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California Still Burning; Obama's Goodbye; California Homes Destroyed; Mortgage Bailout; Cutting Back Expenses; Catholic Priest Scolds Congregation

Aired November 16, 2008 - 9:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hello everybody. On this Sunday morning, we have a lot to tell you about. First up, we have pictures we want to give you. This out in Sylmar, California, as that state is still on fire, many of the areas, they cannot simply contain the wildfires that are burning at this hour. We have updates on the numbers, when it comes to how many fires, how much acreage has been burned as well as how many homes destroyed.
TJ HOLMES, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Also, got some new names to share with you, this morning. Obama's transition team, maybe a few more announcements, a few more members to add to the team. We will tell you which ones and some might sound familiar to you.

NGUYEN: Also, a rally in support of a South Carolina preacher that made controversial comments. This morning why other Catholic authorities say he is wrong.

And also this morning, ideas about how to live cheap. OK, here's one. Would you trade in your dog or cat for, say, a fish?

HOLMES: Doesn't sound like the best idea, but I see what they are getting at.

NGUYEN: You have both.

HOLMES: I got rid of the fish, though.

NGUYEN: Oh, did you already? You already traded in the fish. That's not going to work. Well, we've got other ideas, folks, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, good morning, everybody, I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: And hello to you all, I'm T.J. Holmes. Let's start out in southern California, a scene we've been watching for the past several days, now. A scary situation out there, wildfires burning in several areas around Los Angeles. These pictures coming to you from Yoruba Linda, Sylmar and Montecito. More than 10,000 people forced to flee their homes because of the fires. Some are beginning to return, but they are returning to pretty much nothing.

NGUYEN: All right, so take a look at this map. We want to break it down for you. Fires have broken out in steep hillsides and wooded areas. Temperatures around L.A., get this, in the 90s. I know it is November, still very hot there, though, with little humidity and high winds -- all key ingredients for spreading these fires. Take you to Chino Hills, a neighborhood there. Firefighters want to put out any sparks that -- joining them in the street, anxious residents watching smoke pour over nearby hills. That is a scary sight when your home is so close.

Nearly 16,000 acres have burned around L.A., hundreds of homes have gone up in smoke. And the fires are also making it hard to get around several highways have been closed because of thick smoke and blowing embers.

HOLMES: We have been getting help with a lot of our affiliates and our affiliate reporters out there in southern California, helping us cover this story and bringing it to you. Kirk Hawkins is one of them, he is with our affiliate KCAL, he's in Yoruba Linda this morning. He's telling us now just how close these fires are coming to some homes. Let's take a listen.

KIRK HAWKINS, REPORTER, KCAL: ...firefighters have been watching these flare-ups have closely as the winds have been gradually picking up and gusting over the past hour, hour-and-half, two hours, here. And within the last, let's see, hour and a half, 3:30, there is a huge flare-up, very dramatic, we were here. It came close to a pump station. Almost engulfed that pump station. And then flames literally climbed all the way around this community and surrounded this community for a time. But, the flames died down and now we are at the situation where we are now where a lot of the residents are watching and waiting, as are the firefighters.

But, the one thing that could be a concern to these residents is there is a front, a line of fire that is climbing the hillside just behind this community and when we look up, we can see there, it's just kind of an orange-amber color around the top of the ridgeline. We're going to try to move around, maneuver around and give you a look what that looks like, there.

There it is, that is one of the lines that is coming closer on the other side of this community from where we experienced those dramatic flames earlier this morning. That is one area that residents are keeping a very close eye on as the flames continue to work their way up and potentially around the hill.

NGUYEN: And we will continue to the fires out West, but in the meantime, we want to bring you up to speed on this particular story. The Iraqi cabinet, this morning, approved a long-awaited security pact with the U.S. and according to an Iraqi spokesman, it says a June deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities and towns, all troops would have to be out of the country by the end of 2011. Now, this draft goes before the country's 275 seat parliament for a vote.

Back here in the states, talking about extreme weather, Deadly thunderstorms and tornadoes tear through North Carolina. Officials say a child and another person were killed by the fast-moving storms early yesterday morning. Today, the state's governor is expected tour some of the areas that were hardest hit.

At least a half dozen homes are damaged and officials estimate 9,000 power customers lost electricity at one point.

HOLMES: Well, more than a week now after California passed Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state. Thousands across the U.S. turned out to protest it. They carried signs and chanted in cities like Boston, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Seattle.

Organizers say they're fighting to be able to care for their ailing partner, for tax breaks, and the Social Security benefits that legally married couples do have.

Now, more same-sex marriage rallies, got one in Atlanta to show you, here. This is outside Atlanta city hall, a couple from iReporters on the scene, yesterday. Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only two states that allow same-sex marriages.

NGUYEN: Well, we want you to think of all the homeowners who watched everything that they own burn down to the ground over the last couple of days. Well, they now have to go and file those insurance claims. California's insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, joins me by phone.

Commissioner, I thank you for join us. I know you got a lot on your hands, but as we look at the live pictures and see the fires continue to burn in neighborhoods, nearly 16,000 acres had been charred, hundreds of homes destroyed. What information do people need to begin filing a claim?

STEVE POIZNER, CA INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: Well, first of all, Betty, they do need to contact their insurance company quickly, as soon as possible. And the claims process will start when basic claims paperwork comes from the insurance company. They just need to fill out the basic information and get the claims process started.

NGUYEN: How long does that take? And what kind of information do they need to at least salvage from their homes?

POIZNER: All they need is to call the insurance company and to identify that their home had serious fire damage, give them the address of the property, that's all they need to get the claims process started.

NGUYEN: OK. How long does it take?

POIZNER: You should be able goat the process started just in a few minutes. Once you get the insurance company on the phone, that -- all the major insurance companies in California, we've made sure they have special SWAT Teams now helping fire victims, 24/7. There's special 800 numbers you can call. In fact, you can call us at the Department of Insurance if you're having any problems or questions about the claims process.

NGUYEN: All right, but if your home is burned to the ground and you have nowhere to go until those claims have been processed through the system and you start rebuilding that home, what do you do in the meantime? How long will you wait? And is there any chance that you will be reimbursed for the expenses that will be incurred because of the fact that you have nowhere to go?

POIZNER: Yes. Almost all California homeowners and insurance policies cover living expenses while you are out of your home. Even if your home hasn't had any fire damage, but you have been forced to evacuate, then room and board, hotel bills, food, covered by most homeowners' insurance policies.

NGUYEN: OK. A bit of good news, though. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for many of these counties affected and that frees up funding. How is that going to help the situation?

POIZNER: Well, the money coming in from the state will help make sure that the fires are put out, first and foremost. That the fires are still not completely contained, as you know. That the first priorities, make sure people are safe and evacuated and fires are contained as soon as possible.

NGUYEN: Here's something I want to ask quickly, because we do have reports that show that some two dozen fraud investigators have been dispatched. Is the stated Department of Insurance worried that some of the fires were intentionally set?

POIZNER: No. But, these fraud investigators come from, you know, my team at the Department of Insurance. It is like clockwork, though, that event time there's natural disasters, that the scam artists do show up shortly after the fires start, pretending to be claims adjusters or contractors, trying to rip off these fire victims. So, we send in my team early to work with local law enforcement, we go under cover sometimes, we're going to nip it in the bud. Anyone who tries to rip off the fire victim will get arrested. And we've already arrested several dozen just over the last year in other types of fires like this.

NGUYEN: OK. Good information, there. Steve Poizner with the California Insurance Department, in fact the commissioner, there. Thank you so much for your time, today.

POIZNER: Thank you.

HOLMES: As we continue now, we wouldn't turn to another one of our affiliate reporters at KCAL, covering the fires there in southern California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, REPORTER, KCAL: Dave, this is where the two fires will probably meet at some point. We're on Carbon Canyon. Down this way, this is the Brea Fire, the Chino Hills Fire. A lot of smoke. I don't know if you can see it out in the darkness. We saw some of the fire breaking through.

And Henry, if we can swing around this side, the Brea Fire down this way, and you can see that up on the hillside there, so right about where we're standing here, they're expecting these two fires to meet at some point and very soon because the winds are really whipping up.

They have just increased the mandatory evacuations for this entire area, here at Carbon Canyon, because of the fire. And you can see the fair off in the distance, there. And that area there is the Brea fire. We swing around this side, the Chino Hills area, way back up there, Olinda and that's where that fire is steaming in this direction.

Mike Mohler with Riverside County Fire is over here, her's been monitoring the whole situation, here.

Mike, these fires, I guess technically have met at some point, right, now?

MIKE MOHLER, RIVERSIDE CO FIRE DEPT: Yes, here Carbon Canyon the fires have merged, so for the firefighting standpoint, it is just a larger fire front than we have right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as far as structures, you were telling me there were some structures back there up in the Olinda area that have been hit?

MOHLER: We have lost some structures. Our structures have been destroyed, we don't have an exact count, that's an active firefight back there, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, so how do you fight this situation? Sort of the worst fear that everyone was talking about overnight where these two fires merging, right?

MOHLER: You know, the -- we prepared for that. When the fires merged, the engines were already in place, our resources were already in place. What we're doing is we're making a stand, we still have the winds, so we've gotten out in front of this. Structure protection is our priority, right now, so we've set up out in front of this fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, tell the people around here...

NGUYEN: And we'll continue to follow those fires throughout the morning. A big story out Wst as they continue to burn at this hour.

Meantime though, President-elect Barack Obama tidying up some final business on his last day as a state senator.

HOLMES: Yeah, he's going to be out of a job, today, leaving the U.S. Senate. We'll tell you about the message he's leaving for his home state and his plans for tomorrow as he transitions to the White House.


HOLMES: And another live look as starting to get some daylight out there on the situation in Chino Hills in southern California. The hills are on fire out there, quite literally. As you can see how close these flames are getting to this particular neighborhood, there, and you see people gathered, trying their best to make those fire lines and trying their best to put out these fires. Several fires out there burning, most of them still not contained.

Our Thelma Gutierrez is out there in Chino Hills for us, this morning, she joins us on the phone.

Thelma, tell us what it has been for you this morning getting to -- trying to get around and just tell us what the scene is like as we look at these live pictures.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: T.J., yes. We're here, right in front of the subdivision that is called (INAUDIBLE), it's an area that's very populated, it's right on the hill. And many of the residents have been standing out here. They're watching this area.

A short time ago, as we drove into this area, we could see a little glowing in the distance as we pulled up many residents were standing outside watching. Many have been evacuated from their homes. The fire, as we are driving up right now, I can tell you, burnt right down to the street. That area was put out and now what they are looking at are the flames right down on the ridge. And so they are hoping that the flames don't crest the ridge and one thing that has been helping, T.J., is the fact that the winds have been blowing the fire opposite the homes so that has been a huge break for the people.

HOLMES: Oh well that is good news to hear, at least. Again, we continue to watch these live pictures and see these firefighters try to put this particular fire out and keep it from getting to those homes.

Thelma, what have you been seeing and getting around and getting to the scene this morning, are far as, are there people still out and about? Always -- I'm not sure exactly about that particular evacuation area, but do you see people around? And we often see in times like these, some people are going to stick around and fight their best and do it on their own to try to save their home.

GUTIERREZ: Well, I can tell you that police have this area very well controlled. The folks who live in this subdivision, at least up along that ridge, have been evacuated. They have been moved out of the area so that they are not there to impede any kind of rescue efforts. They are down in one of the strip malls that's nearby. They have been watching the flames, hoping, of course it doesn't crest the ridge.

But, other than that, people have been standing around, it's rather calm. They are, you know, having their coffee and just waiting, pretty much. Very confident, though, at least at this point, the people that we've talked to, that they'll be OK. So, that's what we're hoping for and everyone's keeping their fingers crossed and one good thing I can tell you, T.J., is that it is not windy at all where we are right now and that is a huge break for firefighters.

HOLMES: Well, I know a lot of people will be glad to hear that. Firefighters have been hoping to get help from the wind, certainly some other areas, still some wind picking up, but good to hear at least in that area. Again, Thelma Gutierrez for us, there in Chino Hills.

Thelma, appreciate you this morning.

NGUYEN: Well, let's get to politics, now. And President-elect Barack Obama sends a big thank you to the people of Illinois as he leaves his post as U.S. senator. Now, for the details, let's go live to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, I understand his farewell message was actually printed in today's Chicago paper.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Betty. That's right. This is the "Sun-Times," and this where Barack Obama essentially is thanking the people here of Illinois and saying goodbye. He is resigning from the Senate, as you know.

In this statement, Barack Obama saying, "Today I am ending one journey to begin another. After serving the people of Illinois in the United States Senate -- one of the highest honors and privileges of my life -- I am stepping down as senator to prepare for the responsibilities I will assume as our nation's next president. But I will never forget, and will forever be grateful, to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible."

And Betty, he goes on to talk about that another son of Illinois left for Washington, that being Abraham Lincoln, he often likes to invoke his name, Abraham Lincoln. It's one of the things that's he's also looking at -- Abraham Lincoln's modeled, his approach to governing and that was essentially reaching out to his rivals, reaching out to those he thought perhaps most capable in filling some of those positions, but still those who had differences of opinions. We are already seeing that in the Obama administration. Just this past week or so, Barack Obama reaching out, for instance, to Senator Hillary Clinton as a possible pick for secretary of state, among many others - Betty.

NGUYEN: On top of that, he has been very busy today. We understand that there have been names to three different posts that have been announced.

MALVEAUX: There are senior staff, they're key positions at the White House. They're familiar names for those of us who cover Washington politics, they've been around for quite some time. Peter Rouse, he's Obama's chief of staff in the Senate, he's going to be a key adviser in Washington. Mona Sutphen, she was in the Clinton administration, a member of the National Security Council. She's going to be one of the deputy chiefs of staff. Another deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, he served as chief of staff for three Democratic senators, he's going to be one of those deputies.

Three key posts that they're actually filling, also the top lawyer, Greg Craig who represented President Clinton in the impeachment trial, he's going to be White House counsel, a key figure in the Obama administration -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Boy, this transition team has been very busy over the past couple of days. They don't take any time off on the weekends and neither do you, Suzanne, but we do appreciate your time.

MALVEAUX: No, they don't. OK, thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, his company helped kids around the world, but don't you call him CEO. This guy goes by Chief Shoe Giver and his work has taken him "To the Top."


BLAKE MYCOSKIE, TOMS SHOES: I had no experience in shoes, no experience in fashion, but I knew I wanted to give kids shoes.

NGUYEN: On a trip to Argentina, Blake Mycoskie was moved by the poverty he saw, there.

MYCOSKIE: Most of the kids didn't have shoes and that, believe it or not, was the thing that most surprising to me.

NGUYEN: So, he came up with an idea, creating TOMS shoes. The name with a play on words that means Shoes for Tomorrow.

MYCOSKIE: But I said, I'm going to take your -- the alpargata, the Argentine national shoe that farmers have been wearing for hundreds of years, I was going to redesign it and every time I sold one, I was going to bring one back to these children in Argentina.

NGUYEN: Mycoski has given away more than 85,000 pairs of shoes since starting the company two years ago. This year, he hopes to give away 200,000 pairs. He's held shoe drops in places like Ethiopia and South America. Now his mission is helping kids in the U.S.

CHILDREN: Good morning.

NGUYEN: Last month, he held a shoe drop to help those kids hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.

MYCOSKIE: Whether you are in South Africa or Argentina, or Mississippi, kids needs shoes and it protects them when they're walking to school and also it's a big thing for self-esteem.

I had no idea what the effect of the emotionally and spiritually to me of actually putting shoes on people's feet. This is what I'm going to do the rest of my life.


HOLMES: All right. One of our "To the Top" stories, there, and a good one to see.

All right, but what we have been following this morning, the breaking story here in the U.S., that, fires, southern California, several of them burning, several of them still not contained. Firefighters do their best right now to protect life and property. We are on top of all of these fast-moving fires. Stay with us.


HOLMES: All right, another live picture here out of southern California, again, daylight starting to shine on the situation out there. These fires have been burning the past several days. Several of them now up to 16,000 acres now have been burned by these fires and very little containment of them. We see this one that has -- you can see that black, that charred area, it's just gone right up into the neighborhood. But, thankfully we do not see any of those houses on fire.

We have seen plenty of neighborhoods, Betty, over the past several days, looking just like that subdivisions where you can see those individual fires, each house, on fire and burning. So, no situation like that in this particular neighborhood. But, firefighters continue to work at and they have a lot of work on their hands.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, because the winds have not been helping and the question today is when will they? Let's turn to CNN's Karen Maginnis in the Severe Weather Center.

Karen, you know, we were looking at hurricane-forced winds yesterday, talked to you a little bit earlier today, you said it doesn't seem like it's really going to get much better.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It looks like the winds may come down just a notch, but it's really nothing that's going to be very significant. We'll start to see the significance come into tomorrow. It's kind of a wide view, but we are going to zoom down and take a look at what's happening in southern California -- Yorba Linda, Orange County, they're saying about.a hundred structures burned to the ground.

There you can see some of the Chino Hills area, that's it right there. Here's Yoruba Linda. We also had a fire reported near Anaheim, as well, but it has primarily been around that Chino Hills, the Carbon Canyon area that we have seen just about the worst.

This is what we were talking a lot about yesterday, the Sylmar, California, area and the San Fernando Valley. There you can see just those signatures of fires that are moved up into the foothills as well as into the mountains. Those being the San Gabriel Mountains.

And then, what started it all, this is Thursday near Montecito, that's just inland from Santa Barbara and down south just a little bit, that's where we were looking at some blazes that developed there, as well.

All right, let's show you what's happening as far as our red-flag warnings are concerned. Yes, we have them, again, today, across southern California, primarily from Ventura County all the way down towards Orange County, portions of San Bernardino County as well. And we are looking at the wind gusts still expected to be between 60 and 70. We just have not seen them increase in the last couple of hours. We thought by daybreak that they would start to really increase has not happened yet.

But, red-flag warnings still in effect. Tomorrow, that ridge of high pressure shifts and we'll start to see the winds back off rather significantly in the next 24 to 36 hours. T.J., Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: All right, Karen. We are hearing about various bailouts now that a new plan to help struggling homeowners on the table. The question is will it work? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: And here we are folks, the live pictures we've been bringing to you this morning, this one from Chino Hills in southern California. You can see that smoke raising into the air on this Sunday morning. That represents fires going on down there.

Some video, we just saw, you can see these firefighters doing what they do. Trying to create a fire line there, if you will, trying to not give that fire anything else -- any more fuel so maybe it will stop along that line. Because the vantage point we are looking at here, where this camera view is, is right above, pretty much, someone's home. So, this is kind of what some people are looking out of their back windows, their backyards, and they see this hoping that this fire line works for these firefighters you see down there working and hundreds of them have been working diligently for the past several days.

NGUYEN: And unfortunately we have watched hundreds of homes burn to the ground in these past few days. With these wildfires, we've talked about families fleeing with what little they can grab to get out of harm's way, but we haven't talked a lot about the animals that are directly in the fire's path.

We have some video of some horses that were near to where the wildfires are. Now, these are some that are being led away. But a little earlier, here it is, you see them and it appears their pinned in as the fire gets increasingly closer to them. So, just imagine what a lot of people are dealing with, not only trying to get themselves and their families out of harm's way, but as well, rescuing the animals.

HOLMES: And other stories we are covering this weekend. Excuse me. Excuse me. World leaders, unveiling plans for dealing were the global economic crisis after a two-day meeting in Washington. Leaders from 20 nations endorsed several measures, including interest rate cuts by central banks or more stimulus packages.

NGUYEN: And there's a big hookup today if space. The shuttle "Endeavour" is dock thing afternoon with the International Space Station. The crew members are on a makeover mission. They're going to upgrade the space station, adding the all-important kitchen and of course, a bathroom, couple of bedrooms. Not too shabby for outer space.

HOLMES: Looks like a nice place.

Well, those wildfires, again, 16,000 acres, that's the number expected to grow, though. That's how many acres have burned around the Los Angeles area. Look at all these pictures, here. Our Thelma Gutierrez in Chino Hills for us this morning, she's watching the smoke pour over a hill and tells us firefighters are hoping the winds will die down today. She'll join us if in a just few minutes.

Also, a Google map to show you, here, a Google Earth map, shows you where some of the fires are burning, 500 mobile homes we know of have been destroyed in the Sylmar area alone.

NGUYEN: Well, the fires have devastated entire neighborhoods. Firefighters say they can't read some street signs because they've melted away. CNN's Kara Finnstrom spoke with a Sylmar resident who must now tell his young son that their home is gone.


AUGUSTINE REYES, FIRE VICTIM: This is all that's left of my house. This is it.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Augustine Reyes says his family lost everything they owned, so did his neighbors in home after home. The fires blasting through Oakridge Park decimated about 500 mobile homes.

CHIEF MICHAEL BOWMAN, LOS ANGELES CITY FIRE DEPT: That's exactly what they were dealing with, a blowtorch type of effect. You've got gusts of 60 miles-an-hour, the fire was laying down. You had, again, zero visibility, the smoke was extremely hot.

FINNSTROM: The fear of firefighters bringing in search dogs next, not everyone may have gotten out. And emergency crews are still facing a fire out of control. A fire moving so rapidly, instead of evacuating everyone from the hospital, firefighters protected some patients inside while structures all around burned.

(on camera): Firefighters here have staged one massive fight to beat back the flames. What you see behind me here, this is one of the childcare center on the campus of the hospital and they have been working here to contain these flames.

(voice-over): The devastation is hard to comprehend and even harder, Augustine Reyes says, to explain to his young son.

REYES: He's seven years old and he's autistic and he doesn't do well with change, so it is goaoing to be very hard to explain to him and bring him -- it is going to be very hard.

FINNSTROM: In Sylmar, California, Kara Finnstrom for CNN.


HOLMES: And we will continue to show you these live pictures. We can go back to out in southern California, all these fires burning. Here is another shot, here. You see that emergency vehicle in the back, there. Oh, here's another shot showing it. Again, we are starting to get daylight there in the past half an hour or so, giving us a different -- oh, goodness -- a different setting.

A wide shot here, this is in Chino Hills. You can see the homes there to your left. Firefighters are fighting to keep these flames from getting to those homes. Our Thelma Gutierrez, out there in Chino Hills for us, this morning. We talked to her just a short time ago. The daylight hours, giving us a certainly a different view here -- Thelma. GUTIERREZ: Yeah, absolutely, T.J. In fact, I'm standing right up on the ridge, very close to where you see those flames burning, right now. What I can see from this vantage point a line of defense that has been made along the ridge and we are looking at firefighters who are actually lighting back burns to try to burn off some of the low- lying brush to try to create a defensible space around subdivisions and we also see firefighters are cutting down trees and low-lying brush, that kind of thing, where the -- you know, the fire doesn't have fuel as it starts to crest the ridge and that's what they are trying to prevent, right now, T.J.

They don't want the fire to come up over those hills because if it does, then you have a whole subdivision, the (INAUDIBLE) subdivision, that would be in terrible (AUDIO GAP) and would present huge problems for firefighters. But right now what they have working in their favor is that it is not windy at all and It is very calm out here. Residents appear to be calm, I'm standing with a few of them and they have told me they've just have been watching and they're hoping that those winds don't pick up today.

HOLMES: The last thing here, you say you're standing with some of them. Has there not been a mandatory ordered evacuation of this order just yet? And also, from what we can see here, so far so good. It appears that firefighters have been successful and kept these flames from hitting the homes. So, is that the case? Have you certainly not seen any homes burning out there in that area?

GUTIERREZ: Yeah, that's correct, T.J. From where I'm standing, right now, in this subdivision, everything has been OK. However, I can tell you that the homes along the ridge have been evacuated, those people were asked to leave overnight. And w What we are talking to right now, what we are seeing now, are the residents who are down below. It's a very hilly area and so, you know, you have various levels and we're just -- you know, a little bit down below that ridge and, you know, there are a few people standing around and talking and watching. But most people appear to be calm, right now.

HOLMES: All right, Thelma Gutierrez, out there for us as we continue to watch these live pictures. Thelma, thank you so much, this morning.


NGUYEN: Other news, so many people right now are one mortgage payment away from foreclosure. The FDIC says it has a plan to help and, in a surprise move, the agency broke with the Bush administration this week and it announced it has it has its own plans to potentially help millions of borrowers get new loans.

Now, the agency wants to use funds from the government bailout of the financial industry to help pay for the plan. The Treasury Department doesn't like that idea, so Congress is going to have to approve it.

HOLMES: And, that raises all kinds of questions, now. We're going to raise those questions to Tami Luhby from She's on this story are for us. She joins us from New York.

All right, it seems to be a bit of a disagreement, here. FDIC wants to go one way and Treasury and administration seems to go another. Who is going to end up winning this battle?

TAMI LUHBY, CNNMONEY.COM: Well, it's going to be very interesting. Sheila Bair has long been a proponent to do more to help homeowners. It's been more that a year that she's been tying to do this.

HOLMES: And that's the FDIC chair woman you're talking about?

LUHBY: Yes, Sheila Bair, the FDIC chairwoman. And so the Treasury Department, though, and the Bush administration seem to back away from her plan. She had, you know, given out hints earlier and a couple of weeks ago. So then, on Friday, all of a sudden she came out and you know, released all of the details. It was a very interesting little power play, there. She has got a lot of backing from the congressional Democrats and a lot of banks have actually said they like her plan, too.

HOLMES: OK, well, what's the administration, if you will -- seems like she's gone and -- forgive for having to use this word, a bit of a maverick here, on her own and there seems to be some disagreement, here. So, she certainly believes in, it but the Treasury -- what's their opposition to it? They don't like using the funds this kind of direct way.

LUHBY: There is a question - the TARP Fund, according to the Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, is really supposed to stabilize a financial situation, stabilize the market and he questioned on Wednesday when he updated America about the progress of the TARP, he -- sorry, the progress of the bailout, he said he likes the plan, but he questioned whether there should be any money devoted to it. He thinks there are other ways that homeowners could be helped.

HOLMES: Well, what is the incentive? And this is part of it -- if you do get help, I think the plan you have to be two months late on your mortgage payment and you can have it reduced to 31 percent of your monthly income. All right, so if you are going to do that and the government will help you out, what's the incentive for people then to keep up with their mortgage payments? Why not fall a little behind if you know you're going to get bailed out? So, is that certainly one of the major arguments out there and what are the others?

LUHBY: Right, there is a big question about that, it's called the moral hazard. I mean, will people just say, oh, you know, I don't really want to pay my mortgage anymore, I'm just going to allow it to default. But, something has to be done. Because for all of those people who are angry that they are paying their mortgage and they're being responsible, remember, if their home -- if the home next door to them gets foreclosed, it's will hurt their property values.

And you know, lot of the problems in the overall economy, in terms of jobs and, you know, consume than spending, is originating in this mortgage crisis. So, until the housing market stabilizes and until these homeowners are helped, the rest of America is going to suffer, too.

HOLMES: All right, well Tami Luhby, of, very interesting. I guess clash here, going on with the administration, the FDIC. We will see how this one plays out and see if homeowners do get some help. Tami, good to see you this morning, thank you.

LUHBY: OK, thank you.

NGUYEN: All right, as we all attempt to save money in this financial crisis, many of us think we've cut corners as much as we can, we've really stretched the budget as far as we can and done our best. Well, you better think again, because we're going to show you some really interesting ways to slash your spending.

HOLMES: I love this.


HOLMES: Some more picture for you this morning. In Southern California still pictures, here. We've been seeing other video, but these are some of the still pictures that certainly tell the story of what's happening out there. Fires burning, several of them, over 16,000 acres now, burned. Right now, no word of any loss of life, so that's certainly a good thing. The first priority is the protection of life. Evacuations have been ordered, people are heeding the warnings, but now many are worried about their homes. Several homes, hundreds have been burned. We are keeping an eye on the story, there.

NGUYEN: We're also watching the economy, as well, as we continue to follow those fires in California and here's what's happening. Prices going up, your disposable income is going down, maybe the lesson here is figuring out what to cut from your own budget. Well, here with some creative ideas that might actually surprise you is Sarah Bernard, she's a contributing editor with the "New Yorker" magazine.

Thanks for being with us.


Good, well you know, hey, we have heard, you know, don't go to Starbucks as often as you have, you know, try cut down on some of these other expenses. You say don't buy books, read everything on your shelf. But, I've already read it once, Sarah, what do I do now?

BERNARD: Read it again. No. Well, it's funny, because a lot of the changes, if you think about it, you don't have to make sweeping changes in your daily life to save a lot of money and the starbucks thing is kind of -- sort of funny, but really we calculated that if you just make your coffee at home, even if you use a name brand, you'll save $1,200 a year.

NGUYEN: Get out of here, 1,200?

BERNARD: Yeah, if you drink a lot of coffee like I do, you will.

NGUYEN: You may want to curb that habit, that will help you, first off. OK, another thing is, if you can slash your electric and say, phone bills, how do you go about doing that?

BERNARD: This is a really easy thing, I think a lot of people, you have whatever phone plan you have, you didn't really pay attention to your minutes, necessarily. And if you just check on your cable bill, your electric bill, and your phone plan, chances are there's better offers out there, right now. If you tell them you want to switch, pretty much, they'll always come up with something.

NGUYEN: Or threaten to cancel, then they'll come up with a good price for you.

BERNARD: Exactly, and we actually did this with a family in New York and it was at least a $500 savings. I think, a lot of the time you just don't realize you that have to keep up on the plans, they're not going to call you and say hey, actually we have a better deal.

NGUYEN: Yeah, who's doing that these days?

BERNARD: So, that's an easy thing to do.

NGUYEN: Another thing, too, you say repair, don't replace. What are you talking about?

BERNARD: Well, I think a lot of us are, you know, we get so used to our disposable culture that we think, oh, this is broken, I'm going to throw it out and get a good one. But actually, especially clothing, I mean, if your just repair your shoes and take really good care of your clothes...

NGUYEN: Get the resoled, get a new heel put on.

BERNARD: Yeah, exactly, or even if have you a lamp, you get it rewired at the hardware store for $30 instead of getting a whole new one, it really saves a lot.

NGUYEN: OK, this is the one that has us talking. T.J. says he loves it, but it might cause some problems. You say recycle your romances. How's that going to save you money?

BERNARD: Yes. Well, you know, if you have to meet a whole new set of people and keep going out on dates, that's going to cost you a lot of money, because every time you're going to have to go to the movies, go to dinner, whatever. But you know, if you just sort of reach back into some of your exes, you don't need to spend all that money again. You can just, you know, have a relationship in a less expensive fashion.

NGUYEN: Recycle those exes. Hey, you say it is a low-risk, high- yield investment.


(INAUDIBLE) from these exes?

BERNARD: Well, you know, companionship in a time of stress. NGUYEN: OK, this is a family show, we're going to keep that clean. All right. Sarah Bernard, there are some really good items. And some other things, paint your own nails, don't get that stuff done.

BERNARD: Yeah, learn how to do things yourself, obviously, that's a good example.

NGUYEN: All right. And drink good cheap wine. Hey, I'm all about two buck chug.

BERNARD: That's exactly right. I mean, there's something like that and we're not saying don't shop, don't drink wine at all, you know, don't spend money, if fact, that's actually not a good idea. You need to really help the economy a little bit. But just be smarter about your choices and, you know, you'll save surprising amount if you calculate it through the whole year.

NGUYEN: I'm going to start doing that. Sarah Bernard, thank you. I don't know about recycling exes.

BERNARD: Maybe just the coffee party.

NGUYEN: Yeah. Good luck with that.

HOLMES: I'm not going to comment, because we're going to go on to a story that involves religion, so I'm thinking we should just go that way. All right, well a story about religion and politics colliding. There's fierce fallout today over a South Carolina priest who has scolded parishioners for supporting Barack Obama. We'll explain why.


NGUYEN: Here's some new video coming into CNN from Chino Hills, California. You can see, man, look at these fires. Not sure if that is a home that is on fire, but if it is not, these wildfires have come awfully close to a neighborhood there, we have watched, unfortunately, since Thursday, homes go up in flames.

Nearly 16,000 acres have been charred and, unfortunately, the winds are not dying down, they are still whipping through these canyons and hills and what that's doing is taking embers and throwing them onto homes and you'll see houses catch fire very quickly because of it.

Obviously, firefighters have a lot on their hands today, because very little of these firefighters have been contained. We'll continue to watch this dangerous story out there in California.

HOLMES: Well, a South Carolina priest mixes politics with the pulpit and the result is a pretty big fallout. Father Jay Scott Newman told parishioners they needed to seek penances before taking communion if they voted for Barack Obama. Why? Because Obama defends a woman's right to choose. Enter now, Steven Krueger, the national director of the Catholic Democrats, joins us now from Boston.

Sir, good morning. Thank you for being with us. Let's start with this, people always assume they know, but tell us what is the Catholic Church's stance on abortion?

STEVE KRUEGER, NAT'L DIR OF CATHOLIC DEMOCRATS : Hello, T.J., thank you for having me on. Well, I don't, I don't or I should say, I will not speak for the institutional churches' stance on it, that should be left to one of the bishops. But, I will say that it's commonly known that the Catholic Church views abortion as an intrinsic evil that would create a situation where someone would be in a grave state of sin.

HOLMES: OK, but we can be frank here, but, I mean, again, you say it's commonly known and understood, but can you and I for sake of this conversation say that, in fact, the Catholic Church is against abortion?

KRUEGER: I think that that's a fair statement, yes.

HOLMES: OK, we will go from there, then. So, we will go with Scott Newman, Father Jay Scott Newman's assertion saying, OK, you're Catholic, you know your church, your religion is against abortion and if you cast, therefore, a vote for a man who supports abortion, you are, in fact, needing help from God and you need to ask for penance. Now, why do you say that is not a good argument for Jay Scott Newman to make?

KRUEGER: Well, two reasons. First of all, as a parish priest, Father Newman overstepped his bounds in making that statement. In fact, yesterday, the administrator for Charleston, South Carolina, that would be the person who is currently occupying -- who is administering the diocese until permanent bishop is appointed...

HOLMES: Yes, sir.

KRUEGER: Clearly indicated that father Newman, that his statements did not reflect Catholic teaching.

HOLMES: But isn't the Catholic teaching the fact that abortion is evil? That is what he said, as well. I guess people are trying to make that connect. People don't like for people to be...

KRUEGER: We need to separate here the issue of abortion from the issue of who Catholics vote for during an election. Last year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement called "Forming Consciouses for a Faithful Citizenship" which was overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 221-4, where they clearly indicated that while abortion is an issue of primary importance, that Catholics should not become single-issue voters.

HOLMES: All right.

KRUEGER: Additionally, we have argued throughout this election season and we will continue to vigorously argue that President-elect Obama is, in fact, the more pro-life candidate and that he represents the more pro-life policies. T.J., let me just, let me just finish this point.

HOLMES: I know you were going to make a point here, but there was another side it and hoping you could kind of attack and get at, we were hoping you could get at, but at the same time, I know you're representing Catholic Democrats at the same time. So, again, some might say this is turning more into a political argument than it should and should be left out of the pulpit and should be left out of the church, altogether. Sir, again, we do...

KRUEGER: To your point, T.J., though, to the extent that it should, in fact, be left out of the pulpit would be an indication that father -- Father Newman's statements, you know, were off base.

HOLMES: Well yes, Mr. Krueger, again, this is certainly an issue that's been out there and we wish we could spend much more time to you talking to you about it. But again, national director of the Catholic Democrats, the Mr. Steven Krueger, we're glad we ded -- were able to go ahead and get you on this morning. Thank you so much, sir.

KRUEGER: Thank you, T.J.

NGUYEN: Well, turning, or at least, trying to outrun the flames leaving pretty much everything you own behind, just imagine that scenario. Efforts to save a Chino Hills neighborhood are underway, right now. Live on the ground as the flames close in.


NGUYEN: Want to get you back now to Chino Hills, California. Firefighters working to try to work to save these neighborhoods that are up in smoke. Flames still bursting into the sky. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is in that neighborhood, she joins us by phone.

Thelma, how much is being done to really fight these fires?

GUTIERREZ: Betty, there's so much being done. The firefighters are fighting a very valiant effort out here. Take a look right behind me and you can see that there are engines placed in the neighborhood watching this area. Up on the ridge, right above me, there are hand crews that have been out all morning long, they've been lighting back burns and they have also been cutting down some of the bushes up along that ridge.

Now, that ridge backs up onto a state park and what they're trying to do is they're trying to keep the flames from cresting the ridge because that would put an entire subdivision in jeopardy and they're really doing a great job out here.

Many residents who have been evacuated up on that ridge, are down below and others, just maybe one or two streets below, taking a look at this and they say that they feel very, very good about what is going on, the fact that they are creating those back burns to try to get rid of that fuel so that you don't have those flames coming up that hill toward these homes, should the winds pick up. But right now, I can tell you, Betty, the winds have died down, at least, temporarily and that's a very, very, very big break to the firefighters out there on that line.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, but unfortunately, this is a scene that is playing out in neighborhood after neighborhood through much of California, especially in those areas affected by this. Thank you, Thelma, we do appreciate it.

And of course, we are going to be working to bring you more on these dangerous wildfires throughout the afternoon. RELIABLE SOURCES, though, is coming up.

HOLMES: Starts right now. Thank you all for staying with us here on the CNN SUNDAY MORNING.