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Arsonists At Work?; Creatures Great & Small; Fires' Mercy & Malice; Daunting Mission

Aired October 25, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: This bus was just on its way to the high school in the area and it overturned. We know that parents are being asked to head to the hospital now in that area where these injured kids were taken. So I'm sure a very rough and frightening morning for them. We will stay on top of this story for you, bring you any new details just as soon as we get them.
Good morning once again, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Stay informed all day in the CNN NEWSROOM. Here's what's on the rundown.

The southern California wildfires. Weather favors firefighters today. Winds shift, die down, opening up aerial avenues of attack.

COLLINS: Evacuees' heart break. This hour, some of their e- mails and their i-Report pictures.

HARRIS: And wildfires can start in any state. What can you do to protect your family and your home? It is Thursday, October 25th, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And breaking news this morning. Targeting Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rise and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announcing new sanctions against Iran's revolutionary guard and the Quds force. The toughest sanctions in more than 20 years.


HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: Iran exploits it's global financial ties to pursue nuclear capability, to develop ballistic missiles and fund terrorism. Today we are taking additional steps to combat Iran's dangerous conduct and to engage financial institutions worldwide to make the most informed decisions about those with whom they choose to do business. The Iranian regime's ability to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolution depends on its access to international commercial and financial systems.

Iran also funnels hundreds of millions of dollars each year through the international financial system to terrorists. Iran's banks aid this conduct using a range of deceptive, financial practices intended to evade even the most stringent risk management controls. In dealing with Iran, it is nearly impossible to know one's customer and be assured that one is not unwittingly facilitating the regime's reckless behavior and conduct. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Well, Iran's revolutionary guard is an elite military branch about 125,000 strong. It's Quds force is a secretive branch of the Iranian military said to conduct operations beyond Iran's border. Tehran denies its forces are involved in terrorism or involved in meddling in Iraq.

COLLINS: Also unfolding this hour, in southern California now, the winds die down. Boy, good news, isn't it? And a renewed sense of hope is stirring now among the ashes. Fire crews are gaining ground on this fifth day of the raging fires. The hot, dry, Santa Ana winds are expected to all but disappear today. That's allowing firefighters' planes to bombard the fires from the air. You're looking at the slurry (ph) that they drop on those flames. That's a nice sight to see. Almost 100 planes, in fact, could take part in a massive aerial assault today.

Across the region, thousands of homes remain in danger. That's the bad news. Sixteen hundred have already been destroyed. Losses are estimated at more than $1 billion and counting.

President Bush will tour the region a little bit later today. He's going to be taking a look at the devastation by air and meet with some of those chased from their homes.

Meanwhile, federal investigators are focusing on whether arsonists are to be blamed for some of the fires that were pretty tough to figure out. Firefighters, though, are gaining ground. And fire investigators, as we said, are looking for clues. So are the arsonists to blame? CNN's Keith Oppenheim has the very latest now on the investigation.

Keith, what are firefighters telling you at this point? We're looking at two fires -- actually one fire but set in two separate locations, right, that could be arson?

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. It's really a crazy story. The local authorities in Orange County are now working with the FBI and the ATF. They have a number of agents on this case. They are saying this big fire was definitely set by an arsonist or arsonists. It could be more than one person. And they have looked at three locations, Heidi. They have confirmed for me that in two of them they're quite sure that the fire was set. And earlier we spoke to Kris Concepcion of the Orange County Fire Authority and he says that on Sunday night, that's when these fires were set and that happened at a time when there were already numerous fires out of control in southern California.


KRIS CONCEPCION, ORANGE COUNTY FIRE AUTHORITY: They knew that the winds were just howling down here in Orange County. We had really low humidities, high temperatures, and then they set the fire in a place that they know is a fire corridor. They know that that fire is going to move really, really quickly. So, you know, as far as entering into their mind and committing this type of reprehensible crime, I really don't know.

OPPENHEIM: But it's crazy.

CONCEPCION: It's very crazy. I mean, and it's -- to me it's unfathomable and really unthinkable to even think about doing something like this.


OPPENHEIM: The name of the fire we're talking about in Orange County is the Santiago Canyon Fire. It's already 22,000 acres large. It's burned that much and taken down 22 buildings, which include 14 homes. There is more than 1,000 firefighters now on this blaze and they're trying to protect 3,000 homes that are threatened. And they're also offering some significant reward money, Heidi. At least $70,000. That number could go up to $100,000 or more this morning. So we're monitoring that figure. The bottom line is, they want to find out who did this.

Back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, no question. Boy, oh, boy, can you imagine after everything that we have seen to find out that at least a couple of these are arson. Unbelievable.

All right. CNN's Keith Oppenheim coming to us from the Santiago Fire area in Orange County. Keith, thank you.

HARRIS: So five days later, what's the personal toll of the wildfires? Homes lost, entire neighborhoods leveled, friends, families displaced. With that said, many have turned their concerns to the most defenseless of all, the animals, caught up in the chaos and the panic of the wildfires. CNN's Dan Simon is at the largest shelter, San Diego's QUALCOMM Stadium.

And, you know, Dan, before -- I'll let you make the turn to the pet story, but if you would, how many people are still there at QUALCOMM?


Well, I'm told by San Diego Police that only about 300 people spent the night here last night. Obviously a number of folks have gone home now that so many communities have reopened.

Let me just sort of set the stage for you this morning. We just saw a number of FEMA workers show up, obviously here to assist the folks who have really been impacted by this wildfire. Meanwhile, when this place opened, obviously there are going to be some inevitable comparisons to Hurricane Katrina and the Superdome. But everybody we have talked to says there really is no comparison to be made. That everything here has been operated efficiently and everything has gone smoothly.

One example of that, Tony, is the medical tent offering free medical help here. We spoke to some of the folks who are working behind there. There are actually some pharmacy students. And they tell us that the most popular thing people are asking for, Tony, cough drops. No surprise there when you consider the quality of the air.

Let's turn now to the animals. We're not just talking about people evacuees, but also the animals. There's a place here for people to have their animals. When you get into the outskirts of San Diego, Tony, you get into a lot of farming communities, ranching communities. A lot of people have horses. Well, we stumbled upon an evacuation center in the town of Rancho San Diego, a very unlikely place. Take a look.


LINDSEY JEFFERS (ph): She's just my little girl.

SIMON, (voice over): On a normal day, high school senior Lindsey Jeffers would just be wrapping up third period. Instead, she's having to care for her family's three horses.

What a gorgeous animal. What's this one's name?

L. JEFFERS: This is Stretch.

SIMON: Her home threatened by fire, she and a friend corralled the animals and looked for a safe place to keep them. Turns out a lot of other horse owners had the same predicament. The fire came within a mile of their evacuation point, but this quiet, green pasture, so to speak, has now been rendered safe.

I'm standing at what is normally home plate of this YMCA baseball field, but today it's home to these 36 horses. The people here got everything they needed from volunteers, including 20 bales of hay.

The ballpark has become a tight-knit community. Many here unsure if their homes are still standing.

CAROL JEFFERS, LINDSAY'S MOTHER: Somebody pinch me and wake me up. This isn't happening.

SIMON: This is Lindsey's mother. Her father can't be here.

C. JEFFERS: This is my husband. He's on the fire department. I know yesterday he saved four homes and he just went back out on another strike team about a half hour ago.

SIMON: The two of them and some friends sleep in this RV.

C. JEFFERS: We can get four in here comfortably. We'll probably have to put someone on the floor with the dogs.

SIMON: Make that three dogs, two cats, and a gecko. They put him in the shower.

Lindsey is proud of her dad, but wishes he could be here.

L. JEFFERS: It's really hard. You know, I really miss him, but I know that he's doing all that he can.

SIMON: So, for now, she finds comfort with her horses and prays that she and they have a home to go back to.


SIMON: The YMCA says it's perfectly fine for those horses to be there as long as everything is cleaned up when they leave, if you know what I mean, Tony.

Back to you.

HARRIS: Yes. I know exactly what you mean. And quickly, Dan, you've been covering the fire since Sunday we were talking when you were in Malibu. Have you turned to the cough drops and have they helped?

SIMON: Yes, I have turned to the cough drops. They have helped, but the air quality still not great here. I anticipate that my crew and I, we're going to be feeling the effects for several days.


HARRIS: Yes, and get rid of the clothes. All right, Dan Simon for us at QUALCOMM Stadium.

Dan, thank you.

SIMON: Thanks.

HARRIS: A mother and her young son. Did their home survive the fires in Rancho Bernardo? We will talk to them in minutes.

COLLINS: Rolling hills one dotted with multimillion dollar homes. Today it is a landscape of charred, smoldering ruins with seemingly little to explain the path of destruction. CNN's Reggie Aqui is in Rancho Bernardo now with more on all of this.

Reggie, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about what you see this morning.

REGGIE AQUI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Heidi, I don't know if you've ever been to this portion of San Diego. Certainly I've been to San Diego, but I've never seen this view. It is a beautiful place to live. The sun is just rising beyond the mountains there, and I can see why people would want to pick this place to build a house.

Well, look what's left of it. Really, nothing. Earlier today I was kind of wondering, why aren't we seeing the residents coming back here to look at their properties. Apparently some of them are allowed to come back. But, Heidi, what would you come and hang out here for? I mean, you're going to come here, you're going to see that your car is completely burned out. This is all that's left of the wheel of this car, just the metal that has been completely burned down and, obviously, ran down and stopped and formed this solid piece. And what we're seeing in this cull-de-sac (ph), at least, is complete destruction. It's not like some of the other neighborhoods where you see two or three houses that are fine and then a couple of houses are completely gone. No, all of this is gone. And really what you've got left here, you just got a couple of fireplaces. And then if you kind of pan over there, you can see one of our other crews working here from CNN. There's what the neighbor's house looks like.

Some of these neighbors did come back and they were telling horrifying stories for the few minutes that they were here about being in their driveway, pulling away from their house and seeing it caught up in flames. Being called really just minutes before to evacuate.

I just wanted to show you, you know, the private things that are left and really there's not much left. But you just -- you have the lawn ornaments that they have here. Pretty much the only thing that's intact at this point. I'm sure this was a gorgeous house with such a beautiful view, and now it's just completely gone.

Heidi, I should let you know just an update on the numbers here. The Witch Fire, which is the one that destroyed this area, is now 20 percent contained. And there is zero wind this morning. So that's good news.

The other big fire, the Harris Fire, which is down the road a bit, is 10 percent contained. They are making progress, but they got a long way to go.

COLLINS: Boy, Reggie, excellent view of a neighborhood there. And I'm glad that you mentioned that, unfortunately, this cull-de-sac, everything is wiped out because we have seen a lot of pictures where one or two homes are still standing sort of just randomly in the middle of it all. But, unfortunately, it looks like this whole area is just a complete loss. Very unfortunate for those folks.

Reggie Aqui coming to us from Rancho Bernardo. Reggie, thanks so much for that great look at everything around you.

And now a close look at the wildfires' toll. As we've been telling you, at least six people have died, 78 others are hurt. The flames have scorched more than 462,000 acres or 723 square miles. And it's such a massive amount of acreage.

To give you an idea, we're looking at now 2.5 times the size of New York City. At least 1,600 homes have been destroyed and there are 12 active wildfires this morning, but 12 others are now 100 percent contained. Residents in 13 San Diego County communities can now return home. But as Reggie was saying, a lot of them probably just really don't want to because it's so hard to go back and see just absolute annihilation.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

So why don't we talk about these conditions right now. A couple of things working in the favor of the firefighters today. We're talking about an onshore flow. Reynolds, help me here.


HARRIS: And we're also talking about winds, the Santa Anas that have actually died down.

WOLF: That's true. They're going to die down. And you have to think of the Santa Ana winds as being a conveyor belt that's been pushing a lot of dry air from the Great Basin, far to the desert southwest, right in through these canyons into places like San Diego and back over to spots like Los Angeles. That helped fuel the flames. And also, look how it's been pushing that smoke. Some 800 miles out into the Pacific Ocean.

Now, the good news is that the Santa Ana winds are expected to die down. In many places the wind is still, as Reggie just showed you moments ago from his live location. However, what we can anticipate is that that thick smoke that we have that settled over parts of southern California, again, it is going to settle there.

The fires still burning, so we're going to see the smoke continue to rise up. But with this frontal boundary that is going to be coming in from the north, sweeping its way to the south and the southeast, some of the smoke that's settling over the Pacific may push right back inland. So people that have been suffering from all kinds of, say, breathing issues -- so Dan Simon, for example. He and the crew there on location have had some problems. They've had to deal with, you know, cough drops, trying to fight the problems you have with the particulates in the air. That is really not going to help matters.

So anyone who has lung problems, anyone who has respiratory problems in parts of southern California, you're going to have some huge issues. Plus, we're going to see much of the smoke pushed into parts of southern Arizona. So if you happen to be, say, in the Tucson area, maybe as far north as Phoenix, you're going to have some problems with that as well.

In terms of the forecast for winds, we're going to see again that onshore flow. That is certainly some good news. At times it's going to be pretty strong as that front edges its way southward from the north.

That's the latest in the forecast. Things are looking pretty good. Certainly much better than they have been over the last 48 hours.

Back to you.


COLLINS: Boy, oh, boy, that is certainly the truth.

Reynolds, thanks so much.

WOLF: Any time. HARRIS: You know, if you can, stay with us, absolutely please, for our continuing coverage of the California wildfires throughout the day here on CNN. And when you're not in front of your television, maybe you're at work, here is a way for you to sort of pop in, get updates. Take a look at all of the videos, use that player to take a look at the continuing coverage and the amazing video that's available to you at Just go to, click on the player. And then what you can actually do is put together a bit of a rundown. You can act as your own producer and take a look and get the updates you need on the continuing coverage of the wildfires in southern California.

COLLINS: Staying strong after the walls come tumbling down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom is crying and I'm like, don't cry, it's just -- it's not coming back. We're starting over.


COLLINS: Wow, that is staying strong for sure. Faith following the wildfires.


HARRIS: And welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

Coming down hard on Iran. New sanctions this morning. The toughest in 20 years. Why the U.S. is taking action and what it means for Iran. Details ahead.


HARRIS: A mother and her young son safe at QUALCOMM Stadium, but is there Rancho Bernardo home damaged? Is it still intact? Shervi Bahlin and her one-year-old son, Anthony, joining us.

Shervi, good to talk to you. How are you? Oh, look at Anthony smiling for us this morning. You have a happy child there, don't you?

SHERVI BAHLIN: Yes, he's very happy. He's having fun just running around playing with a lot of toys that they have here.

HARRIS: Has he had an opportunity to play with any of the animals? We understand there are a lot of animals at QUALCOMM. Something of a makeshift petting zoo out there.

BAHLIN: Yes. There's a couple of dogs that he's been petting. So he's been having a lot of animal friends, too.

HARRIS: So how are you doing? It's great to see you smiling. It's great to see him in such great spirits. How are you doing really?

BAHLIN: We're doing great. Like, we haven't heard anything about our house yet, but, I mean, everyone here has been helping out a lot and they're keeping us warm. We have a tent and everything. My son is keeping warm.


BAHLIN: That's what's my main concern.

HARRIS: Shervi, I don't understand, why haven't you heard anything about your home yet? This is the fifth day already. What's going on?

BAHLIN: There's houses that -- on a list that have been burned, but I'm not sure if my house is on it. I've looked plenty of times, but I'm hoping it's not on there. I mean, we're going to go check it out today to see if it has been burned or not. I'm hoping it hasn't been.

HARRIS: Sure. If it's not on the list, are you assuming the best? Certainly you can't -- you're not assuming the worst.

BAHLIN: No, I'm not assuming it because I'm hoping it's not burned. Because, I mean, we did call it and we got the messaging. So, I mean, maybe half of it's burned, but I mean I'm hoping that not all of it is.

HARRIS: And get Anthony -- is that thumb in his mouth? Get that thumb out of his mouth. Don't you suck your thumb there young Anthony. There you go. There you go.

So when are you actually going to be able to leave QUALCOMM and head back to your neighborhood?

BAHLIN: I have heard that we might be able to go home today. My friend -- a friend of mine, her husband's a police officer, and they live down the street. And yesterday they were just checking for hot spots. So I'm hoping that we can go home today and that it is safe.

HARRIS: And your stay at QUALCOMM has been good considering the circumstances?

BAHLIN: Yes. It's been great. We've been -- kept feeding and just drinking. Everybody has food. Just giving it away.

HARRIS: That's terrific. That's terrific.


HARRIS: All right. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to check back with you a little later. Maybe reach out and give you a call and find out how you are, how Anthony's doing, and if your house is intact, all right?


HARRIS: We'll do that.


HARRIS: OK. Take care of yourself.

BAHLIN: All right.

HARRIS: And take care of big man there, all right.

BAHLIN: Thank you.

HARRIS: Get that thumb out of your mouth. Come on.

BAHLIN: Bye-bye.

HARRIS: Thanks.

COLLINS: Better weather and better news, but for battle-weary fire officials, another daunting mission ahead. CNN's Kara Finnstrom is in Spring Valley this morning.

And, Kara, even though we are getting quite a bit of good news here, we are seeing some people go back to their homes, or at least what is left of them and things seem to be going pretty well at the shelter there at QUALCOMM. The firefighters, boy, oh, boy, they have had an incredibly, incredibly difficult time.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really have. They had a good day yesterday in the fact that they were able to actually get out there and do some of the grunt work that they say is necessary to really get these fires under control. They haven't been able to get all those choppers up there before this. So the clearing of the air, the smoke moving out, and the winds dying down have been very good.

But we are coming to you from another one of the shelters. You can see it just behind me with people getting some supplies. The good news here also is that 13 of the communities here have now lifted their mandatory evacuation orders, so many more people will be able to go home today.

Another development, though, Heidi, that we want to tell you about that is a little bit disturbing, two arson investigations now underway in another part of California.


FINNSTROM, (voice over): The massive fire, known as the Santiago Fire, is officially being investigated as arson. The Orange County Sheriff's Department is offering a $70,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the fire. A fire that's burned more than 20,000 acres. State officials are also saying that the smaller Rosa Fire in Riverside County may have been the act of an arsonist.

Many evacuated residents have also been allowed to return to their homes to see what is left. For many, it's nothing more than ashes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It burned everything. Oh, my God.

FINNSTROM: While the wildfires still threaten 25,000 structures, the burn rate in southern California is significantly lower today. Those Santa Ana winds have calmed, slowing the progress of the flames, and allowing firefighting aircraft to finally get up into the air and hit their marks.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R) CALIFORNIA: That we have, without any doubt, the greatest firefighters, the bravest firefighters, the most experienced firefighters in the world.

FINNSTROM: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he will fly over the devastated counties during President Bush's visit to the area.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully understand that the people have got a lot of anguish in their hearts and they just need to know a lot of folks care about them.


FINNSTROM: President Bush in the air right now. Once he does arrive, we're told he'll meet with some state, federal, and local leaders about the best way for these communities to move forward. And, Heidi, we also understand he'll be meeting with some of the local first responders for a big lunch, which should be uplifting to them after this very tough week.

COLLINS: All right. CNN's Kara Finnstrom sort of wrapping everything up for us there. Several different topics. Boy, Kara, thanks so much. You did some great work out there. Appreciate it.

HARRIS: You know, life in a stadium can get old quick. A man and his dog trying to keep up the spirits and the hopes of evacuees. How is he doing it? You'll see for yourself.


HARRIS: (INAUDIBLE) half hour. Bottom of the hour, 10:28 Eastern, 7:28 Pacific Time.

COLLINS: It's 10:30.

HARRIS: OK. There you go. Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

You know, it's been five straight days now and California wildfires are still raging, but things are getting better. Firefighters making some headway now thanks to calmer Santa Ana winds. Forestry officials say half of the two dozen major fires burning are now 100 percent contained. Some very good news.

And many evacuees are being allowed to return home, but unfortunately almost 1,600 homes have been incinerated. More than 700 square miles charred. And now two arson investigations, believe it or not, are underway.

President Bush is getting a first-hand look at the fire damage. He's getting ready to take an aerial tour of burned out areas in just about two hours from now. So we will be watching that.

Meanwhile, the wildfires don't just happen in California. Nearly every state has been devastated by them in the last century or so. How can you protect your home from wildfires? Many of you may be asking that question. So CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis is in California now to tell us a little bit more about exactly that.

Good morning to you, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Heidi good to see you.

Speaking of where wildfires are, do you know Georgia has the most wildfires every year? California just has the most devastating ones, as you can see right here.

And tip No. 1 here, I want to tell you, you know, the people who are most susceptible, the homes most susceptible to these kinds of fires are ones that are on steep grades, an incline of 20 percent or more. Those are the houses that get hit the most. And if you have vegetation landscaping that is not native, you may have a big problem. Of course reasons that you pretty much expect. If you have a big drought, three months or more of no rain, you're obviously susceptible to a wildfire -- Heidi.

COLLINS: And Living in an area like that and several other parts across the country, as you mentioned, you're usually told what exactly you need to do by way of keeping your home safe. There are specific things.

WILLIS: Oh, absolutely. You know, it's a lot about landscaping, because what tends to happen in a fire, particularly when it hits a big neighborhood like this, is you get embers that fly across the lawn. So what you want to do is move that landscaping away from the house.

Now, you can see here the landscaping is right on top of the house. It's very close. You want those trees 30 feet or more away from your home. You want to make sure that the land, the grass is well-watered so that the fire is less likely to jump over. If you have tree that is are six feet or taller -- I'm sorry, 20 feet or caller, you want to make sure the lower--level limbs are pruned well. It's about keeping a clear path around the house so that you don't have the problem of the fire jumping from one house to another, which is really what we saw in this neighborhood.

CHETRY: Yes, then what about the construction of your home? I imagine there are some things you can do, some choices you can make to make it, I don't know if fireproof is even possible, you know, 100 percent, But I imagine there are some things you can do.

WILLIS: Yes, well, you can't be 100 percent fireproof, but you see the brick here. Brick is one of the elements that's actually great because it tends to retard fire. Brick houses, stucco houses, they're less likely to burn.

But, Heidi, I want to show you some pictures. We have some pictures of a fire gel which people are now using in this area and some other places. It's expensive, but it's a gel made out of canola oil that goes over the top of your house. You put it on with a great big fire hose. They just spray it on, and it retards the fire, keeps the fire away. It's several layers, millions of layers deep. The fire burns off one layer. There's another layer behind it. It's made of tiny little bubbles, and apparently, you know, the technology is really good, and eventually it just falls to the ground.

But very interesting new technology for people hit by these wildfires. They can just spray their house with this gel, and as you can see, I believe you have our video, it's a pretty amazing little product out there that people are just getting their arms around. Pretty expensive though.

COLLINS: Yes, we are looking at some of that video, at least here, of a guy standing out there and spraying it. I think we've seen it once before. Look at this now. A lot of people were talking about this. I'm not so sure they know in other parts of the country that they can do this to really guard against those fires. That's pretty cool stuff.

Gerri, I know you have "OPEN HOUSE" coming up this weekend. Will you still be in California?

WILLIS: Yes, we're planning to be right here in California. We're going to tell you all about the wildfires, what it means for homeowners. We'll be looking at home owners insurance. We've seen problems in the past with people trying to make claims on their insurance. We'll take a look at how it's going so far in California, what the expectations are, and what you need to know if you're in the path of a wildfire or anything else. It'll be usable information you can use.

COLLINS: Very good. Gerri, we appreciate it, and we will be watching on Saturday, "OPEN HOUSE."

All right, Gerri Willis, our personal finance editor. Thank you, Gerri.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

HARRIS: Miles into space, not Miles O'Brien, just miles into space. Take a look at this, live pictures. NASA TV always providing great views of the work that's going on right now. Space Shuttle Discovery has docked, obviously with the International Space Station. And you see that the hatch door is now open. Boy, we understand this is going to be a very challenging mission for Discovery and the team on the crew of Discovery. A lot of challenging construction work ahead.

Boy, and we didn't see this, but apparently there was quite a maneuver, a giant somersault performed by Discovery in which the engineers had an opportunity to look at the ship's belly to make sure there was no damage resulting from liftoff. But as you can see, the hatch door's open, the work is under way, and we understand it is going to be quite a mission for the team of Discovery. We will keep an eye on that situation for you right here in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Always love those cool pictures.


COLLINS: One man's evening commute became an absolute nightmare. He was surrounded by fire until another driver got out to help. You've got to stick around to see the tape.


HARRIS: You know, traffic is always a nightmare in parts of California. Can we just say all of California? You know, but the wildfires have made it even worse, if you can imagine. Of course, you can. But how about this? For commuters or people just trying to get back home, there is good news this morning. CNN's -- Heidi, I made the mistake of running back just to say hello to Rusty, just to find out what's going on coming up here, coming up here. All kinds of mayhem.

COLLINS: I'm sure she wants us to share that. I hear her laughing.

Oh, there she is.

HARRIS: Rusty, good morning.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, good morning.

Welcome to the interactive CNN NEWSROOM where people call in from all over with their i-Reports and e-mails and trying to find out what's going on with this fire. Let other people know what's going on. We just had a caller, Shelly Van Bant (ph), who sent us a very interesting e-mail. She's in El Cajon, showing us the horses people have taken from their ranches. What they're doing is spray painting these horses to make sure that the owners will be able to get them in case they get transferred anywhere or evacuated sometime again.

Now you were talking about traffic. Absolutely. Now, anyone in that area can check the California Department of Transportation Web site, which Dimeta (ph) has been monitoring here. You can see all of the major interstates.

Now the major interstates are all open now. They had been closed earlier. You can see a live camera now that's showing Interstate 805 in San Diego, which is a very popular commute route. Not very crowded. It's commute time. Not a lot of people on the highway yet, of course.

Now we show you Oto Godfrey, one of our i-Reporters, shot some absolutely incredible video on Tuesday, in Irvine. Now you see these walls of flames. He was trying to drive. He finally had to stop his car, and some driver that was behind him actually got out of the car. That is not a fireman that you're seeing with that extinguisher. That is another driver who was behind Oto Godfrey and took out a fire extinguisher and tried to extinguish the flames himself.

Now, once again, this is a great time to talk about if you are sending us i-Reports and picture or video, or anything like that, please do it safely. Be very careful, especially if you are in an active fire area. Now some of the e-mails that we're getting now, Jake has been going through. Jake, what are you hearing from people now, people starting to go back into their homes, that sort of thing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: now a lot of people voicing concern about insurance policies in California, as well as they're still wanting to know how they can help out the people that are being affected out there.

DORNIN: Right, and we have a site on the CNN Web site, Impact Your World, where people can find out how to help other people, how to contribute. What are the organizations that are up and running? Of course a lot of people getting back into their homes. And I do have one personal note that I did receive from an old grammar school friend who had to evacuate, not once, but twice this week. He lived down the street from the reporter that you saw who stood in front of his house burning down. He does say that they were very lucky. They returned to a messy pool, some broken trees, lots of ash, but he wanted to thank all the hard working firefighters, police and military, who really sweated the big stuff and took huge risks, and continue to do the best they can for everyone here in San Diego. And that's signed Chris and Lisa Peterson in Rancho Santa Fe.

So they're lucky, but we've been seeing the pictures and hearing from people who aren't so lucky -- Tony.

HARRIS: Absolutely, Rusty. And it's interesting, when you talk about the e-mails that you're seeing, sort of the range of human emotions here. First, the folks who just are trying to find their loved ones and making sure everyone is OK, and then the next day it was about, boy, my loss and how do I recover and move forward. And now we're talking about, let's get the insurance folks on the phone and let's move forward. So the range of emotions sort of playing out in e-mails right there at

Rusty Dornin, an epic. It call came together, Rusty. Very nice.

DORNIN: That's right. We'll be back to tell you more.

HARRIS: OK, thanks.

COLLINS: I want to take a moment to show you some more of these cool pictures, as we call them. Anything we get from space we like to take a look at. And today on this day we know that from those pictures there -- and look at, they're so very happy -- that Space Shuttle Discovery has docked with the International Space Station. And the crew, as we've been telling you for the last couple of days, is prepared to work on this extremely challenging construction, perhaps the most challenging ever attempted in one single mission. So they are going to be working really hard today after they get done with all the congratulatory hugs there.

And I think -- are we going to see the giant somersault, or did I miss it? Is that coming up? Apparently there was a giant somersault performed, a perfect 10.0. We're going to hopefully get a look at that. But you see Commander Pamela Melroy there, the second female commander ever to go up into the space shuttle there. She's obviously happy, as you can see.

So there you go, the cool pictures from space and the Space Scuttle Discovery. Guys, is the somersault coming? Because we're just waiting. I'm trying to build here. OK, it's not coming. OK, let's take the viewer out of the misery, although they are really great pictures to look at, coming in from space obviously.

Want to move on to this story now. We've been telling you a little bit about Iran this morning. In fact, taking aim now at Iran's military. The Bush administration plans tough new sanctions to tighten the noose. We'll tell but it after a quick break here.



COLLINS: Walls of fire forcing thousands of people from their homes. In just a few minutes, we're going to be talking to one family about what they went through.

Back in a moment.


COLLINS: Man and dog on a mission, bringing cheer to evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium. It is an important thing to be doing and it's really no easy task right now for Mark Schaefer (ph) and Bandit the biker dog. Can't wait to see the shot here. Where are they?

Hey there, Mark, we're getting a look at you now, and we're waiting to see -- oh, yes. There he is. Bandit the biker dog on his little itty-bitty mini motorcycle bringing cheer to Qualcomm. Oh, he's got a high-five working, too.

Mark, don't let him steal the show. What's the deal? You guys have been going all over the place there at Qualcomm trying to make people laugh.

MARK SCHAFFER, OWNER, BANDIT THE BIKER DOG: Yes, we've been down here for the last two days. Bandit's a therapy dog, and I usually take him into different hospitals. And I figured I'm going to bring him down here to Qualcomm to do the same thing to these people, try to bring them a little happiness, some joy and get their mind off some of the things that's been happening.

COLLINS: Please tell me you've been successful after dressing that poor, sweet dog in that outfit there.

SCHAFFER: What -- I had a hard time hearing you on that one. COLLINS: Have you been successful? Have people been laughing? Have you been able to bring the cheer that you want to bring as we get a tighter shot of sweet Bandit?

SCHAFFER: Oh, yes, absolutely. He gets on his little motorcycle, and he'll drive right down through the middle of the crowd and you get people laughing of all ages. The kids coming up on him to pet him, take pictures with him. The adults, they see him driving past them and they have to stop and take a double look to see if it's a real dog or a stuffed animal. And yes, it's actually really working. People really enjoy seeing him down here.

COLLINS: You know, I have so many questions, I really just don't know where to begin. First of all, is it a Harley that he's driving?

SCHAFFER: Yes, it is a -- it's a power wheel, but it is a Harley-Davidson Power Wheel. So yes, Bandit and myself won't drive anything but a Harley.

COLLINS: How did you teach him to do this? And we really want to see him drive. I'm not sure if we're going to have the capability because of the way the camera's set up, but we really would love that.

SCHAFFER: Well, what I did is when I got him, he's 6-years-old. He was eight weeks old when I got him, and the first day I got him, he was on my Harley riding with me. So now, he's riding on the backseat of mine. He's got used to the motion. So, about three-and-a-half years ago, I decided it's time to get his own bike. I kind of customized it, made it remote control, made his own seat. Told him to sit, gave him a treat, and that was it. That's all it took.

COLLINS: It's all about the treat, isn't it? And so, it's remote control?

SCHAFFER: Yes, it's a remote control. I'll go ahead and ...

COLLINS: So we get to see? OK, good. Hang on, Bandit.

SCHAFFER: I'll back it up a little bit here.


SCHAFFER: The reverse doesn't work as well as the forward.

COLLINS: That's all right. Just keep moving forward. Oh, there you go. Look, he doesn't even have to steer. This is the kind of bike that maybe even I could drive. He looks ...

SCHAFFER: Oh, I'm sure you could.

COLLINS: ...really into it, Mark.

SCHAFFER: Yes, he loves it, he was on here all day yesterday.

COLLINS: Really? Quickly, let me ask you in all seriousness, you know, yesterday we were talking with some of the guys from the Salvation Army and I was asking them how important is it to try and make people laugh or to take a moment to try to lighten things up a little bit. Are you getting the sense that that's exactly what some people need, at least for a short while during their day?

SCHAFFER: Yes, I do get a sense of that, and, you know, even if it's just for that 30-second laugh, it really helps somebody, you know, for those few seconds to get their mind off things. I've sat and talked to some of the evacuees, and they're still here this morning, and they really appreciate just having the dog and somebody to talk to and the pet lovers that -- yes, it's really hard to describe in words, you know, what these -- how it makes people feel.

COLLINS: Yes, well it's a great story, and I'm sure they very much appreciate you coming down there with good old Bandit. I'm not quite sure of his driving capability because let's face it, he really doesn't have to do much when he's on that thing, but it's very cool and really funny.

Mark Schaffer, thanks so much for sharing that with us and Bandit the therapy dog on his Harley there. Thanks, guys.

SCHAFFER: OK, thank you for having us.

COLLINS: You bet, high-five.

HARRIS: It's all about helping.

COLLINS: And a treat.

HARRIS: Right? And a treat, yes.

All right, helping other people at a time of real need. California scouts keeping their promise. You don't want to miss their story coming up in the NEWSROOM.