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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

In the Line of Fire; Interview With California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Aired October 24, 2007 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are standing tonight on one of nearly 200,000 acres destroyed by the largest wildfire in the area, the Witch fire. Twelve firefighters were injured battling this one blaze. There is also the Harris fire, also huge, far from being contained.
We spent today on the front lines of the Harris fire. We will show you that in a moment. All of that is far from being alone. In total, 15 fires are active, 1,500 homes have been destroyed, half-a- million acres charred, several counties declared disaster areas, nearly a million evacuees.

There is good news as well. Seven fires have been contained all to the north of here. Now, the weather seems to be turning, but it is doing so unpredictably. We just got word that additional evacuations have been ordered in east and northeast San Diego County because of shifting winds.

So, tonight, from Orange County on south, it is still a war zone. I spent part of the day with the men and women fighting that war by air and on there ground. You're going to meet them shortly. We will also introduce you to others, including homeowners who are only now just making the tough decision whether or not to stay or to get out, some with flames literally coming at them from every directions today.

We have got crews with firefighters, reporters looking into the possibility of arson and whether some of these fires might have been contained with more equipment and earlier help from the feds.

We have pictures that, until now, you could only imagine, taken by our I-Reporters, everyday people catching walls of flame and flying cinders the size of charcoal briquettes, all of that in the hour ahead.

First, though, a quick look at where it all stands, at what everyone hopes is a turning point in a very tough week.


COOPER (voice-over): Raging wildfires continue to cut through Southern California. Nearly 9,000 firefighters now have been battling the seemingly unstoppable blazes and today Governor Schwarzenegger stopped to thank them.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We have the best firefighters. They're working 24 hours a day. They put themselves in harm's way.

COOPER: There was good news today in the form of a weather forecast. Lower temperatures, higher humidity, and a slowing of the warm Santa Ana winds, from gusts of more than 100 miles an hour over the weekend to just 30 miles an hour tonight. All those factors combined to give firefighters some hope today that they at least can keep the blazes contained.

More than a dozen wildfires continue to burn out of control. The worst of them, the Witch Fire in San Diego County, has already scorched nearly 200,000 acres and destroyed 500 homes. Only 10 percent of that fire is contained.

The Harris fire is also 10 percent contained. It has already burned through 73,000 acres. In some parts of San Diego, where the fires have been controlled, people have been allowed to return to see what if anything is left of their homes. But outside Qualcomm Stadium where more than 5,000 evacuees are staying, the agonizing wait continues for some.

TRUDY MCCUNE, EVACUEE: I feel kind of bad because I'm hoping that I don't lose my home, but then I feel bad because I know a lot of people that have lost their homes.

COOPER: Others who know they have lost everything already plan to rebuild.

CHRISTIE WILLIAMS, EVACUEE: It's my home. My kids took their first steps there. They had their first laughs, their first smiles there. I can't just leave it. I just can't walk away.

COOPER: A couple hours north in Los Angeles county, firefighters have contained 94 percent of the massive Buckweed fire, but only after more than 38,000 acres have burned and 15 homes were destroyed.

But from nearby Orange County came the chilling news this afternoon, the FBI and state police were searching homes in the area, suspecting that some of these fires may have been deliberately set. President Bush will visit California tomorrow. At a teleconference today, he offered words of support for Southern Californians who have lost so much.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most importantly, I want the people in Southern California to know that Americans all across this land care deeply about them. We're concerned about their safety. We're concerned about their property and we offer our prayers and hopes that all will turn out fine in the end.


COOPER: As we said in the piece, there's word that some of these fires, some of them may have been intentionally set, arson.

CNN's John Zarrella has been talking to sources. He's on the way to one suspicious blaze right now that is drawing local as well as federal attention. He joins us by phone.

John, what are you being told?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Anderson, I'm looking right now at the Santiago Canyon fire in Orange County. And I can see enormous pillars of billowing smoke, ash falling on our cars. And there are thousands of people being evacuated, homes threatened, and all of this appears to be the work of arson.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office telling us in fact, it is arson. They have identified three points of origin, suspicious points of origin. The FBI is in the process now of collecting evidence. At this point, no arrests, no search warrants, but definitely arson.

We are expecting within a very short time now that there will be an announcement of a reward made. Sources are telling us that the reward could be upwards of at least $50,000 from at least one agency, and then perhaps more money added to that.

We have 600 firefighters on the line of the Santiago Canyon fire, 110 engines and trucks. As I mentioned, 2,000 homes threatened. Thousands of people forced to evacuate, and all this apparently now being confirmed by the Orange County Sheriff's Department that it is the work of an arsonist. This blaze only 50 percent contained. Already more than 19,000 acres have been burned -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, do we know when this fire really began? If this was intentionally set, do we know when it was intentionally set?

ZARRELLA: Yes. The Orange County Fire Department is telling us that the fires began at about 5:55 p.m. local time here on Sunday afternoon. That's the time that they began. They're not telling us yet exactly at what point that they determined it to be arson.

But by getting to apparently these three points of origin that they have been able to reach, and when we got there, they don't know, it was at that point that they did determine these fires were suspicious and have now brought in the FBI, that's gathering evidence at these scenes of the three origin points, and that it was at that point now today that they are declaring that it is definitely the work of arson.

COOPER: So even while this fire is still burning, and is only part of it is contained, they're able to start investigating on the ground?

ZARRELLA: That's exactly right. They're able to get to the points of origin, which, of course, would have already burned through. And exactly where those points are, we do not know yet. They have not told us where those points of origin are or exactly what evidence the FBI may have collected from those scenes that led them to the determination that in fact this Santiago Canyon fire is in fact the work of arson.

COOPER: Unbelievable that someone would actually go about doing that. And so many firefighters now, their lives are on the line because of those people, if in fact this was arson.

John, appreciate it. Keep checking with your sources. We will check in with you throughout the evening.

We have got a lot of coverage this evening, many hours ahead. In addition to arson, there are questions now about whether federal help was lacking early on. We're going to get into that shortly. And we will have my colleague from our "Planet in Peril" documentary team, Jeff Corwin, and Sanjay Gupta, exploring the possible connections between these fires and global trends that may be changing the way all of us live. That's part two of "Planet in Peril." That's coming up at the top of the hour.

The big question, however, right now has to do with the local weather.

So, let's turn to CNN's Chad Myers with the latest.

Chad, what's happening, particularly with the winds?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, it is getting better. The winds are going down. We know that because now the smoke is going higher. For a long time, especially Sunday and Monday, the smoke was blowing directly out into the ocean.

Well, now the smoke is billowing up a little bit, because means it is not getting knocked off by the wind. We also have one more thing. With all this choking smoke in the area, it is hard to really figure out where the worst fire is.

So, NASA put up a Predator drone today, yes, the same Predator that's looking for Osama bin Laden. But this drone has a camera that's an infrared heat seeker. It left Edwards Air Force Base, went all the way down to Mexico, flew back and forth in this pattern, came all the way back up to the Arrowhead fire, over the Malibu fire, and now it's back over the arrowhead fire. There it is, NASA Flight 870.

What is it doing? It is looking for hot spots. And when it finds the hottest of the hot spots, it will radio back all the data back to Edwards Air Force Base. Edwards Air Force Base will tell the firefighters and they will be able to focus their efforts, focusing efforts on areas actually that have a lot less wind tonight.

I can't find one area that has any more wind than about 15 or 20 miles per hour at this point. Back up here to Arrowhead, eight miles per hour. Down to San Bernardino, about nine miles per hour.

Anderson, the most ironic part about this, how dry it is, is that the entire eastern half of the United States is soaking wet tonight -- not a drop for California, though.

COOPER: And, Chad, one of the things you pointed out last night is that it is usually during the night when the winds pick up. That is not anticipated to happen tonight?

MYERS: It is going to pick probably another five or 10 miles per hour. But, on Sunday, Point Mugu had 101, 75 on Monday, 50 yesterday, only about 20 to 25 today. So, we're going in the right direction. All the watches and warnings have expired. Only little red flag warnings still going. And that's nothing compared to where we were.

COOPER: That's fantastic news, indeed. We will check with Chad a lot throughout this evening.

If I'm squinting tonight and coughing, I apologize. I have spent today out on the eastern edge of the Harris fire with the men and women working the fire lines.

When we come back, we will tell you their story. We will show you what I saw today, a remarkable scene out there, as firefighters, exhausted, working around the clock to put out these flames.

Also tonight, one family's harrowing story, trapped in their van, surrounded by flames -- all ahead on this special edition of 360.



WILLIAMS: I see those pictures and I just want to go home. I want to take my hands and I just want to put them on what's left, just what's left of my house, because that's still my house. You know, it's still mine.


COOPER: ... Williams, we talked to her last night.

She named her house Shangri-la. Those are the pictures of her house burning. She promised to make that house Shangri-la again. She says she will rebuild.

A lot of people will never be in her shoes. That's because of the men and women I spent the day with today. They are saving lives and they are saving homes, working the Harris fire, which has already taken one life and put five firefighters in the hospital.

As we mentioned moments ago, more evacuations are under way in the area tonight. It is only 10 percent contained. That's the last figure we got. As I discovered today, every percentage point is a war in itself.


COOPER (voice-over): The Harris fire has taken a terrible toll. As of Wednesday morning, more than 73,000 acres have burned and the fire is only 10 percent contained.

The sound of burning wood and brush echoes in the canyons. Firefighters are having a hard time getting ahead of the flames. Today, crews dug up underbrush, creating fire lines, hoping to cut off the quick-moving flames. But small spot fires kept igniting and exhausted crews struggled to catch up. (on camera): They're trying to put out spot fires. That's really the big concern today. They can't address the fire directly because the winds are shifting simply too fast, even though the winds have died down today. So, they're just trying to address -- put out these small , little fires, make sure the embers don't keep spreading.

(voice-over): The winds have died down, and that's allowed more aircraft to fly, dropping Phos-Chek, a chemical flame retardant. Wind gusts, however, are still a problem and because of them, firefighters are unable to fight the fire the way they would like.

(on camera): If the winds weren't so fast and so high, you could be more aggressive in terms of hitting the actual fire. But right now you basically just have to play defense.

CAPTAIN RON ELDRIDGE, CAL FIRE: Absolutely. If we didn't have the wind conditions and the humidities that we have, we could put hose on the ground, fight the fire right on the flank of the fire and put it out as we go.

COOPER (voice-over): More than 450 buildings have been destroyed or damaged so far and that number is growing. This house was too far gone by the time firefighters arrived.

EDDIE GUIDI, FIREFIGHTER: We came upon this. This was halfway involved already. Tried to make the save on it. We determined that it was unsafe.

COOPER: So, in a fire like this, there is nothing they can do at this point to save the house. But they're watching it burn to make sure that no spot fires occur, that the wind doesn't carry embers. That's what happened to this tree over here.

So, they rushed to put that out quickly, because they don't want that to spread to somewhere else.

(voice-over): All they are able to save from this house is the television and a computer.

The Harris fire has killed one person so far and injured more than two dozen others, including five firefighters. With better weather predicted for tomorrow, fire officials hope the worst may be over, but everything depends on these unpredictable winds.


COOPER: With me now is battalion chief Doug Lannon with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE. He's working the Witch fire.

Thanks for being with us; 200,000 acres have burned by the Witch fire. How contained is it at this point?

DOUG LANNON, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: At this time, we're calling it 10 percent containment.

COOPER: What is the biggest problem in terms of fighting the Witch fire?

LANNON: Well, the biggest problem that we faced in the first place was the Santa Ana winds. We had winds that were sustained at well over 40 miles an hour. We also had gusts that were clocked up to upwards of 70 to 80 miles per hour.

And then of course, the other thing that's going on this year, and I know that a lot of the viewers have seen, this is the driest year in California's history, and so all the fuels are very, very dry and very dangerous.

COOPER: I want to show our viewers an aerial shot of some homes destroyed by the Witch fire. And when you see these images, it is remarkable, because on one side of the street, the homes are untouched. The other side of the street, the homes are destroyed.

What are you seeing right now is actually Harris. Here's the Witch fire.

Why does that happen? Why does one side get destroyed and another not?

LANNON: Well, with the Santa Ana winds, and then you have various topographic features. It depends on how tall the homes are. You may have a two-story home and then next to it is a one-story home. As the wind comes across, it may create a kind of vacuum on the back side of the taller home. It may bring some embers in on the smaller home, et cetera.

It just depends on the way the wind is funneling through the structures.

COOPER: And these embers can -- we saw in the Harris fire today them fighting these spot fires. These embers can get picked up and they can travel some pretty great distances.

LANNON: Yes. The embers can actually go into the convection column, and we have had fires where we have had spotting that was a half-mile to a mile in front of the main fire, yes.

COOPER: Are you serious? Really? That's remarkable.

I would think the wind would blow the embers out. It doesn't work that way, right?

LANNON: No, it does not. It just -- actually, it fans the fire. It actually makes it burn hotter.

COOPER: You have had on the Witch fire at least 12 firefighters injured. Do you have the resources you need? I mean, do you have enough manpower?

LANNON: Well, with as many major fires as we have in the southland, we had at one time 16 major fires burning at the same time. Obviously, everybody is looking for resources. When you have winds like this, every one of the fires that get started are devastating. We can never have enough equipment. What happens is, is you have to make due with what you have.

COOPER: One of the firefighters on the Harris fire said to me today that they are battling defensively. They wish they could be more offensive.


COOPER: But, because of the winds, they're not able.

Describe what that means. They're basically protecting houses, whereas they would like to address the flames directly, but they can't.

LANNON: When they talk about defensive, that means the flames are too high and too hot to get close enough where the radiant heat will injure the firefighters.

What happens is, sometimes, we have to take an indirect attack, or, actually, we may have to flank it sometimes from a distance, just trying to channel it in the direction to try to keep it away from burning properties.

COOPER: Well, Chief Lannon, appreciate your time. I know you have been busy. You have been working around the clock.

Appreciate you joining us to talk about this.

LANNON: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you so much.

It seems like all of Southern California is burning at times. We are going to show you exactly where the fires are and which ones firefighters are finally getting a handle on. That's coming up next.

And at the top of the hour, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, part two of our "Planet in Peril" documentary. You won't want to miss it.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hats off to the crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're emotional just because they saved...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys, they don't even get paid. They don't even get paid. With the Majestic Canyon Fire Department, they don't get paid for what they do. And they saved my house.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, now a family who never got an evacuation warning and had to spend a harrowing night holed up in their minivan just to stay alive.

CNN's Randi Kaye has their story.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For two-and-a-half- hours, they watched and waited as a raging wildfire inched closer.

(on camera): So, there was a big circle of fire around you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was coming up the bank on both sides of us. And so then we're in the back and the deck starts catching on fire, because it is wood. So, the embers were flying up and we were getting like shot by 100,000 fire balls coming at us. And it was swooping up and rolling up and just slamming.

KAYE: Paul Howell (ph) had been celebrating his girlfriend's birthday with her parents when the fire started sweeping through the valley, climbing up and over the ridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had these barrage of bullets that were like the size of briquettes just being fired at you coming across this valley.

KAYE: Balls of fire?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Balls of fire about the size of briquettes.

KAYE: With no warning from authorities, it was too late to evacuate. As you can see, their escape route had been cut off by flames, their homes threatened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could you call for help? We had fire all the way around us? Who was going to help us? We were on our own.

KAYE (voice-over): So, they quickly took shelter in the family's minivan. Paul showed me where they parked it, a dirt patch on the property between their two homes, good advice from a fire marshal years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told us that if there was ever any kind of fire on this property, the safest place to be would be in this center field.

KAYE (on camera): In a car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In any kind of vehicle at all.

KAYE (voice-over): So, here they sat, watching the trees burn and their property turn to smoke. Paul and Henry Tinker (ph) took turns fighting the flames. Their only weapon? This scorched garden hose. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very difficult. But you don't think about it at the time. We had flames that were shooting as high as 40 feet or higher in the air, just like tornadoes coming up the backside of the bank.

KAYE: And you were using a garden hose?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're using a garden hose.

You couldn't see a lot of times more than 10 feet in front of you. Embers are flying through like crazy. You can't breathe real well.

KAYE: The wind shook the car. The heat was unbearable. The family blasted the air conditioning to try and stay cool.

(on camera): This van saved your life?


KAYE: Did you ever think your van was going to save your life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It didn't even enter my mind.

KAYE (voice-over): In the end, not everything survived. The fire took its toll on wildlife and homes around the neighborhood. Yet, the flames were no match for this minivan and the determination of the family huddled inside it.


COOPER: Unbelievable. I mean, that is great advice that they got, but I can't imagine sitting in that minivan, seeing these charcoal-sized briquettes going. Why weren't they warned?

KAYE: Well, they said they weren't warned because there were just -- the firefighters were actually more focused on saving the infrastructure.

But, also, we called the San Diego County and the police there, and the lieutenant told us that the reverse 911 system, which we're hearing is being used tonight even in the Harris fire, doesn't work 100 percent.


KAYE: He told us the system is not perfect. He said that they rely on the phone company to get the numbers, and it is not 100 percent. So, they weren't able to warn this family.

COOPER: But that has been a great improvement from the Cedar fire, where they have this reverse 911.


COOPER: It's helped a lot of people... KAYE: Sure. Sure.

COOPER: ... and saved a lot of lives.

Randi, thanks. Remarkable story.

Tonight, more than 400,000 acres have burned in Southern California, 400,000. There are still 15 active major wildfires happening right now.

So, let's get a sense of the big picture from Tom Foreman -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, if you look at the map, you can see what they were looking at in California this morning when they woke up, more than a dozen of these big fires burning. Los Angeles up there, San Diego down there.

Now more than a half-dozen of these are under control. They're contained, which means, basically, they're surrounded without an ability of the fire to get out, they hope.

Two areas of interest right now. We have got the Canyon fire up here, which they're investigating as a possible arson case, what they believe it is. And down here is the Harris fire that Randi just mentioned that they're worried about spreading.

But let's move in see why it is so hard to figure out whether or not these things are spreading. These are some global images pictures -- DigitalGlobe pictures here -- excuse me -- of some of the fires in here.

And you can see how the smoke utterly blankets the valleys. And that's why they have to use those Predator drones that Chad talked about a while ago, because that's the only way you can see the hot spots hidden down in here. What they do know is this, however. There are five fires right now that stand out above all the rest, because they're much bigger.

And this is a relative scale for those fires in terms of how big they are compared to each other. Again, Los Angeles up here, San Diego down here. The Harris fire we just talked about took about 200 homes. And as you move up the coast here, you see a couple of other fires like it. The Rice fire and the Slide fire, each took about 200 buildings, sometimes businesses as well.

The Grass Valley fire was bigger. That took about 300. But this is big one down here, the one everyone is watching, the Witch, Poomacha fire. That's the one that took more than 500 buildings so far. And that's where all that smoke was we were looking at a moment ago.

It's going to be quite a while before they are able to totally get in under all that smoke and sort out exactly what has been burned. That's why so many people sitting in shelters and who are evacuated tonight are wondering, what is in that valley out there, what's hidden beneath the smoke, and whether or not they will be lucky when this is all over -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, thanks very much.

You could see (AUDIO GAP) fire behind me. We have got homes totally destroyed, cars destroyed. We're going to go show you that earlier -- or a little bit later on tonight.

Coming up in about half-an-hour, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, the real big picture, as we bring you part two of our special documentary "Planet in Peril," a look at climate change, and deforestation, global warming, species loss, habitat loss, overpopulation, all the things which some say are having an impact and some of the results of which are the fires that we're seeing tonight. Controversial. We will talk about it at 9:00 p.m.

Up next, though, one on one with California's governor. Now he is meeting real heroes face to face today, as he talks to firefighters all along the line.

A break first. We will be right back.


COOPER: Normally a small spot fire like this wouldn't be a cause of much concern because there is a road right here. It's very unlikely this fire can actually jump over the road. It's simply not big enough. So this fire should just die out.

But the winds are shifting now in the eastern side of the Harris fire and that is a cause of concern. A spot fire like this is something firefighters need to even jump on and extinguish because the embers from a fire like this can be picked up by these changing winds and blow hundreds of feet all the way toward a house like that and set it on fire.

That's why it has been so tricky today to fight these fires. It's safe one minute in an area, deadly the next. So that's just one reason why firefighters are always the heroes in a story like this one. They're risking their lives every day on these fires.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has pledged to do what he can to support their efforts and, of course, to help all the survivors and evacuees. Earlier, our chief national correspondent John King sat down with the governor. He joins us now live from Santiago Canyon with more -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you remember those days just after Katrina, when the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana were in so much political hot water, heckled and hassled when they went out in public.

Not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Walk into an evacuation center with him, there is a standing ovation. People want his autograph. They want to take his picture. Spend a day with the governor, and what you see is a bit of celebrity crisis management.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: The people are very happy about the fact also that not only celebrities are coming, but there is a celebrity governor that is following through. That when he says you will be taken care of, they will be taken care of. They know they've been here now for three days. As soon as they got there, they get cots, they had the blankets, the pillows, the medication for the vulnerable citizens that need it. So everything was here from A to Z.

KING: Tell me the personal lessons you learned, both from a style standpoint and a substance standpoint, about being a leader, from watching the debacle of Katrina.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think the most important thing is, don't sit around in your office and try to make decisions out of the office. You have got to be with the people. It's the most important thing. You have got to go out there and you've got to visit all the fire sites. You've got to shake hands with the firefighters, you've got to encourage them, you have got to pump them up, you've got to tell them they're the greatest in the world. You've got to work with the local communities, with the elected officials and with others. You have to work with the Red Cross. You have to work with the private sector. You have to call the Grocers Association to make sure they deliver food right away to all of those various different places, you know, where people stay overnight.

So I think that being out there with the people is the key thing.

KING: One of the criticisms or questions in the days after has been, some think it took too long to get California Air National Guard assets up in the air to douse the fires. Some had said it was the winds, other weather conditions. Others have said the state was slow to answer the phone or to issue the orders. What was it?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think it is very clear that we had a big disadvantage because of the winds. You know, we had 90 aircraft here in California. We had six additional aircraft from the federal government that can drop a huge load of water and chemicals and others. But we could not use some of those equipments and some of those aircrafts because of the wind conditions.


KING: Now, the governor says he is not sure when they will have containment of these fires. He said he's told the weather is changing for the better, but he simply doesn't trust that forecast. Anderson, and looking at the bigger picture, the governor says wildfires used to be a seasonal crisis in California. Now they happen year round. He says the winds are stronger, the weather is drier, and he blames it in part at least on global climate change -- Anderson.

COOPER: And we're going to talk about that at the top of the hour on "Planet in Peril."

But John, some politicians have suggested that California lacked the resources to handle this, not enough National Guardsmen because of the situation in Iraq. What did the governor say about it?

KING: He says that's flatly not true, Anderson. And this is a governor who has repeatedly criticized President Bush and the Bush administration for overtaxing the California National Guard with deployments to the U.S. Mexican border, with deployments overseas to Iraq.

But in this case, Governor Schwarzenegger says the moment he picked up the phone, he was assured by the National Guard that he had plenty of troops and all the equipment he needed to immediately get into the firefighting business.

He said others (INAUDIBLE) assets as well. So he says on that one question, is being in Iraq hurting the firefighting effort here -- he says flatly no. And any politician who says so is wrong.

COOPER: Oh, every person I talked to has been very favorable in the way the local governments here, the state government has handled this thing.

John, thanks for that.

Up next on this special edition of 360°, we're going to check in with Rick Sanchez on the front lines of the Harris fire, a fire that's threatening yet another community tonight.

And also again tonight, part two of "PLANET IN PERIL." That's coming up in about 25 minutes at the top of the hour. Stay tuned.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The air quality seemed to be really bad. The sky was yellow instead of blue. The sun was red. It just didn't seem right.


COOPER: The second biggest fire here in San Diego County is called the Harris fire. More than 73,000 acres have burned on that one. Two hundred homes have been destroyed. One person was killed. We showed you some of the fire earlier.

Let's check in with Rick Sanchez who is also covering the blaze tonight -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, we're still in Canyon, Anderson. We were told that, in fact we're told just moments ago that the governor is going to be arriving here in just a couple of minutes. So they're going to be doing a sweep when the governor arrives.

Let me tell you we just experienced a little while ago, it was pretty amazing, actually. We were taken up by Don Camp. He's the Captain with Cal Fire. And we were going to that edge that we had talked to you about last night that we were afraid it might be affected by some of these fires because the fire was heading in that direction.

And the direction of the ridge that you see right there behind me, on the way up, he suddenly stops and he says, all right. This warning in this area has just now turned into a mandatory evacuation. We're probably going to be seeing some flames. Boy, did we!

Watch what you're going to see right here. And you'll notice when we're walking up this road, there's houses to the left of us and to the right of us. And right in front of us, you see this huge fire that suddenly starts to threaten them. Here it is.


SANCHEZ: We're going up Deerhorn Valley right now. Look what's going on over there. It's starting to look like that fire is going to be jumping the road. We might actually be able to see it happen.

Captain Don Camp is going to be taking us up there now to show us exactly what's going on. Describe to us, Captain, exactly what's going on up here.

CAPTAIN DON CAMP, CAPTAIN, CAL FIRE: We are currently in Deerhorn Valley. We have a significant amount of assets in the area to protect scattered structures throughout the valley.

SANCHEZ: Look at this thing. Look at this thing. Wow! What's up? It's just picked up.

CAMP: If you'll notice the fire is starting to twist at the top like a tornado.

SANCHEZ: Yes. That's what we refer to as a fire whirl. That's another sign that we are battling erratic winds over the fire right now. You have the one wind blowing one direction. The other wind blowing the other direction, and it causes the fire to spin like a tornado.

SANCHEZ: I've never seen anything like this. I mean, this is really massive fire. And the sound of it, I mean, it's like it's breathing, isn't it?

CAMP: Absolutely. The fire is a living thing that has life to it. It creates its own winds. It creates its own weather, and it's not a -- not controlled by anything other than forces of nature.

SANCHEZ: You see the road right there? Now look what's happening with the brush. It looks like the fire is almost wanting to reach out like with a hand from one side of the road to the other. It probably won't be long before that fire jumps over that road and goes over to the other side.


SANCHEZ: How good are these guys with Cal Fire? By the way, I want to show you something. Demir (ph), go ahead and show them that shot. You remember last night? Anderson, you and I were talking and I showed you on some of the videos, I think it was toward the end of one of our newscasts, there was a lot of lights on. That's the home that we were showing last night, and there was fire all around it.

I don't know if you could tell. But look at all the scorching around it. That means the fire came all the way up to the home, but it didn't get the home because they were able to get crews in there that were able to cut a buffer, cut a line to stop them from doing. And part of that is actually a back fire going the other way.

If you had asked me last night what the chances were that that home would be able to survive it, when I was sitting here looking at it, I would have told you they weren't very good. Obviously, I was proven wrong once again by these guys who do just some amazing work.

By the way, one more thing. When we were out there just a little while ago, that video I just showed you, I stopped and talked to a guy who is an immigrant. He said I have to stay here no matter what happens to the fire because I promised the homeowners I would protect it for them.

I tried to talk him into getting out. He said, "No, I made a promise and I'm going to stay." My conversation with him maybe later in the show or tonight at 11:00.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Rick, thanks for your help. Next tonight, the federal government is spending billions each year fighting fires. Is it enough?

We're keeping them honest. Next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE FIREFIGHTER: By the end of the day, we need to save a hundred homes.

We object to this. We lose a few, save a hundred instead of anchor and save for sure 10, but then maybe lose 80.


COOPER: Of course, we've seen a lot of pictures throughout this week but there's a human toll for all of these fires. We're just meeting two people. Your name is Ajouni?


COOPER: And you are?

MANDEED SINGH, EVACUEE: Mandeep. COOPER: You've just come home to see your home. It's destroyed. Did you know it was destroyed?

AJOUNI SINGH, EVACUEE: Yes. When we were leaving, we saw it, a hill on the side of our house. And we move inside (inaudible) 5.56 saw the garage, it started to catch fire as we were leaving.

COOPER: How are you doing? How are you holding up?

M. SINGH: OK. That's all you can (INAUDIBLE). I don't know what to tell you.

COOPER: It's got to be just surreal.

M. SINGH: That is surreal. Exactly.

COOPER: How long have you lived here?

M. SINGH: Six years.

A. SINGH: Seven years. Six to seven years.

COOPER: They're just starting to allow people back in usually for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. You weren't actually able to go on the property. What were you able to see? What -- is anything left?

M. SINGH: We have our -- the backyard is OK. That's it.

A. SINGH: Our whole driveway is fine, and the benches and our back patio are fine. And that's about it. Just some walls and it's all nothing.

COOPER: Were you able to take anything out before you left?

M. SINGH: No. It's still not safe to go in there, so we'll have to come back.

COOPER: Before you left, though, were you able to take things out?

M. SINGH: Yes. We took our old pictures and --

A. SINGH: Some old letters. B. M. SINGH: Some old letters and pictures.

COOPER: You know, you see this kind of thing on TV. I'm sure you've seen people interviewed like this before. I mean, you never think it's going to happen to you.

M. SINGH: No, I didn't think so. I didn't think it will happen to us.

COOPER: Will you rebuild?

M. SINGH: Yes. Yes. It is a beautiful view and I love this neighborhood and the community. We will.

COOPER: What is the hardest thing about what you're going through right now?

M. SINGH: Oh, what is the hardest thing?

A. SINGH: Probably realizing that you lost everything and that you don't know how to get it back. Some things we feel like they're irreplaceable but you know that you can replace them. But you can't replace a life so it's good that we got out in time.

COOPER: And you're all together.

M. SINGH: Yes. We're all together.

COOPER: That's a blessing. Thank you so much. I don't want to take up any more of your time. Thank you very much.

M. SINGH: Thank you. N. COOPER: Coming up, the latest on the weather conditions that everyone here is following. We're going to check in again with CNN's Chad Myers.

Plus how the flames are impacting our planet, the big picture, the animals endangered, the health concerns for people. What you need to know.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Animal Planet Jeff Corwin are going to join me. And again, stay with us for a special documentary, "PLANET IN PERIL," at the top of the hour, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE EVACUEE: What's going to happen when I do walk home and see what condition my house is in or may not be in? That's the scary part.


COOPER: Here's something even potentially scarier. As we look at what nature is capable of, the experts say, get used to it. More wildfires, deeper droughts, more extreme weather. They're all symptoms of a planet in peril.

We spent the last year documenting it all around the world in high-definition video. Producer Charlie Moore, editor Carl Graf, Sanjay Gupta, Jeff Corwin and I.

Part two airs in just about 10 minutes. Jeff Corwin and Sanjay Gupta joining me now to talk about the fires that we've been looking at and the bigger picture that we're going to be focusing on in "PLANET IN PERIL.". Jeff, twice as many acres have burned because of wildfires now than in 1999. Annual fire season increased by 78 days since the mid '80s. How much of climate change making force more susceptible to these kinds of fires?

JEFF CORWIN, HOST, ANIMAL PLANET: Anderson, it's absolutely astonishing. 2006 had an incredibly catastrophic year when it came to wildfires. Up 125 percent, 9.9 million acres scorched.

And we're now in what we call the era of mega fires. Fires that you're experiencing out there in California that are 10 times greater than your standard wildfire.

What's interesting is that scientists are now finding a direct correlation with these incredibly powerful wildfires and climate change. How you can look at it is sort of in this scenario.

With the warming earth, and it's predicted that during this century, the earth will warm from four to seven degrees Fahrenheit. And with that warmth will be an increase in drought, a melt in snow pack. As that snow pack melts, there's no water available to keep the soil moist. And, of course, that exposes that habit to the -- that habitat to the incredible impact of wildfires like you're experiencing out there.

COOPER: And to see that ice melt, the snow packs melt, we traveled the globe this past year up in, Jeff and I were up in Greenland. You're going to see that on "PLANET IN PERIL" which starts in less than 10 minutes from now.

Sanjay, as we look at those pictures, which are live pictures from the Santiago fire, which firefighters now believe may have been intentionally set, that's what they're investigating. These are in Orange County from KABC.

Let's talk about the health effects. I mean, it can have direct obvious health effects and burns. But this can affect people miles away.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's a common misconception that it doesn't. I mean, because you see the fire and you figure out all that soot and all the potential burns are the most detrimental health effect. What we know now is a couple things. Very interesting.

These particles can actually diminish in size. And as they diminish in size, they become easier to float, if you will. Those smaller particles are the ones that can actually embed themselves deep in the lungs.

Specifically, we learned about this today, Anderson. Smaller than three microns, a 2.5 micron can travel up to 50 miles away and cause problems deep inside people's lungs. So we're hearing about, you know, soccer practices being canceled 50 miles away from here. People being told to stay inside even though you can't see it. Potential and significant health -- (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I was on the Harris fire today and inhaling a lot of smoke. I've got to tell you. I feel I've been coughing. My eyes are watering. All these particles, you breathe them in.

GUPTA: Yes, and again it's that misconception. If you don't see it, it's not going to be a bother. But people miles away are probably going to have problems. And it's going to be a few days or a few weeks from now still.

COOPER: It's interesting actually. You can actually see as we're talking, some ash floating down.


COOPER: One of the firefighters said that's good news. It means the winds isn't carrying it anymore. But it is coming down again as things we're breathing in.

GUPTA: That's right. At least, the wind's closer to here. But you know, it gets up far into the skies. As you know Anderson, and some of those trade winds can carry it further down than we think.

COOPER: Jeff, let's talk about how fires this magnitude impact ecosystems. Do wildfires provide any benefits to them?

CORWIN: Absolutely, Anderson. Actually, wildfires are an integral part of the western landscape. And, in fact, that habitat -- that habitat out there, that conifers, that evergreen forests, such as the black spruce, and the various other sort of evergreen trees that grow out there and the wildlife that lives within this habitat, actually depend upon fire.

For example, the black spruce, they actually produce a seed within their cones that's pyrocidic (ph). It actually will actually spring the seeds out under the impacting stress and heat of a fire.

But the fire experiencing is very different. In a traditional wildfire, you can almost look at it as a mosaic. Various areas burning with large tracks of pristine habitats separated. But with climate change, for example, an increase in temperature, there's a pest out called the pine beetle. It's actually destroying these forests. By doing that, it's actually creating fuel to burn these fires, creating this incredible tinder box.

And, of course, in a traditional ecosystem with lots of stretched out habitat, wildlife can flee. Lizards and snakes and reptiles go underground. Birds will fly away. Mammals will retreat, but they retreat to pristine habitat. Where you are now with such extensive burned habitat, there is no place for this wildlife to go.

COOPER: And all these fires are releasing CO2 into the air. That's one of the things we addressed in "PLANET IN PERIL" which starts in just a few minutes. We take you to the Amazon rainforests, where you see huge logs (ph) and the forest burning. You can smell the smoke. We're going to bring you to the front lines of that fire and that destruction in just a few minutes.

Jeff, thanks very much. Sanjay as well. We're going to check in with Sanjay throughout this evening.

All this week, we've heard assurances. The fire crews are doing all they can even though they are stretched to the limit. We've seen it ourselves. They work constantly around the clock risking their lives. There's no questioning the firefighters' determination and their courage. It is all around us.

But larger crews could do more, and those unstretchable limits were imposed by decisions made long before anyone smelled smoke. So tonight, we're keeping them honest.

So John is looking at how we set ourselves up for the worst instead of perhaps preparing for it.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, voice-over): Since 2001, the federal government has spent $3.2 billion of your money fighting and preventing fires. It sounds like a lot. But keeping them honest, we took a closer look and it may be too little.

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D), NEW MEXICO, ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES CMTE. CHMN: We have seen a steady trend of more and more forest fires, and more and more fires in general on our public land.

The government probably has not reacted quickly enough to the fact that this may be a long-term problem.

JOHNS: The government agencies we're talking about control 700 million acres of public lands. So at that much real estate, 3.2 billion doesn't go far. Even worse, those agencies spend so much money fighting that they have to dip into the money they're supposed to use for preventing fires.

According to the government accountability office, the federal government has overspent. Overspent on fighting fires every year for the last 17 years since 1990. And when that happens, they make up the difference largely from the account they're supposed to use for prevention.

BINGAMAN: When the fires turn out to be more severe than they anticipated and the costs greater than they anticipated, they beg, borrow, and steal from other accounts in order to cover those costs, and then they come to Congress and say we need to replenish those funds.

JOHNS: Still, to their credit, the feds have cleared out combustible material from about 18 million acres. But the problem we keep hearing about is, more and more people like living close to the wild land.

DIRK KEMPTHORNE, INTERIOR SECRETARY: What is new is you have so many more residences that are building right up to these areas, we call the wild land urban interface. And unfortunately, that's part of the reason that we're seeing the loss of these structures.

JOHNS: The experts say people living near land that can burn have to take their own precautions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, you know, a lot of this starts with the homeowner or the business owners themselves. I mean, if you like to live in an area that has a high fire risk, a fire danger, really, it's incumbent upon you to build a home that or retrofit your homes to make it as ignition resistant as possible.

JOHNS: And that may be the only way you save yourself from this because if history is a guide, the immense costs of fighting these fires could be coming out of the pot of money to prevent fires like these in the first place. Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Let's check in with Chad Myers. We've got about a minute before "PLANET IN PERIL" begins. Let's check in with Chad about how the weather is doing now especially that wind, which has been driving these fires -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Good news, Anderson. The wind is dying off. Now, the bad news is that means that the smoke is not going to get pushed away as far. It's going to be hanging around longer as well.

Look at all of the smoke from San Diego all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. And then what's going to happen for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, we're actually going to push in a cold front and that will bring all that smoke back into L.A.. And soon now, we're going to have big time breathing problems, pushing that smoke all the way into the inland empire. Twenty-nine palms, maybe as far east as Phoenix, you may be smelling the smoke coming up.

So if you have a big problem with that smoke, maybe now would be a time to take a plane flight somewhere else and get away from that because that smoke is going to be there for weeks. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: And you're looking at pictures on the right-hand side of the screen, the Santiago Canyon fire again thought to be manmade. At this point, arson investigators looking into it. We're going to continue to follow that story all throughout the next four or five hours of live coverage here.

We're going to be breaking into "PLANET IN PERIL" with bulletins on the fire every 15 minutes or so, bringing you updates on the Santiago Canyon fire and others. Showing you also now the global view, the big picture if you will. Fire, drought, deforestation, all of it connected. Our "PLANET IN PERIL" documentary, a year-long investigation by CNN, a worldwide investigation.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jeff Corwin, myself, producers, photographers, editors -- let's show you, shot in high-definition. Part two of "PLANET IN PERIL" starts now.