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Thousands Flee Fire Emergency

Aired May 15, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, breaking news. San Diego under siege. Raging infernos bearing down on California neighborhoods. Ten thousand acres have been burned. Homes, schools, and military bases. Even a military plant is threatened. Tornadoes of fire as crews fight desperately against the flames. We'll go live to our correspondents on the front lines, and I'll speak with survivors. Is arson to blame? I'll ask California's governor, Jerry Brown.

Plus, Sterling divorce bomb. The wife of the L.A. Clippers owner has a secret weapon that could sabotage the NBA's chances of separating Donald Sterling from his team.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the dramatic battle to save homes and lives in Southern California. Right now at least nine major wildfires are burning across the region. In San Diego county, close to 10,000 acres already have been burned. More than 23,000 people have been evacuated. Dozens of people have lost their homes.

Officials are begging people to follow evacuation orders before it's too late.

Our correspondents are on the fire lines. We're tracking critical weather conditions. I'll speak with California's governor, Jerry Brown, about this fire emergency in his state.

First, though, to our national correspondent Gary Tuchman. He's in San Marcos, California. Right now that's about 35 miles north of San Diego.

Gary, what are you seeing there?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, much of San Diego County, California, is a fire war zone. Firefighters everywhere. I want to give you a look at this neighborhood in San Marcos, California. You see those flames up there? Those flames, as we speak, are engulfing a house.

In the air, a helicopter carrying water, about to dump the water on the smoke and flames in the hills outside the city. When we arrived here a few hours ago, there were no flames in this neighborhood whatsoever, and now this is what we're witnessing. It's a very bad situation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Multiple fires burning in San Diego County right now. The one concerning authorities the most: the San Marcos Fire, north of the city of San Diego. It's barely contained. Houses have already been destroyed.

(on camera): The flames and the winds spread the ash and embers. That's what makes the fire spread.

This area right here ten minutes ago, nothing at all. Now we're seeing the smoke and the flames start to form. It's very likely that within the next couple of hours, these trees, this vegetation will be gone.

Right down the hill from where I'm standing here in San Marcos, California, which is northeast of San Diego, this is the Cal State-San Marcos campus. It's been around for a quarter century. It has now been evacuated. They are hoping that the fire does not spread down there.

And in this area, within a five-minute walk, there are hundreds of homes, businesses, condominiums, and lots of people.

(voice-over): Firefighters thought they were starting to make headway but then, all of a sudden, a fire-tornado forms. A bizarre spectacle of nature. It's a whirlwind of flame caused by the turbulence of the wind and the intense heat.

Seconds after we see the tornado, the fire starts blazing in new spots. The blaze is now very close to a neighborhood. Evacuated residents can only watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's scariest at the moment where the fire are now, like, 100 yards from the homes, and I worry about the embers jumping into the grass next to the homes.

TUCHMAN (on camera): It's frightening.


TUCHMAN: The winds continue to increase. The fire is heating up, flaring up, getting even closer to the houses.

(voice-over): Helicopters swoop in with water troughs. Firefighters work on the ground with precision and professionalism and at least for now they have met success. The flames have not reached the houses.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TUCHMAN: It is supposed to cool down in San Diego County tomorrow, and this weekend it's supposed to be in the upper 60s. But right now it's about 97 degrees. Very dry conditions, and firefighters really have a battle and a war on their hands -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do, Gary. We'll check back with you.

The San Marcos fire chief, Brett Van Wey, is on the phone with us. Chief, what are your crews facing right now?

BRETT VAN WEY, SAN MARCOS FIRE CHIEF (via phone): They are facing an extreme heat right now. Actually, the winds have not gone as strong as yesterday and then not gone as predicted. But due to the dry weather and the brush just dries it out so we're not getting rain. We've got a battle ahead of us.

BLITZER: Do you have enough equipment? Do you have enough personnel to deal with this?

VAN WEY: We're still ordering that equipment, and due to the amount of fires in the region right now, we're having to pull from Northern California, and we're still waiting for -- to gather all the resources.

BLITZER: Can you compare these wildfires in your area, Chief, to what's going on in recent years? Is this more of the same or is it worse?

VAN WEY: I would say that it's more of the same. We live in an area that hasn't had a lot of dry and urban interface, and the population grows into the brush areas. And it just makes it much more difficult for us to do.

We're fortunate. We've only lost three homes and damaged one up unto this point. And I would say that's due to some learned lessons from the past and some -- some policy of keeping people at 150-foot clearances and people preparing better.

BLITZER: How many people in your town have been evacuated?

VAN WEY: I don't have a number of people, but we believe we've cleared around 5,000 homes.

BLITZER: And how close are those flames to subdivisions, to homes, to neighborhoods?

VAN WEY: They are -- they are skirting some divisions, and we are just doing our best to kind of guide it along through the path of least resistance, you know, trying to skirt around homes.

BLITZER; Do you have any advice to folks who may be watching in your community?

VAN WEY: They need to listen to evacuation orders. It is frustrating, I'm sure, to get moved from your home, but each time we have to go up and deal with a life problem when somebody does get stuck, it just diverts us from what we can be doing and put the fire out. So it does cause delays and causes more of a dangerous situation for all of us.

BLITZER: Does it look, Chief, like these fires were started by arson?

VAN WEY: We have investigators at each of them right now. It would be just speculation to say. We're looking into it.

BLITZER: All right, the chief, the fire chief, Brett Van Wey, joining us. Good luck, Chief. He's in San Marcos, California.

Let's go to -- west a little bit to Carlsbad, California, where dozens of people have their -- have lost their homes already to these flames. Akiko Fujita is on the scene for us.

Akiko, what are the conditions where you are right now?

AKIKO FUJITA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you the winds have really started to kick up in the last few minutes. It's difficult to keep my eyes open. But that is adding to the concern here. Strong winds. Scorching temperatures and tender dry conditions. You heard from Gary Tuchman right in the middle of that San Marcos Fire a short time ago.

This is the view from the west side. You see the plumes of smoke just carrying the fire across the hillside, and we really see the situation start to change over the last few hours. This morning it was just the left side of the hill. Now we're seeing the smoke cover the entire hillside.

What you see over there is what we saw here on the ground yesterday. And take a look at the aftermath here. Tender, dry conditions. Everything is scorched on this side. And this house, this was engulfed in flames yesterday. This is all that's left. We talked to the homeowners earlier today who came to collect all they could. But they weren't home at the time, but they say that the fire took off in just seconds.

So this really gives you a sense of what crews are dealing with over in San Marcos. In fact, we saw the fire crews out here trying to put out the hot spots earlier today, but they have all, most of them, have been pushed towards San Marcos, diverted on the other side, because the resources are needed over there. But I can tell you homeowners out here just now starting to pick up the pieces, and we're getting a sense of what all the crews out there are dealing with.

BLITZER: So heartbreaking to see those destroyed homes there, Akiko. Thanks very much. We'll certainly check back with you, as well.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is tracking the extreme temperatures fueling these flames. And Jennifer, what will the crews face now in the coming few hours?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, today was a very, very hot day, just like yesterday. Temperatures are topping out 20 and 30 degrees above normal. Ninety-three degrees in Carlsbad, 100 for Los Angeles, 102 in Palm Springs, extremely hot conditions, but temperatures should start to come down over the next couple of days.

Today should be the warmest day. We are shattering records in Southern California; 102 expected for the high in Tula Vista, a record is 81. And so that's incredible. We are shattering records from Long Beach all the way down the coast.

So here we go with the wind. Going to die down tomorrow. Saturday, we should finally get more of an onshore flow. What that is going to do is raise that humidity a little bit, bring some more moisture in, and really help those firefighters out to be able to get this under control.

The fire danger is still extremely dangerous. San Diego all the way up the coast to Los Angeles, anywhere where you see the hot pink shaded areas, extremely breezy conditions, hot conditions, and of course, dry from those Santa Ana winds.

Another thing to mention, the drought monitor came out again today. One hundred percent of the state of California in severe drought. Twenty-five percent exceptional drought. That's as high as the drought monitor will go. Exceptional, that's the worst drought that there is, the drought category.

So this is going to be a long season, Wolf. We mentioned yesterday that in a normal year, you peak around September, October. We are already in well above the wildfires that we normally do this time of year.

BLITZER: Yes. A very, very bad situation. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much.

We're going to have much more coverage of the raging wildfires in California. More than 20,000 people already have been forced to flee their homes. We're going to hear from survivors and witnesses who escaped the flames.

And is arson to blame for these fires? I'll get the latest on the California crisis directly from the governor, Jerry Brown.


BLITZER: We are following the breaking news at this hour. A very, very dramatic development. The battle to save homes and lives in Southern California. Right now, at least nine major wild fires are burning across the state. More than 23,000 people have been evacuated.

And joining us now the California governor, Jerry Brown. Governor, thanks very much for joining us. What are you bracing for in the coming hours and days? Because these pictures we're seeing, these live streams, the video is just awful.

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, the heat is terrible. The last few years have been the driest in recorded California history. They think they've got this thing contained or about to.

But they've got fires all over the place, and most serious of all, California now is a fire season that's 70 days longer. So it's getting longer. And the most serious fires have occurred in the last decade. And so things are getting worse.

And despite what you may hear in Washington, climate change is a factor. here We've got to live with this. It's not about theory. It's not about politics. This is about fires on the ground, people's homes, firefighters. We're dealing, we're adapting, and it's quite a challenge, let me tell you.

BLITZER: And so just to be precise, you're saying that climate change and humans' involvement in climate change are causing these horrible fires. Is that what you're saying?

BROWN: I'm saying that, you know, any fire is caused by wind, by the fuel that happens to be there, by how dry the timber and the grass is, whether there's any moisture or not. right now there's almost none and, yes, those conditions are definitely caused by climate change, global warming induced by human activity, by the 7 billion people that are generating all this stuff.

So we've got to make changes. But right now in California, we are dealing with, as we are talking now with the consequences, and we're handling it the best way we can. Our fire department, the volunteers, they're doing an excellent job.

BLITZER: What about arson? There's been some suspicion that at least some of these fires were started by arson. What can you tell us about that?

BROWN: I don't know that directly, but I do know that people do stupid things. They throw a cigarette butt out of a car, or they're doing a little fire somewhere and a spark gets away. They don't realize that an ember in these dry conditions, it's all fuel. It's all kindling because of the dry conditions, and they are very dry. So if someone really wants to intentionally create fires, it's a pretty -- unfortunately and tragically, it's a very easy task.

BLITZER: We heard over the past 24 hours or so these fires obviously in the San Diego County area and Southern California, but there could be similar episodes elsewhere in California, even in Oregon, maybe Montana, Nevada. What's your -- what are you hearing about that?

BROWN: Well, I tell you right now, it's hot. I was in San Diego just two days ago. It was plenty hot. Like 100 degrees, something that I've never seen. The humidity is below 10 percent. There's a wind anywhere 8 to 15 miles an hour, depending upon the time of the day.

I mean, these are perfect conditions for conflagrations and fires all over the place. So we just hope and pray that a little more cold weather comes along, and we have the equipment. But, you know, we get a fire in the south, get a fire in the central valley, got a fire in the north, and we can easily be over capacity. You know, over our capacity as it currently exists. And the federal government doesn't have as many of these tanker planes that can drop the water and that chemicals that we need.

So, yes, this is real serious stuff. It should be taken -- taken in that spirit.

BLITZER: Thank you, governor. Governor of California, Jerry Brown. More breaking news just ahead. We're staying on top of the southern California wildfires. We're standing by for dramatic new video.

Plus, the nuclear option for Donald Sterling's wife. What happens if the Clippers -- to the Clippers, I should say, if they divorce?


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. More homes are burning right now as you see, as wildfires rage across San Diego County. Officials are begging people to heed evacuation orders.

Elisha Exon is joining us on the phone right now. She's from San Marcos, California. She and her husband are among the thousands who were told to evacuate.

Elisha, you live pretty close to these fires. You were told to evacuate. And I know you sent us some pictures, some video. How close to your home did these fire get?

ELISHA EXON, EVACUATED FROM HOME (via phone): No. We are actually on the west side of Turnip (ph) Valley Road, and when you're watching the footage on CNN, you can see that Turnip (ph) Valley Road is a major highway that runs along next to Cal State San Marcos.

We are on the west side of Turnip (ph) Valley Road. So last night, when we were given an eviction -- or an evacuation notice, we had some big flames on our side of Turnip (ph) Valley Road.

Now, those over the nighttime were contained so today, now that we're able to kind of get back into our neighborhood, we can keep a close look on those flames but they are just on the other side of Twin Oaks Valley Road. They are on the east side of Twin Oaks Valley Road. That's where you are seeing the structures burning down.

BLITZER: What was it like when you were told to evacuate? How worried were you?

EXON: That was a very -- that was a very frantic time because we have children, and this is an area that is highly populated by families. So what essentially ended up happening was you've got these big black plumes of smoke coming up over our housing development. And everybody is rushing to their cars to get out of the neighborhood, and we're talking without even moments to gather, really much of anything. I got my computer. I got my kids, our dog. We jumped into our car and then we sat in gridlock for about 20 minutes just along Mineral (ph) Road to get out of our housing development in Southern (ph) Hills. So that was a little bit scary.

We spent the night at my parents where we could get a little more sleep, but they are being evacuated now. They're in Escondido, where things are not looking great either.

So we got back into the neighborhood today. We're just keeping a close look on the scene. And we have our car loaded up, and the minute that we hear of any embers crossing over to Twin Oaks Valley, we'll be out of here.

BLITZER: Elisha Exon, good luck to you; good luck to your family. We hope and certainly pray for the best. Appreciate you joining us.

EXON: We just want to say you thank you so much. Our love and gratitude is going out to those men and women who are fighting so fearlessly right now. So we just wanted to add that. Many love and thanks to those who are fighting.

BLITZER: Well said, indeed. Elisha, thank you.

Sinjun Balabanoff joining us on the phone right now, also from San Marcos, another eyewitness. He's been some getting incredible images from this disaster.

Sinjun, you shot some video. Walk us through what we're about to see.

SINJUN BALABANOFF, WITNESS: OK. Well, I got there at about 5 p.m. yesterday, and I just saw some people sitting down in lawn chairs and watching, which is pretty surprising.

And then I got up there, I went up the hill and I saw a firefighter on break. And I started talking to him, and I was watching the fire. And the helicopters and the planes dumping out the payloads, and it was a pretty incredible sight. And, yes, I mean, I just -- I was just watching it with him. And he was in charge of the evacuations in the area.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything, Sinjun, like this before?

BALABANOFF: In person, no. But on video and in the news, plenty. Yes.

BLITZER: So what was it like getting this close to these flames? And we're looking at the video that you shot.

BALABANOFF: Yes. As far as what it was like, it was just amazing. I couldn't believe that it was that bad. And I thought that they had it under control, but it just started evolving. And that's why you see it up close, yes, I just couldn't believe it.

The firefighter I was talking to said they couldn't do anything about it because the flames were 30-foot tall like skyscrapers, and so they decided to wait it out, really.

BLITZER: And so what about now? Has it eased up in the areas where you've been walking around and driving around today?

BALABANOFF: I'm in San Marcos now, and there's -- there's fog from the flames everywhere and just mix and ash. And it seems like they have a handle on it. But I mean, it's just hard to tell. There's just so much smog everywhere.

BLITZER: What are they telling people, just stay away from these areas?

BALABANOFF: Pretty much, yes. I saw some people with horses trying to get out of -- out of the equestrian center. Cops are driving by and just saying evacuate, evacuate. But a lot of people are just staying. You know, they just want to stay. But it's -- yes, because they can't force anyone to leave. All they can do is tell you, you know, it's a good idea to leave, and that's pretty much it.

BLITZER: You should heed the advice of these people. When they say get out, anybody should get out. They know what they're talking about.

Sinjun, thanks very much. Thanks for sharing the video with us. Good luck to you.

BALABANOFF: Yes. Of course. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go to Carlsbad, California. Dozens of people there have had their homes lost to the flames already. Akiko Fujita is on the scene for us. What are you seeing now, Akiko?

FUJITA: Well, Wolf, I can tell you fire chiefs (ph) here facing one hurdle after another. This morning it was the scorching temperatures. Now it's the winds just kicking up over the last hour. You combine that with the tinder-dry conditions here, and that makes the perfect storm for a fire like this.

You see that hillside over here. That's where the San Marcos fire is burning right now. We've seen the flames carry across the hillside.

But then walk over here with me, Wolf, and you see right another fire. That's near Camp Pendleton. And then to the left, one more fire. Just in our vantage point, three fires and we've really seen the winds shift. Those plumes of smoke you see there, we didn't see that just a few hours ago. That's really started to pick up again.

So that gives you a sense of how these conditions are changing with every hour. Now you look over here, the flames were engulfed in this house yesterday and this is what is left of it. We saw the homeowners come back to pick up the pieces earlier today but the concern right now is on the other side, to the east of us in San Marcos and those other fires that you saw there.

This is what they are going to see when the flames die down and the crews out here really trying to get an upper hand because the conditions are changing with every minute. The winds kicking up, temperatures, tinder dry conditions and, Wolf, I have to tell you that just standing here you really get a sense of the challenge here because the weather conditions really changing with every hour.

BLITZER: Akiko, we'll get back to you. I know you met with the people who live in that house. What was once a house behind you and they have a very, very moving story to share.

All right, Akiko, thanks very much.

Up next, we'll have more on these tornadoes of fire bearing down on California communities. A desperate battle, as you can see under way right now. Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up.

Also, other news we're following including the nuclear option to Donald Sterling's wife. What happens to the Clippers if they divorce?

And why Russia may be able to ground American astronauts, keep the U.S. out of the International Space Station. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Look at these pictures. A wildfire emergency. Multiple major blazes raging across San Diego County. In just a few moments, I'll speak to some of the residents watching this disaster unfold. But there's some other news I want to follow right now, including the battle for control of the L.A. Clippers.

Donald Sterling's wife may have a secret weapon that could make it very tough for the NBA to change the team's ownership, at least potentially.

Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us. She has the details -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, we are calling this the nuclear option that could blow up the NBA's chances of stripping Donald Sterling of his team. If Shelly Sterling, his wife of 50 years, files for divorce, everything could come to a screeching halt.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): While the L.A. Clippers continue to push forward in game six of the playoffs, it's Shelly Sterling who's got the ball in her court.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: She drops the bomb when she files the divorce papers and that really is because then the case, including all of the Sterling's vast amount of property, become the jurisdiction of a divorce court in California.

MALVEAUX: Because California is a community property state where things are divided 50/50, figuring out who gets what, including the Clippers, could take years, leaving Shelly Sterling in a strong position and she knows it. She recently revealed to ABC's Barbara Walters, while she wants a divorce, she's strategically holding off.

SHELLY STERLING, DONALD STERLING'S WIFE: I filed these divorce papers, I signed them, I was all ready to file, my attorney and my financial adviser said now is not the time.

MALVEAUX: Not the time because analysts say delaying could give Shelly Sterling the leverage she needs to negotiate with the NBA to maintain some ownership of the team.

HOSTIN: I think that the NBA will try to offer her as much as they can to either get her to not file the divorce papers or get her to give up her interests in the team. They could certainly give her the opportunity to be a passive owner.

MALVEAUX: That would strip her of her rights to manage or be involved in day-to-day operations of the team but allow her to go to Clippers' games. While Donald Sterling insists he doesn't want to sell the Clippers.

DONALD STERLING, L.A. CLIPPERS OWNER: Money is not what I'm interested in.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, AC 360: So why not walk away?

D. STERLING: I want to show all the people that are associated with basketball and the world I'm not a racist.

MALVEAUX: He supports his estrange wife's fight to get something out of this mess.

D. STERLING: She loved the team and always helped me with everything. If for some reason I can't have the team, I think that she should have her interests. I mean, she didn't do anything. I brought all this on her, the poor girl.


MALVEAUX: Now Shelly Sterling's attorney says she wants to remain a passive owner, doesn't want to manage the team. Now as for the NBA, their spokesman, Mike Bass, he put out a statement saying under the NBA constitution, if a controlling owner's interest is terminated by the three-fourths vote, all other team owners' interests are automatically terminated as well. It doesn't matter whether the owners are related as is the case here. So the NBA is making it crystal clear she has no legal standing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As far as their concerned no legal standing.


BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here, Rachel Nichols is here, Don Lemon is here as well.

What about the law as far as this no legal status, Jeffrey? What do you say?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think we are somewhat overstating what a problem this is for the NBA. The NBA is an association. It has bylaws. It is not a corporation. It is a group that controls its own membership. If they want to throw these people out, they are going to throw them out. Divorce, single, remarried, whatever.

Yes, it is potentially complication but, you know what, money solves everything. Someone will come along with an enormous check, as you said, up to a billion dollars, and they will just go away.

BLITZER: All right. Rachel, you had an exclusive interview with Lebron James and you asked him about this whole Sterling fiasco, if you will, scandal. Tell us a little bit about what he told you.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS: Yes. You know, a couple of nights ago, Roger Mason, the executive vice president of Players Union, went on TV and scared a whole lot of people. He said that if Donald Sterling was still the owner of this Clippers' team come the fall when the next NBA season starts again, that the players would boycott, he then invoke the most famous player of all, Lebron James, he said Lebron James isn't playing if Donald Sterling still owns the team.

This of course created a lot of hubbub because it put a deadline on things and things have not been moving fast so far. I went to Lebron himself to get the straight story. He told me it's not a date timeline for him. That was overstating it a bit. It's more for him whether he thinks the NBA is acting in good faith. Take a listen.


LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI HEAT: I think the most important thing we need to understand is that Adam Silver is moving forward and, you know, he's not just for the owners, he's for the players as well and the direction that they're going in, we're all for it. And -- you know, so we look forward to the next step and we'll go from there.

NICHOLS: Is there a point where you feel like boycott could be an effective tool for the players?

JAMES: Well, I think at this position or at this point, the direction that Adam is going, the NBA is going, I don't think there should be a need for it. You know, we trust those guys and we know that they are going to take care or what needs to be done for our league and we understand that it's not going to be tomorrow. You know, the system will not work tomorrow but there's a direction that they are going in and we're all for it.


NICHOLS: So you heard Lebron there say that he understands this is not going to happen tomorrow and he and several of the other key players in the NBA assure me that they are willing to give the NBA some room on this. They know that they've got to cross all those legal T's and dot all of those I's. However, look, in the coming months, if this does start to divulge, Sterling has a history of delay tactics. And if the players feel that politics are getting involved, there -- Wolf, there's some sort of a delay here, please notice, Lebron did not say I would never boycott.

He's certainly holding that open as an option. It's more just he's saying it's not going to be tied to a date. It's about what kind of faith that he has in the NBA and Adam Silver that they're doing the right thing, and so far they have faith.

BLITZER: Yes. So far they certainly do.

Don, you had a pretty amazing interview with someone who taped recorded a recent conversation with Donald Sterling, explained his unique relationship with Donald Sterling. Share the details with our viewers who missed it.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. You know, you have one of those interviews, Wolf, where you're like, I can't believe this is happening because this story goes from one thing to the other and to the other and it just keeps on going. So I interviewed this guy. He's an aspiring rapper. His name is Maserati Met. He lives in Atlanta now. He lived in Las Vegas at one point and he became friends with Donald Sterling. This is all according to him.

And so all of those tape that came out after V. Stiviano, that one tape, the ones that were released to Radar and the ones that were released to the "Herald," those were from him. And we have an affidavit from an attorney saying those are from him. He recorded him. He said, I was friends with him and I met him -- there's the guy last night. He said I met him in Vegas because he worked at a -- you know, he worked in a place where he would hire -- where Donald Sterling would hire girls from him. Right?

So he is saying that he is Donald Sterling's self-proclaimed pimp, basically. And he said, over the years, Donald Sterling would hire girls from him, Donald Sterling usually liked women of color, girls of color, but light-skinned. And I asked him, you know, did you ever think he was a racist before then, he said no, because he always liked black girls. And he said after he heard those things, Donald Sterling, from the V. Stiviano tapes, he said he called him up and he wasn't going to record him but then Donald just kind of went crazy and started saying crazy that were even more racist.

And he said you know what, this guy is not my friend anymore and he started to tape him and then the whole thing rolled out from there. So, you know, people are saying, well, you know, Don, why would you interview someone who is a self-proclaimed pimp?

Here's the interesting thing. It shows judgment, the kind of people that Donald Sterling surrounded himself with. And it also shows -- it gives you insight on the relationship between Shelly and Donald Sterling. Shelly is saying now that she went to her attorneys and her attorney says wait for a divorce. This guy is saying he's known Donald Sterling for at least five or six years. So they have been having issues for quite some time where she could have filed for a divorce and obviously she knew about some of these things, I would assume.

So it gives you an insight on their marriage, on their relationship, and the kind of people he surrounded himself with.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Jeffrey, just when you think the story couldn't become more bizarre, it clearly does. That was reflected in Don Lemon's with this guy last night.

TOOBIN: Well, that's for sure. And also I think Lebron said something very important to Rachel. He said, look, we're looking for good faith from the NBA. So we will see in the next few weeks, I am confident, based on my own reporting, they are moving the pieces forward to try to remove the franchise from the Sterlings.

Now it is true if it goes into court, it will not be under the control of the NBA, especially the timing. But they will make the effort. They will make a full fledged effort and I don't think there's any chance the players are going to be able to say, well, you're making kind of a half-baked effort so we're going to boycott. The key issue is good faith and as far as I can tell, at least so far, the NBA has shown that.

BLITZER: Rachel, what are you hearing from players -- and I know you've been speaking to a lot of them -- about the possibility if Shelly Sterling does have some sort of continuous relationship with the L.A. Clippers, how will they react to that?


NICHOLS: Well, that's another thing that Lebron told me. He said in no way are any of the players going to be happy if Shelly Sterling, any of the Sterling children, any of Donald's friend from this brothel that apparently Don found out that he was frequenting, who knows, nobody associated with Donald Sterling is going to be able --

LEMON: Allegedly. Allegedly.

NICHOLS: The alleged brothel, I can't believe we are using these words.

LEMON: Right.


NICHOLS: In a conversation about an NBA owner, what has happened to this league?

LEMON: Right. Right.

NICHOLS: But anyway, my point is, that nobody associated with Donald Sterling is going to run this team as far as the NBA is concerned. You heard in Suzanne's report, the statement from Michael Bass from the NBA and nobody, according to the players, because Lebron and several of the other players I talked to were very firm. Nobody with that last name or a friend is going to be allowed to run that team as far as they are concerned. They want them all gone.

BLITZER: Rachel, thanks very much. Jeffrey, thanks to you. Don, we'll see you back anchoring a special report at 10:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.

As the 2014 political campaign begins to heat up, a debate like you've never seen before. Four Republican candidates for governor of Idaho squared off last night. I want you to watch this.


WALT BAYES (R), IDAHO GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I went to jail for homeschooling and my kids turned out pretty good. I had four sons that made pro rodeo cowboys and one daughter.

HARLEY BROWN (R), IDAHO GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I don't like political correctness. Can I say this? It sucks. It's bondage. And I'm -- I'm about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl.

BAYES: The television would talk to me for 30 minutes or an hour, well, what would you do if they came out to take your kids? Well, shoot them. What else would you do?

BROWN: And you have your choice, folks, a cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy. Take your pick and thank you very much. We're leaving it up to you.


BLITZER: All right. So you could see this debate in Idaho is already going viral out there.

Just ahead, we'll have much more coverage of the infernos bearing down on homes in the San Diego area.

Russia hitting back at American sanctions with a brazen move that could ground the U.S. space program.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of California. New evacuations are being ordered in San Diego County. Multiple wildfires are burning out of control. We'll go back there in a few minutes.

In the meantime, Russia is retaliating for American sanctions over Ukraine with a move that could ground the U.S. space program.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been looking into this.

What are you seeing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is an example of what's happening in eastern Ukraine has an impact far beyond the internal politics of Eastern Europe because, you know, we forget that the U.S. space program today relies on Russia to get to the International Space Station and to launch some military satellites.

Now Russia is threatening in effect to ground American astronauts and satellites in retaliation for those economic sanctions scuttling decades of what had been very promising U.S./Russian cooperation in space.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give it a final farewell.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): They were all smiles in the International Space Station this week, but could this be one of the last times that American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts journey together through space? Russian officials are taking the battle over Ukraine into orbit, vowing to abandon the space station four years early in 2020.


SCIUTTO: And banning Russian-made rocket engines to launch U.S. military satellites. The deputy prime minister even suggested astronauts instead use a trampoline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The final liftoff of Atlantis.

SCIUTTO: And this is no small problem because since NASA retired the shuttle in 2011, American astronauts have no other way up or down than hitching rides on Russian rockets.

JIM LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The Russian announcement means we need to rethink our reliance on them because it shows we are dependent on them in ways that might have made sense 10 years ago but doesn't make sense anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you do the talking, Moscow.

SCIUTTO: The U.S./Russian space partnership has thrived for decades. One of the most visible symbols of during the Cold War and new peace after the fall of the Soviet Union. And it was very much a win/win. The U.S. saved billions on the shuttle. Russia made billions as a high-tech taxi service.


SCIUTTO: U.S. officials express hope the Russian threat is just bluster.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We've had a long cooperation on our space program with the Russians and we're hopeful that will continue. Still continue to cooperate on a range of issues. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: It's most likely that the U.S. will depend on private space companies such as Space-X to develop new space vehicles to transport American astronauts to -- to the space station. And as for Russian engine's use to launch U.S. satellite, the U.S. has stockpiled engines that supply good for about two years of launches. It is some coverage, but, you know, you talk to a lot of analysts and it is a reminder that they need a longer-term solution here.

You cancel the space shuttle, you have these brewing tensions with Russia that don't seem -- like they're going in a good direction. They've got to find a better way to get this fixed.

BLITZER: Serious problem.


BLITZER: Very serious. All right, Jim, thanks very much. Jim Sciutto reporting.

We'll get back to the breaking news straight ahead. We're going back live to the fire disaster zone. Multiple wildfires burning homes. They're raging out of control in Southern California right now.

Also new details of a near disaster. Two passenger planes on a collision course thousands of feet over the Pacific.