SANCHEZ: I'm looking at your eyes. They're very red and sore. Is it pain or lack of sleep or general sadness from losing your home?

D. RESTIFO: Both. We were just at our home and looking around. It burned to the ground like this one. There's nothing there. Our possessions aren't there, but our family got out and our dog got out and we're very thankful and thank the lord for that.

SANCHEZ: You're keeping your family together at a time like this. I know as a guy sometimes you don't want to show it or cry or be sad. But inside you re taking what?

D. RESTIFO: Well I am hurting and glad that all our friends can support us and take care of us in a time like this. Because a lot of people are going back to their homes and it is the ones that don't have any one to go to.

SANCHEZ: It is interesting how you are thinking of other people. What do you have to say about your dad?

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I thank him so much because he helps our family out by getting us out quick.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much, we appreciate it. God bless you, hope everything works out. Thanks for coming by and sharing your story with us. That is it for this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Rick Sanchez, thanks so much for allowing us to bring you this special story from southern California, into your homes. Anderson Cooper coming up next with a special edition of "Anderson Cooper 360." Good night. .