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Wintry Storm Dumps Snow Across Colorado; Rumsfeld Defense; Three Firefighters Killed, Two Injured Fighting California Blaze; Laura Bush on the Campaign Trail

Aired October 26, 2006 - 14:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Fire and ice. We're tracking weather all across the country. We've got wildfires in southern California, blizzards in Colorado.
Rob Marciano watching it closely from the CNN weather center.

Rob, those winds can get pretty fierce.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They certain can, and the Santa Anas now blowing to 30 miles an hour in spots, mostly east of the I-5 corridor.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Got a lot happening here. Rob showed you the fires. He also showed you some winter weather there.

Colorado, you can color it white today. The snow is coming down by the shovelful. It's even blowing sideways, making driving tricky at best. Schools are closed there and most businesses are, too, but our Jonathan Freed, well, he's working.

Should we call him "Jonathan Freeze" today? He's braving the elements in Colorado Springs.

How are you holding up there?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much. "Jonathan Freeze," that's wonderful. And how is the temperatures in the studio there today? I'm just wondering?

LEMON: You know what? We had to turn the temperature down a little bit, Jonathan. It's kind of warm in the studio, so we've got to turn the fans on.

FREED: Just to kind of equalize it. If you guys could turn it down to maybe a balmy 50 where you are...


LEMON: Where are you standing? It looks like -- it looks like you are getting blown around a lot. Where are you standing, exactly?

FREED: We are. And I heard Rob say 32 mile an hour or so wind here in Colorado Springs. I would say, Rob, I think -- I think you're right on about that.

Where we are, Pikes Peak -- the most visited mountain in North America, my friend -- is, you're just going to have to take my word for it, right there. Yes. It is -- it is.

And normally it's a lovely and majestic sight. I was hoping to try to find, you know, some kind of a postcard that I could hold up for you. We may still be able to do that in lieu of showing you the actual mountain.

We're happy to say, though, that aside from the usual type of activity or inactivity that you see in a storm like this, there are no serious injuries that we are aware of at all to report. Some cars off the road, inconvenience. Schools closed. The library's closed, courts closed.

Warnings, caution, asking people to just say off the road. Interstates closed. I-70, which heads west outside of Denver, there was a rockslide in some places, so you've got a -- there's a 30-mile stretch or so that's closed there.

People here, though, saying that, yes, it's October, and it's snowing, but not unusual, they say, to see snow before Halloween.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, Jonathan, we were -- I said earlier that the snow was blowing side ways, so did Rob. Can you attest to that?

FREED: Oh, yes. It is definitely horizontal action that we are see here, and I am sort of girded this way. And I'm not going to let go.

LEMON: All right. Speaking of horizontal action, can you...

FREED: I am not letting go.

LEMON: Can you give us a snow angel while you're there? We'd like to see that on the air. Come on.

FREED: Say that again? Say that again?

LEMON: Give us a snow angel.

PHILLIPS: I think he has a bad connection.

FREED: I'll give you a snow angel. Sure. Sure.

LEMON: He's like, "I can't hear you."

FREED: I can -- I can -- I can feel several people in the executive suite in CNN leaning forward saying, "Don't do it, Freed."

LEMON: Well, good. Just messing with you. Thank you. And be careful, as everyone should in that area.

FREED: Thanks.

LEMON: As you said, the roads are bad, so everyone needs to be careful.

FREED: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: Thank you, Jonathan Freed.

FREED: Thanks.

LEMON: We want to remind our viewers, when weather becomes the news, you can become a CNN correspondent. If you see severe weather happening, send it right to us on I-report. Go to and click on "I-Report," or type in on your cell phone and share your photos or your video.

PHILLIPS: Another feisty performance today from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld faced reporters, conceded problems in Iraq, but said a lot of those problems are being overblown for political reasons.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You're looking for some sort of a guillotine to come flowing down if some date isn't met. That's not what this is about. This is complicated stuff. It's difficult.

We're looking out in the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty. So you ought to just back off. Take a look at it. Relax.

Understand that it's complicated, it's difficult, that honorable people are working on these things together. There isn't any daylight between them.


PHILLIPS: Well, CNN's Barbara Starr was at that briefing. As a matter of fact, she joins us live from the Pentagon.

And Barbara, I have to ask you, you hit him with tough questions -- a tough question, rather, about religious violence and is that the place for U.S. troops to get involved. It didn't really seem like he answered your question.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the secretary of defense, Kyra. He's pretty good at parsing questions when he chooses to, answering the parts he likes. The parts he doesn't he sort of leaves alone.

One of the big things that emerged at this press conference that just finished up and lasted for just over 30 minutes or so, was Secretary Rumsfeld was repeatedly asked about this notion of deadlines, benchmarks, timelines. That was discussed from the podium in Baghdad just yesterday by General Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, put out there by them in Baghdad as a major signal of progress in Iraq, that there was work now completed with the Iraqi government on setting some benchmarks for progress in Iraq. The secretary was repeatedly asked about this, and very interestingly didn't sign up to the notion that the benchmarks were anything other than routine business. Nothing very definite about all of them.

You notice in that sound bite he said, you know, "You're looking for some sort of guillotine to come down" when we asked, "Is there a penalty if the benchmarks aren't met?"

That's one of the key questions right now, what will hold the Iraqi government's feet to the fire, if you will, about making the progress on the security front against the militias, against the death squads that needs to be made. Because what -- that gets to the other question that came up.

Unless the Iraqis make the progress against the death squads and the militias, what has become clear, many people believe, when you look at what the statements over the last few days, is that U.S. troops will be increasingly in the role of being the ones to try and stop the Shia-Sunni violence. And what evidence is there of that? Well, both General Casey, yesterday in Baghdad, and General Caldwell, this morning, from the podium in Baghdad, more press conferences, both top commanders talking a good deal about specific U.S. military operations, and Iraqi operations as well, against the death squads and militias.

That's something that U.S. troops are getting involved in, and a lot of people raising the question about that mission for the U.S. soldier in Iraq, trying to step in between the Shia and Sunni civil unrest, if it is not a civil war -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: We're going to talk more about that missing soldier now.

Thanks so much.

Barbara Starr.

That search for that U.S. soldier missing and apparently kidnapped in Iraq, U.S. forces are combing the streets of Baghdad as we speak. They've carried out raids and have detained what are described as a number of personnel.

New details are emerging this hour also on what exactly happened when that soldier disappeared on Monday.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: It is believed that the soldier left the IZ, international zone, to visit with family members. He was reportedly at a relative's house when three cars pulled up to the residence.

The men, who were described had dark-colored rags over their nose and mouths, handcuffed the soldier, and forced them into one of their vehicles. He is an American of Iraqi descent. The soldier's relative who claimed to have been at the residence when the abduction occurred was reportedly contacted by the alleged kidnappers using the soldier's personal cell phone.


PHILLIPS: Caldwell says that the Iraqi government is doing all it can to help U.S. forces find that missing soldier.

LEMON: President Bush is on the campaign trail this afternoon in the Midwest, but the fight for Iraq remains front and center for the president.

CNN's Elaine Quijano joins us with more in Michigan.

Hello, Elaine.


Well, that's exactly right, Iraq continues to be the issue that continues to dominate the headlines.

President Bush, as you noted, out on the campaign trail. In fact, at this hour he is in Des Moines, Iowa, something of a congressional fund-raiser there. He's due to come here to Warren, Michigan, in just a few hours for a senatorial fund-raiser. But his aides both in Washington and on the road are pushing back against the notion that Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has somehow rejected the idea of benchmarks.

Now, this is all because of a news conference yesterday out of Iraq. The president's aides saying that, instead, what the prime minister was asked was about the idea of U.S. troop withdrawal within a specific time frame of 18 months. That, they say, is something that the prime minister has, in fact, rejected. But the president's aides are insisting that both President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki are indeed on the same page.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The prime minister's making it clear that he looks upon us as a valued ally and that he's not trying to position himself. And furthermore, he's not trying to take whacks against the administration. Again, I would caution against taking what amounted to a bad wire story and ramping it up into a disagreement between governments, because you're looking for a fight where one doesn't exist.


QUIJANO: So, the president's aides being very careful to try to set the record straight in their -- in their view. They want to make sure that at this critical point, in fact, the message is out that the United States and the Iraqi government are both working very closely together on this issue of the Iraqis reaching these benchmarks, these goals. Of course, this is coming within the context of the midterm elections coming up, less than two weeks away. A critical time in U.S. Politics, and the president understanding that his fellow Republicans are quite nervous about the effect that the Iraq war will have on the re-election process -- Don.

LEMON: Elaine, no doubt that Iraq is coming up on the campaign trail for the president. I would imagine he's no longer talking about staying the course, though?

QUIJANO: Right. As we've been reporting for the past couple of days, in fact, the White House has said essentially the president has rejected that as a -- as a mantra, because it only tells part of the story. And, in fact, what's happened is that you've had Democrats who have been very vigorous in trying to use that "stay the course" phrase that we've heard the president utter so many times before as an example, they say, of the administration sticking to what amounts to a failed policy, according to the president's critics.

So, of course he's not using that phrase, "stay the course." Instead, trying to emphasize that the administration is remaining flexible in tactics. That's something we've heard from him in recent days, and you can expect that we're going to hear more on that in the days to come -- Don.

LEMON: Elaine Quijano on the campaign trail with the president in Warren, Michigan.

Thank you for your report.

PHILLIPS: Let's get straight to the newsroom now. Fredricka Whitfield working more details on the wildfires out there in California.

We've seen those live pictures, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Right, and the pictures have been very dramatic and pretty powerful. These fires covering 1,000 acres near the desert hills.

Now, The Associated Press is now reporting a real tragedy involved in this fire. Three firefighters have been killed, according to the U.S. Forest Service -- it's being reported by The Associated Press -- and two critically injured while trying to battle this wildfire near Palm Springs, California. We're continuing to try to get any more information, confirmation of this, but this information coming from The Associated Press right now.

You're looking at live pictures right now of this fire. This fire very destructive, as I said, mentioning earlier, covering 1,000 acres. And you're seeing some structural damage that has been caused as well.

We're going to continue to do a lot more reporting on this to find out more about these three firefighters that reportedly have been killed from this blaze and two critically injured, according to The Associated Press.

PHILLIPS: All right, Fred.

And I'm told we've got Patrick Chandler on the line from Riverside Fire Department.

Patrick, can you hear me all right?


PHILLIPS: Patrick?


PHILLIPS: It's Kyra Phillips, you're live on CNN. I appreciate you joining us.

I'm telling our viewers you're with the Riverside Fire Department.

We are just getting word -- I don't know if you were able to hear what Fredicka had to say about the U.S. Forest Service saying that three firefighters have been killed and two critically injured battling this wildfire near Palm Springs.

Can you -- can you confirm that?

CHANDLER: Well, as of right now, I can't confirm any information about any firefighters who have been injured or killed on this fire. I mean, I have heard reports, I have seen what's been on the news, but I can't confirm any information right now or release any information on it.

PHILLIPS: So you haven't gotten any word of any firefighters being killed or injured at this point?

CHANDLER: Well, just right now I can't confirm any information.

PHILLIPS: So it's all coming through the office right now?

CHANDLER: Yes. Right now information is flowing in, but like I said, I can't confirm any information as to whether or not any firefighters have been injured or killed right now.

PHILLIPS: OK. Now we are saying that we have confirmed it through the U.S. Forest Service, so we'll try to get them on the line as well.

Patrick, give me an update just in light of that news that we're just finding out. How dangerous is this becoming? And how are firefighters responding at this point? Is there enough manpower? How are you trying to work this wildfire?

CHANDLER: Well, you know, during -- during the past couple of days we've been at a -- been at a -- not only a red-flag warning, so -- which means, you know, we're going to have high gusts of winds, as well as very dry weather, which is very -- which is weather that can help really push a wildfire very fastly, and it can grow very fastly as well -- as well as, you know, threaten structures that are nearby, as well as, you know, put firefighters in danger due to the very erratic conditions on scene.

PHILLIPS: So is that what -- is that the main -- is that the main, I guess, threat that firefighters are up against? Are these strong winds at this point?

CHANDLER: Well, early on we got reports that, you know, the fire was being pushed in the southwest direction, with 18 to 25-mile-an- hour winds. So they may be higher at times or lower.

PHILLIPS: All right. We're actually seeing this live picture of this one area, the helicopter shot is actually holding on this one neighborhood. I don't know if you are able to see this. Are you near a television?

CHANDLER: Yes, I'm looking at it right now.

PHILLIPS: Can you tell me where exactly that is?

CHANDLER: You know, I haven't got an actual confirmation as to where that -- that structure is, or that house or ranch home is right now.

PHILLIPS: So, it's a neighborhood in Cabazon, is that right?

CHANDLER: Well, actually, yes, Cabazon is an unincorporated community jest west of Palm Springs, and so there were three communities near there that were -- that were -- where we had mandatory evacuations that were threatened by the fire. One was Twin Pines, the other was Poppet Flats in Wonder View. So, it's possible that the home could be in the Cabazon area or near the communities that -- where we had mandatory evacuations.

PHILLIPS: All right. So you -- are you still -- are you -- do you think you're going to move into more evacuations, or is it just going to be the areas you just named?

CHANDLER: Well, as of right now, it's areas that we just named, but if this fire continues to grow and go in the direction that it's going, that there may be need -- a greater need to have mandatory evacuations. So far we've had to cut down -- well, close down one state highway, Highway 79, which goes from Beaumont to Hemet, as well as close Highway 243, which is up in the Idyllwild mountain area.

PHILLIPS: So 249 and 79, highways 79 and 249 you've had to close down?

CHANDLER: 79 and 243.

PHILLIPS: And 243, got it. OK, we'll keep updating our viewers with that information.

So -- so at this point you can't say you've got this contained. You're monitoring how the wind shifts and where the flames will go next, and... CHANDLER: Well, I mean, we do -- we do have, you know, several hundreds of firefighters out there from (INAUDIBLE) County Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service and other surrounding fire departments and other -- also, we have local law enforcement helping out with the road closures and helping to -- you know, if people need to evacuate or having them close down some roads.

So, you know -- so right now the fire is going to -- it has been growing. We don't right now have any percentage of containment on it. And so, yes, as the day goes along we'll be having -- hopefully get some more information coming in.

PHILLIPS: Patrick Chandler, let us know, OK?


PHILLIPS: With the Riverside Fire Department.

Patrick, thanks so much.

And if you are just tuning in, real quickly I want to update the news that we have just confirmed, and that is that the U.S. Forest Service telling CNN three firefighters have been killed, two critically injured as firefighters have been battling this wildfire near Palm Springs, a wildfire that has now driven more than 200 people from their homes.

You are actually seeing some of the homes here that have been destroyed in this area. You can see the flames still racing through part of this desert hills area, just northwest of Palm Springs.

Earlier we had said there were no injuries reported. Now we are getting confirmation from the U.S. Forest Service, three firefighters have been killed, two critically injured.

We're staying on the story.

LEMON: Yes. As we -- we want to keep these pictures going. And you saw the helicopter there trying to get water. And it would appear that the winds, at least those Santa Ana winds, may be a huge contributing factor to all of this.

Why don't we bring in Rob Marciano, our meteorologist, to talk to us a bit about that -- Rob.


LEMON: Well, stay with this story. We're going to stay with this story.

We're going to watch the blizzards in Colorado, and we're going to have more from the NEWSROOM on all that's happening. Fire and ice, as you see there on your screen, straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: And we are keeping close watch on some deadly wildfires happening in California, just near Palm Springs. These things started about midnight last night, quickly spread over about 18 -- about 800, rather, acres, and it gets worse.

We've just learned within the last few minutes that three firefighters were killed in this. This is from the U.S. Forest Service.

Three firefighters have been killed in this, two have been critically injured. And it still doesn't seem that firefighters have gotten a hold of these fires that are happening in southern California.

We're keeping close watch on this. We'll update you throughout the NEWSROOM today.

PHILLIPS: Well, earnings season is in high gear, and today the world's biggest oil company is grabbing the spotlight on Wall Street.

Susan Lisovicz joins us live from the New York Stock Exchange with the details.

Hey, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Just colossal figures, Kyra, and we've heard them before.


LEMON: To some it's the forgotten war, but roadside bombs, suicide attacks and a determined enemy keep it very much alive. A live report from the war in Afghanistan is ahead.

PHILLIPS: Plus, we're watching a dangerous situation in California. Wildfires burning out of control. Three firefighters dead, two injured.

Live updates from the NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Some developing news happening in Southern California near Palm Springs. You're looking at some raging wildfires that started about midnight and then continues to spread. It's already burned over 800 acres.

And, sadly, we've learned here at CNN just within the last few minutes three firefighters have been killed in all this, two others injured. And according to the National Forest Service, a chief there with the Forest Service, a spokesperson says that the men who died were trapped within their fire engine. So there's some deaths involved in this.

Also, folks, at least 200 people have been evacuated from their homes. These fires are still going. We heard from Rob Marciano, our meteorologist here, a short time ago. The winds are not helping in all of this and, sadly, it looks like this is going to be burning for quite some time here.

We're keeping a close watch on all of this. Three firefighters killed, two critically injured and several hundred people driven from their homes today. And this happening in Southern California, just near Palm Springs.

PHILLIPS: Now, the war in Afghanistan, taking out insurgents and winning over hearts and minds. NATO says patience combined with relentless fighting and forces is turning things around. To fill us in, CNN's Jamie McIntyre joining us from the Afghan capital of Kabul -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, you know, all the talk about adjusting the strategy in Iraq, you're not hearing any of that from the top NATO commanders who insist, despite the violence over the summer from the resurgence of the Taliban, they believe their military strategy is bearing fruit.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): British NATO troops are on a hearts and minds mission in the heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Brigadier General Nick Pope is checking with shopkeepers, and pitching walnuts in a popular children's game.


MCINTYRE: The Taliban may have staged a comeback this summer in the south, but in the faces on the streets of Kabul, you can see a glimmer of what Afghanistan could be.

(on camera): We're perfectly safe here?

POPE: Absolutely safe, yes.

MCINTYRE: I'm wearing body armor, you're wearing -- but we've taken our helmets off.

POPE: We take our helmets off. We wear body armor because that's what our force protection rules require to us do, but I do not feel threatened walking around in this part of the community one iota.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, on a four-day inspection tour, says that while Iraq strategy may be under review, Afghanistan is on the right path.

GEN. JAMES JONES, NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Reconstruction has to follow any kind of military activity. That's what convinces the people that we're serious about this.

MCINTYRE (on camera): What would you say to somebody who thinks Afghanistan is not going well and is not going to be a success? POPE: I say look around us. You know, if we are -- if this country is failing, then you would not see this activity on the streets around us. I would not be walking around here in a soft beret. I would not go around talking to the locals and having a good time talking to the locals, finding out information from them and finding out whether they are happy. So from my perspective, actually, we are making progress here.


MCINTYRE: And, Kyra, while Kabul is just one small slice of the picture here in Afghanistan, NATO says that after a spike in August and September, the number of attacks across the country has actually dropped dramatically.

Now there was -- there has been a slight increase in the number of car and suicide bombs, but NATO commanders say. overall, the violence is down. Still, NATO's top commander, general James Jones, told CNN that all the military success will be for naught if it's not followed up quickly by real improvement for the average citizens of Afghanistan -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So what are commanders telling you about the opium trade? That's what's funding the Taliban, isn't it?

MCINTYRE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, General Jones calls that the Achilles' heel of the whole plan. The multibillion dollar opium industry is really spreading. The cultivation of the opium poppy is really spreading year to year. You can see it on the NATO charts they have in headquarters here, and they are really trying to get a handle on how to do that.

NATO has typically said it's not a military task, but they are looking for ways that NATO can do more to help. One of those things that General Jones is doing he brought the DEA administrator along on this inspection tour with him to get some ideas about how they can be more effective in shutting down the drug trade.

PHILLIPS: Jamie McIntyre, live from Kabul. Thanks, Jamie.

LEMON: Flames and fierce winds, a dangerous combination, east of Los Angeles. Take a look at these live pictures. Fires, raging there. We're going straight to the scene just on the other side of this break in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: And all afternoon here in the CNN NEWSROOM, we've been following developing news. Some raging wildfires in Southern California, just near Palm Springs. So far we've heard three firefighters have been killed, two firefighters injured critically, and several hundred people driven from their homes.

Why don't we get a report from someone who is there? Let's go to our CNN correspondent, Thelma Gutierrez.

Thelma, tell us what's happening. You're in Los Angeles, in the area. What's going on there?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Don, this is a very dangerous situation. You have the Santa Ana winds blowing in this area. This is an area between Palm springs and Los Angeles. It's called the Cabazon Fire. Now, in those fires, when you have those winds whipping up like that, you know, you have -- it's -- these fires create its own weather pretty much.

And so you have three firefighters who were apparently trying to save a structure there early this morning. They were trapped in their engines, according to the Associated Press report. High winds pushed fire over those engines, and they were trapped. Three dead, two critically injured. Identities have not yet been released. They were, again, killed near Cabazon.

Out there, Don, 25-mile-an-hour winds. Very dangerous. Anyone who's ever covered a firestorm like this knows that you really just can't turn your back to the fire. Suddenly you're out there. It looks as though the flames are quite far away. You turn around, and suddenly those flames are just on your back.

Very dangerous situation. As a matter of fact, the U.S...

LEMON: Thelma, you know, I was going to talk to you about that. You know, being in Los Angeles and covering these wildfires, they happen pretty frequently there. Tell us about the manpower. You talked a bit about the dangers, but it takes quite a bit of power to fight these fires.

GUTIERREZ: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you have firefighters on the ground in these areas. Very difficult situation. Very rural area, sparsely populated. At the same time, it's very rugged terrain, very steep terrain, lots of dry brush. We were out there not long ago, and you have to fight these fires pretty much from the air. And so that means that, you know, you have -- you fly during the day.

These firefighters, unfortunately, were up about -- it was shortly after 1:00 a.m. that they were trapped in their fire engines when the flames came through. Again, Don, we're talking about 4,000 acres. There have been mandatory evacuations. We don't know exactly how many people have had to leave the area. We know that at least one structure we saw was burned, one home that was high in the hill, completely burned. Again, we don't know exactly how many people have been asked to leave the area.

LEMON: And, Thelma, you don't know exactly how many homes, really, because the video we're looking at here, it seems to have spread across a wide swathe of land there. And homes -- we've seen homes -- sort of looks like they're down to the foundation in the video that we're looking at.

GUTIERREZ: Yes, that's exactly right. I think that right now, what's been very difficult is that the U.S. Forest Service, Don, has had to pull all the personnel off the fire, they say, to give them time to gather their thoughts. And I assume that they'll be trying to determine exactly how many structures have been burned. We did see, as you have said, some structures burned to the ground. There was...

LEMON: Yes, we're looking at one of those.

GUTIERREZ: ... a raging fire right now, yes.

LEMON: We're looking at one of those right now, Thelma Gutierrez. And you said, the wind -- they fight these from the air, so the wind is certainly a problem there, at least according to our meteorologist, that they're fueling these flames.

Thelma Gutierrez, joining us from Los Angeles, thank you very much for your report. We'll check back in with you, if we can.

PHILLIPS: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just talked about the fires moments ago. Don't know if he had word about the firefighters that had been killed, because he doesn't mention it at this point, but he did address the fires a short time ago.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA: I just wanted to say that this morning at 1:30 in the morning, we had a fire start in Riverside County. And that fire has killed three federal firefighters, and one firefighter is critically injured. And so far 700 people have been evacuated. We have 700 firefighters battling this fire right now to contain it.

That's all the information we have right now. My and my wife's and all of our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those firefighters that were killed in this fire.


PHILLIPS: And just to update what the governor said there, because that's when he talked to reporters before we got the information through the U.S. Forest Service that three firefighters have been killed, two critically injured in battling this wildfire near Palm Springs. Apparently the firefighters were killed by trying to protect a home from the flames that broke out in the community of Cabazon, which is the area that we've been talking about throughout the morning. The forest spokesperson said that they were trapped inside their fire truck.

We're going to stay on that story. More live coverage straight ahead.

Plus, First Lady Laura Bush on the campaign trail, putting her popularity to work. Hear what she said about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Our Ed Henry talked to her. That's straight ahead from the NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Well, with the election less than two weeks off, the most popular member of the Bush administration is chipping in to help Republican candidates. First Lady Bush enjoys a 68 percent approval rating in a recent CNN poll by Opinion Research Corporation.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry spent some time with the first lady on the campaign trail. Ed joins me now, live from Washington.

Ed, the first lady did seem pretty fired up about Bob Woodward's new book, didn't she?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is the first opportunity for her to really react to Bob Woodward's book. You know, it caused a bit of a stir a few weeks ago, but she has not really been doing that many interviews. I was in Minnesota and Indiana with her and as you noted, that favorability rating really helps the Republican Party put her out there as a big draw.

She's almost like a rock star out there, autograph seekers and the photos that they want to take with her, in part, because she's a lot more popular than her husband right now. That has to do with her sort of having a softer image, sort of softening a little bit some of the rougher edges of the administration, some of the controversies about Iraq, et cetera.

But I also saw another side of her, as you mentioned. When I asked her about Bob Woodward's book, the general thrust saying that basically the White House has misled the public about the war a bit. She bristled at that, and then she bristled some more when I pressed her on whether or not she wanted Donald Rumsfeld out as defense secretary.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: And Andy Card also went on television and said that's not true. And let me just say the one thing about that book. Those quotes of mine were in quotes and the author didn't call me and fact check, and it just didn't happen.

HENRY: You wanted Rumsfeld out.

BUSH: Are you just trying to continue to give the quotes that I said I didn't say?

HENRY: OK, well, without any quotes, just in general, the book claims that you wanted to push Rumsfeld.

BUSH: No, absolutely not. That is absolutely not true.


HENRY: She went on to say that she thinks secretary Rumsfeld is doing a good job, and you could see her -- it was interesting yesterday, because you had the president back at the White House having a press conference, pushing back on the war in Iraq, and trying to turn the corner there. She was doing the same on the campaign trail, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Ed, usually you're quite charming with the first lady. She got a little upset with you there.

HENRY: I think she also said, in general, she's just a little frustrated by some of the attacks out there on her husband and I think she does want to push back.

PHILLIPS: All right, well, you also asked her about Senator Hillary Clinton. That came up in your conversation. What did she say about the first lady and how has their relationship been?

HENRY: Well, it's interesting, because you remember a few weeks back, Senator Clinton came out and weighed in on the subject as to which one of their husbands did a better job of battling Osama bin Laden after Bill Clinton's famous interview with Fox News where he was pushing back really hard and saying he did everything he could to try to capture bin Laden.

Senator Clinton weighed in and said basically a few weeks ago that she knows that her husband did all she could and did a better job essentially than Mr. Bush did. And I asked Mrs. Bush to weigh on that, and it was kind of interesting what she had to say.


HENRY: Senator Hillary Clinton recently said, quote, "I'm certain if my husband and his national security team had been given a classified report saying bin Laden determined to strike in the United States, that he would have taken it more seriously than history shows Mr. Bush did."

BUSH: Well, she's just trying to defend her husband and that's what I'm trying to do, too, as I go around here. I know what kind of job my husband does and I know it's a great job, and that, of course, what he wants more than anything is for our country to be safe. And I know that.

HENRY: And did he take that threat seriously enough to answer her question there?

BUSH: Well, I don't even know exactly what she was talking about.


HENRY: What's interesting is that she didn't want to fire back at Senator Clinton, instead almost saying there was a kinship there in the sense that she understood, as a former first lady, was defending her husband. That's what she's doing with her own husband, and that's what I saw on the campaign trail.

It's not just about First Lady Laura Bush, sort of stumping for Republican candidates. Even though her husband's not on the ballot this time around, she's almost stumping for him and his legacy and trying to push back.

He can't do quite as much as that. He's been trying. He's out on the campaign trail today, as you've been noting, but she's out there as well. She realizes they only have two years left and she wants to push back and defend his legacy, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Ed Henry, thanks so much.

HENRY: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, as we head into the midterm elections, stay up to date with the CNN Political Ticker. The daily service gives you an inside view of the day's political stories. See for yourself at

LEMON: And we're watching a dangerous situation in California, wildfires -- there they are -- burning out of control, three firefighters dead and two injured. Live reports coming up in the NEWSROOM, straight ahead.


LEMON: Three firefighters killed, two critically injured at wildfires that are happening in Southern California. It's called Cabazon. It's right near Palm Springs. And all these fires that you are looking at started about midnight, and they continue to spread to over 1,000 acres in that area.

Again, three firefighters killed in all this. Several hundred people driven from their homes, over 1,000 acres so far damaged in this. We're going to bring you more on the fires and what's happening throughout the world, coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.