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Devastating Wildfires in California; World Leaders Meet to Discuss the Global Financial Crisis; Same-Sex Marriage Rallies

Aired November 15, 2008 - 10:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: A path of destruction in North Carolina after a strong thunderstorm, look at this damage. We're going to have more in a live report.
Also on the West Coast, near hurricane-force winds fueling a wildfire that has left homes just in ruin.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Also, we're just a few hours away from what could be one of the biggest rallies yet in the fight for same-sex rights; happening all over the country really today.

From the CNN center this is CNN NEWSROOM, it is Saturday, November 15th, a lot on the plate today, so good morning, everybody, I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: And hello to you all, I'm T.J. Holmes 10:00 here in Atlanta, Georgia, 7:00 a.m. on the West Coast where they have got a big mess on their hand right now. That mess, there it is; daylight hours now giving us some different picture of these flames and wildfire. This really exploded overnight.

This is in Sylmar, this is just north of Los Angeles. Thousands are warned to get out of the city of Sylmar and a lot are heeding those warnings. High winds are spreading this fire. Several structured destroyed that we know of also a major interstate has been closed.

Kara Finnstrom is in Sylmar. We talked to her a little early as she was on her way and she has made it there for us now. Tell us what's happening there, trying to get a sense of the winds for one thing, and that's a big deal.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes T.J., what you see behind me right here is a child care center that is on the grounds of the Slymar Hospital where firefighters have been staging an all-out fire overnight; really trying to beat back the flames away from this hospital.

They did evacuate all of the Intensive Care patients from this hospital. But they did have about 200 patients shelter in place. This is about a half-mile away from the main hospital where those patients are.

And I can tell you T.J., that all around this hospital it's the same scene right now. These firefighters really trying to knock out what's left of these flames but they have been very successful here, this fire now moving -- starting to move the main body of it, in another direction and that presents a whole another set of concerns.

And as you mentioned, it has jumped a major interstate here. The five-interstate, that's a major corridor between northern and southern California. And they've shut that down and they've also have to down a number of other freeways so some major transportation concerns here and right now, about 5,000 homes have been evacuated.

The concern is these high, gusty winds that we've been feeling all morning long are continuing to drive this fire so they'll be watching it closely. The other bit of good news, T.J., is that they had about 600 firefighters in place, waiting for this.

They know conditions are ripe today for fire. We're expecting high temperatures, gusty wind, and so they are in place, they've got air tankers going up as soon as they can, there's a lot of visibility problems with this heavy smoke but they are doing their best to try to contain this fire.

But right now, zero percent containment.

HOLMES: Zero containment; this thing is still moving. Kara, we appreciate you. We're showing our viewers still live pictures, you've talked about that visibility, you can see kind of the issue there.

Here's a different look. A wider shot of some of these flames and smoke that's making its way.

We have pictures here as well and when we show you these pictures we're about to see here, you see what appears to be a bunch of individual fires there.

Ladies and gentlemen, those are homes. Each one of those -- and you can see them almost carved out like just you'd see a neighborhood -- but each home, individual fires, as you can see burning there.

It's not always a matter of these fires as we've seen time and time again, as we cover this things is not just a matter of these massive fire moving and sweeping through a neighborhood. You have these flames that are -- and the winds that are blowing embers on other things that therefore land on the roofs of other house, other structures and catch different areas on fire.

We have seen -- I mean, we've seen stories of embers being carried for even miles away --


HOLMES: And starting fires in different places.

So even this, as we're looking at Sylmar here, this might not be necessarily be right next to where this massive, the majority of the fire is happening. But back to a live picture here again in Sylmar, as you heard Kara Finnstrom say, Betty, no containment at this point and we do know arson investigators now on the scene trying to figure out what started this thing. You know, that stuff can come later. Right now the main issue is to save lives from one after that to save structures. But a lot of structures right now just cannot be saved and that's hard to look at.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. Because as you said, each one of those fires there represents a home that is on fire in that neighborhood. Neighborhoods are on fire. The hillside on fire and we understand that firefighters are trying to use everything at their disposal to fight, this even helicopters.

They've got a whole -- what -- about 12 helicopters at the ready also some six, fixed-wing aircraft trying to drop water and fire retardant on this and knock it back, but what they really need is for this winds to die down a little bit.

So let's get the latest on the weather conditions out in California with CNN's Karen Maginnis. She joins us now in the Severe Weather Center.

Karen, any chance that those winds are going to really kind of die out a little bit?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not nearly soon enough for the folks who live there, Betty. It looks like a moderate Santa Ana wind conditions will continue for the afternoon.

We've got a ridge of high pressure that's going to move out toward the Great Basin. The winds coming around underneath that ridge of high pressure, that's the source of the gusty winds. It's being described as a moderate Santa Ana.

But take a look at some of the wind gusts that we've already seen overnight Friday and into this morning. And I'll point out this Camp Nine. Camp Nine is located about three miles to the north-northeast of Sylmar. And for Sylmar, the highest wind that we've seen at least in the recent times has been about 59 miles-per-hour but we have seen some of the wind gusts approaching hurricane strength.

Hurricane strength begins at 74 miles-an-hour, so we're looking at just a few miles-an-hour. There was one unofficial report of a 74 mile-an-hour wind gust. They can see, the continuous live pictures there, from our local affiliate there in southern California.

The inland empire right around Santa Barbara, they were buffeted by these high winds as well but take a look, where you see these red- shaded areas, that's where we have red-flag warnings, what that means is the fire danger is going to be very high because of the low, relative humidity, between 10 and 15 percent, exceptionally low. The temperatures are going to be high in Los Angeles; we could see the high temperature today at 93 degrees.

On top of that, the winds gusting, depending on your location, could be between 60 and 70 miles-an-hour. Right now we're not seeing them quite as strong but they are very erratic and as a result, it just kind of whips around. The firefighters are jumping from one fire to the next. We saw that, I was watching one of these helicopter reporters fly over the Sylmar area and he was saying, oh we've got a fire starting here. We saw that with the mobile homes across the area. There was one mobile home that was on fire and the next thing we know, a few hours later, the entire street of mobile homes is on fire.

So this is the area. It's in the San Fernando Valley. It is in the northernmost suburbs of Los Angeles and as we mentioned that Interstate-5, the I-5 corridor is smoky. The fire has jumped the Interstate and also, 210. And so we've got kind of a corridor that is almost impassable -- not almost -- it is impassable.

A lot of folks are trying to head out of town especially as we head towards the weekend. It's just going to be nearly impossible. But look at these poor folks. You've got the visibility, if not zero but this is not even good for your health in light of the fact that a lot of these people have lost their property.

Now, we did know that these Santa Ana winds were going to be kicking-up. We see the conditions as they start to develop. Right now, these particular locations in southern California, not looking that impressive. But these are kind of a micro winds that go through the canyons and through the passes and you might see a wind gust of 30 miles-an-hour.

It'll compress and it'll heat up as it moves towards the south and those winds could be gusting up to 60 and 70 miles-an-hour. But it goes all the way down towards San Diego County. When the forecast we're looking at those hot temperatures continuing as this particular ridge of high pressure moves in and it strengthens and, Betty and T.J., it's not going to weaken until we go toward the later evening hours.

So officially it goes until 4:00 p.m. local time. Back to you.

NGUYEN: That's not good news considering these are hurricane- force winds that are whipping through the canyons and whipping through the neighborhoods and as T.J. mentioned a little bit earlier, picking- up embers and just spreading them around and so that other homes are catching on fire as well.

MAGINNIS: Exactly.

NGUYEN: Karen Maginnis, thank you for that.


HOLMES: Another live picture we're looking at here again in Sylmar. There again, this is tough stuff to watch. A lot of people may be watching this and quite literally seeing their home burn and others hoping that that's not their home on fire.

Again, this is a live picture in Sylmar, you could see how visibility is just tricky out there and almost non-existent. You can't see much, you could see of those vehicles in the distance with those lights on but you can't see much as you pass that. I want to go down to one of our reporters from our affiliate, KTLA reporting from this area.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys can work for literally days at a time on that adrenalin, but also, they're being very cautious because they all realize, wow, the wind just blew my helmet off there. I'm OK. That was a big gust right there.

But they basically understand that anything can catch fire at any moment and so, the smart thing is protect yourself first and believe me, before we parked this truck, we take a real careful look around to make sure that we can always have the truck pointed to get out of here quick.

Carlos, if you pan right you can show where our truck is here and you can see we're just basically ready to get out of here as fast as we can because you just never know.

Now, one of the things that I wanted to mention is you can hear, explosions in the background here. And we're guessing that those may be power lines that are blowing up. They may be propane tanks, they may be automobile or gasoline tanks but they are intermittent popping and explosions and some of them are real close. So what is burning over there in that neighborhood we can't know?

It's way too dangerous to go in there right now and -- but you can see what's this is like for people that are still in homes here in this neighborhood, they would be very smart if they just pick up and go now.

Get out quick.


HOLMES: And a lot of people are doing exactly what that reporter is saying. A lot of people are getting out; thousands, 5,000 plus, maybe more. We haven't got the updated number here in a little while from authorities but thousands were told to evacuate, ordered to evacuate. They are heeding those warnings but this is a fire that some officials say you can't outrun this thing, so if you do not get out and ahead of this thing, you are in trouble.

But this is another live look at that area there in Sylmar, where you just can't see, the visibility is pretty much gone. And hopefully, the people are gone from that area as well; dangerous, dangerous situation.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, and that's why they have expanded the evacuation orders to west of Interstate-5 this morning. As we spoke a little bit earlier, some 3,600 acres were burning and that was moving at about mile-per-hour. With these winds though, I don't know if that increased.

Our Kara Finnstrom is on the ground and she joins us live now. Kara, as we look at these pictures from high above thanks to KABC, our affiliate there, we understand that not only homes are on fire but you're at a place where a daycare was on fire?

FINNSTROM: Yes, we are right outside the Sylmar area hospital and firefighters here have staged one massive fire overnight to beat back the flames. What you see behind me here, this is one of the childcare centers on the campus of the hospital and they have been working here all night trying to contain these flames. They've actually been very successful.

Because, when we arrived a short time ago, there was very thick smoke over head. This was the scene that you saw all around us but we've seen even during the last hour here this morning, them seeing some success here.

I'm going to walk up to one of the firefighters I was speaking with a little bit earlier and if I can, just tell us a little bit about what it's been like for you guys out here overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: It's been real windy and kind of long, hard work all night long. We've been out here since 1:00 this morning.

FINNSTROM: How does this fire compare with some of the others that you've fought before?

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: It's a typical Santa Ana wind-driven fire that we experience out here every year.

FINNSTROM: Well, great I know you guys are busy so I'm going to let you get back to work. The big concern right now is this fire is continuing to move in a direction with a lot of homes; about 5,000 homes have been evacuated so far.

And fire officials tell us, they expect that more could be throughout the morning. Also this has jumped the 5 Interstate. That's a major connector between northern and southern California. They've had to shut part of that Interstate down. They've had to shut down a number of other freeways so transportation is going to be a major nightmare a little later on as folks start hitting the road.

One person we know has been injured so far. Again, the folks here they were able to beat back those flames. They feel that they have secured this hospital at this point. They're continuing to put out any hot spots.

But the big concern here this morning is that as these winds continue to pick up and blow these hot embers around, these areas where they feel they've beaten it out could actually reignite. So they are working over a large area this morning here -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, it's a major problem. You mentioned one injury and we were told a little bit earlier that there were some minor injures -- two of them dealing with firefighters and that hospital nearby where you are at, Kara, lost electricity a little bit earlier today. So as you know the firefighters are really putting all their resources on the ground to fight this. Some 125 engines, 25 strike teams. This is a major fire that they are working feverishly to try to contain but at this hour but at this point, homes are burning to the ground. And we are following it every step of the way.

Also, it is shaping into what could be a rally for the ages.

HOLMES: Yes. The same-sex marriage ban out there in California that was passed by voters, well, you haven't heard the last of it. Stay here.


HOLMES: Folks, this helps you understand the story here. Several thousand acres burned now in Sylmar in California, this is about 20 plus miles north of the downtown Los Angeles area. This fire broke out overnight at around 10:30; not exactly sure of the cause but that is not the primary concern right now. The concern is loss of life and the concern right now is of loss of property and homes.

We only know about two injuries right now and not said to be very serious so that's a blessing. One even called it a marvel that that's the only couple of injuries we know of.

A close shot here. This is what they're talking about. You can't outrun these things. The flames it seems like something you might be able to do but firefighters in covering these over the years, they'll tell you cannot outrun a fire. These things can move at several -- up to 40 miles an hour in some cases on fires.

This one actually, the whole thing they say, is moving about the pace of one to one and a half miles that it's covering in an hour, if you will. But still, an individual spot, this thing can get after you and will overtake you.

They are telling people, get out, get out now; being ordered to evacuate; expanded the evacuation zone in some cases so several thousand, up to 5,000 plus now. And I'm sure that that number has gone up, that have been told to get out of their homes. They are heeding those warnings but we're keeping an eye on this fire that they still say is not the least bit contained right now.

NGUYEN: Not at all because those winds are blowing at hurricane- force speeds, some 70 miles per hour; so that's a major problem in fighting this.

We're also covering another major story for you today and that's the financial crisis. What went wrong? How can we make sure it does not happen again?

The global financial crisis, well, leaders from around the world are talking about that very issue right now in Washington. Our Richard Quest is with us. He joins us live.

OK, Richard what are you hearing about what could come out of this summit today?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are hearing now about what might come out of this summit is some form of communique that will set out the courses and what needs to be done.

It will talk about those nations that can and should spend money with fiscal stimuluses like the United States, like the United Kingdom, Germany; those countries that still have money to help bail out banks. Spend the money necessary, but also start to put in place the necessary, if you like, new architecture for financial reform. That is what we are hearing.

There will be no, if you like a detailed road map, no blue prints. It will be broad brush and most important of all it will set up a process for the future.

President Bush when he welcomed the leaders arriving this morning was very clear about the hard work that was ahead.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am pleased with the progress that we're making on to one address the current crisis. I am pleased that we're discussing a way forward to make sure that such a crisis is unlikely to occur again. And I'm pleased that the leaders reaffirm the principles behind open markets and free trade.

One of the dangers during a crisis like such as this is that people will start implementing protectionist policies.


QUEST: Now, this has to be put into context of the economic number that is we are seeing on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, unemployment is now at an 11-year high of 5.8 percent. The Euro Zone is in recession for the first time in its ten-year history of the euro. And here, of course, in the United States, Betty, we've had retail sales numbers that are devastating, we have unemployed numbers that are rising and overall, you can see why there is an urgency for a communique tonight that at least starts the process of putting things to right.

NGUYEN: Yes, that's why they call it a "crisis" and we're definitely trying to get at the heart of it and make some kind of positive change out of it.

Let's look at the big picture here because these are leaders from the G-20, some of the 20 most industrialized and developing countries in the world. They make up about 90 percent of the world economy. It's not like you can put one of these things together over night. It usually takes quite a bit of time to plan it all out but this one in fact did come together very quickly.

QUEST: Whether it's a G-8 or G-20 an APEC or a NATO, summits take years to plan because you want to make sure everybody is in the right spot.

These are the welcoming pictures from this morning. That is Gordon Brown from Britain, Angela Merkel of Germany and you can't see on the floor, there's even spots showing the president where Mr. Bush will stand.

But today when it came to taking group photograph, slightly an unusual moment took place. The group photo, there was a time when all the class was together, there you are. And you have to bear with me on this a bit. They've just taken the group photo.

We were saying back in the office, there's only one woman there, Angela Merkel, you can see in the middle of the screen. Where is President Kirchner of Argentina? That's what we were saying. Yes, that's what they were saying themselves.

President Bush realized that President Kirchner hadn't been there. Oh, no, we've got to do it again? Yes. Back they all go onto the podium. This is an unusual sight. You don't see this very often and perhaps, that's Kevin Rudd of Australia behind him.

No disrespect to the leaders involved. They've got serious issues and serious work to be doing but it does show nobody was counting them in and counting them back and as a result, that took place, when you see the picture pull out Betty and T.J. You'll see President Kirchner there.

NGUYEN: Yes. Richard you can't very well have a class photo without the entire class there, right.

QUEST: There she is, right, bottom left.

NGUYEN: I see her right there. She made it just in time after they decided to go back and snap another one. All right, very interesting flavor there; a little color on the side. We see those photos all the time but sometimes you don't know the story behind the story and that's one.

Thank you, Richard. We do appreciate it.

QUEST: Thank you.

HOLMES: Well putting a stop to poverty's endless cycle. How one man is helping residents of New York in a project. Stay here for that.

NGUYEN: Also we're following a situation out in Los Angeles, California; those fires that continue to burn. They've been burning overnight and, in fact, they are engulfing homes. Some 5,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. We're following it for you. Don't go away.


HOLMES: Well, today thousands across the U.S. expected to rally simultaneously against California's Prop 8 which bans same-sex marriages. The rallies may be taking place today; the court battle though probably going to heat up on Monday.

And Jennifer Pizer is senior council for the Lambda legal, that's an international organization that fights the civil rights of the gay community. California's election has come and gone but this fight is not over.

Tell me, what is it -- Prop 8 did pass so what is the court challenge? What is it specifically that you're trying to challenge?

JENNIFER PIZER, SENIOR COUNSEL, LAMBDA LEGAL: Well, actually, the morning right after the election, there was a legal challenge filed by Lambda Legal together with ACLU and The National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of couples challenging Prop 8 because it was an invalid attempt to change the constitution. The wrong procedure was used, so the whole vote was not valid and we're explaining to the court why that is as a constitutional matter.

HOLMES: Did you all know that beforehand? Was there any challenge to it in the same vein as you speak of now, beforehand, before the vote took place?

PIZER: Yes, actually. We presented these arguments to the Supreme Court this past summer and said the matter should never be on the ballot. It was a big waste of time and money.

HOLMES: How did that work out?

PIZER: The court did not take the arguments up at the time. And actually, here in California, as people may know, we have many, many measures on the ballot every election and the court often sees these pre-ballot challenges and does not take them up until after the vote to see -- before getting into all the constitutional issues to see whether they'll really need to. Unfortunately, with Prop 8 they need to and we're doing it now.

Let's say that they say the procedure was correct and that Prop 8 is okay and valid. Is there another legal challenge that you're mounting or have a contingency plan, if you will to continue to challenge Prop 8 and its results?

PIZER: Well you know, we always have contingency plans but at this point, we're focusing on this particular challenge because the constitution is very clear. It can be changed but there are two different processes depending on what type of change is being proposed. This is a change -- Prop 8 is a change, it's really unprecedented in California history because it sets out to change equal protection; to take a fundamental right away from a particular group, a historically vulnerable group.

It's unprecedented and it's the kind of change that puts everybody at risk because it's that kind of change to the fundamental principles, the structure of the Constitution. It's a revision and a different process should have been used.

HOLMES: Well, Ms. Pizer, is there, I guess, something to be said for possibly the movement changing focus? Since Prop 8 did pass the majority of people who went to the polls are against gay marriage. So, should there be more emphasis to maybe change the hearts and minds, instead of changing law if you will, because even if someone -- this thing could go on and on in the courts and we know this fight's been going on for a while but it'll continue to be this back and forth. But until the people of California accept it and want, then you might continue to have this back and forth in courts.

PIZER: Well, we have to do all those things. That's what happens in any civil rights movement. The Constitution protects everybody equally and it's the role of the courts to make sure that everybody has the same equal rights. And that's been a critical part of our history as a country, and in California in particular. That constitutional guarantee of equality has to be enforced.

I mean, if a majority of voters, by a simple majority vote, can take a fundamental right away from a minority group, we don't have equal protection for anyone. And we all are invested in having that equal protection guarantee. So we have to be in court to ask the judges to do their job to enforce equality. And at the same time, of course, we all talk to our friends and our neighbors, our relatives, and explain why the right to marry, just like all fundamental rights, have to be enjoyed by everyone equally.

You know, if one group can be treated unequally, then any group can. And that's why in California it's extra important because we're so diverse.

HOLMES: Yes, it is.

PIZER: You know, we need that guarantee of equality.

HOLMES: That is true though, but this is a fight that's been going on for some time. I was out there as well, February 14, 2004. I'll never forget it. I was working there when the mayor in San Francisco started allowing those gay marriages, and it's been back and forth in courts ever since. Monday is the day we'll start hearing news out of this.

But Ms. Pizer, Jennifer Pizer, again, with Lamda Legal, ma'am, thank you for your time. And this will certainly not be the last time we talk to you.

PIZER: Great. Well, a lot more work ahead, and I'm always happy to be with you.

HOLMES: All right. Well, ma'am, thank you so much.

NGUYEN: And speaking of work ahead, just look at these live pictures. Boy, firefighters have a lot on their hands today. This is just one portion of what is on fire in Sylmar, California. This is the hillside there.

But when you get down into the neighborhoods, you will see homes that are burning to the ground at this hour. This fire is huge.

Some 5,000 people have evacuated, some 1,000 homes are threatened. And, in fact, we have our correspondent Kara Finnstrom on the ground. She was earlier at a daycare center. I don't know if she's been able to move or not.

Because, yes, behind you, look at that daycare center, Kara. The whole roof of it is gone thanks to this fire.

FINNSTROM: Yes, Betty. This is one of the areas where firefighter staged an all-out fight overnight. You can see they are still beating back the flames there.

This is on the grounds of a hospital here. And this fire moved in so quickly overnight, that firefighters decided the best thing they could do was actually to shelter some 200 patients in place here.

They did evacuate the most intensive care patients, but they sheltered everyone else in place. And you can see here, this is one of the cribs that they pulled out from this daycare center here just filled with ash and soot and glass from the windows.

The firefighters here say that this fire has moved extremely quickly overnight. And one of the big concerns for them is just all of the debris moving through the air. Lots of spot fires picking up, Betty.

And we know now that this fire has actually jumped Interstate 5. That's a major interstate that connects northern and southern California. So there's going to be some traffic nightmares this morning. They've also had to shut down a number of other freeways in the area.

We've been talking with this firefighter over here throughout the morning, and he told us that he is hearing that they're making some progress on one of the sides of the fire. Let's see if we can check in with him real quickly.

You were sharing with me that you were hearing some good news about progress on one side of this fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what we were just hearing on the radio, that they're kind of making -- slowing the fire down on its westward progress. But they're still working on the north end.

FINNSTROM: And you were saying the big concern is these conditions out here. Explain to us what that does and why this is so unpredictable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you can see the wind just blows the fire everywhere. You know, it puts embers everywhere. So things that you wouldn't necessarily think would burn, they will start burning, like things that aren't directly in the path of the fire. Embers will be carried even up to a mile way if they start burning. So when you get that order to evacuate, you need to move so the fire department can get in there to do their work.

FINNSTROM: All right. Thank you for joining us. We'll let you get back to work. Betty, as you mentioned, at least 5,000 people have been told to evacuate. Fire officials telling us, you know, this is a highly populated area, there are lots of homes here. There could be more evacuations coming, so they're urging residents to listen. Not to wait until they see flames, but to evacuate as soon as the order comes, because they say in some areas, this fire is moving faster than anyone can run or walk.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My first thought was, this is what yours must have looked like. We've been making the best of it, and laughing and whatever, but now when you hear people that you know, they don't have a home.


FINNSTROM: And what you just heard from there was one of the homeowners that has been evacuated that we spoke with at one of the evacuation centers here. Lots of uncertain times for these homeowners. She knows that -- you know, she mentioned that some of the homes not far from her have burned down, but waiting to hear what happened to her home. And Betty, unfortunately, it's probably going to be a little while that she has to wait, because this thing is far from under control.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. There's a lot of ground to cover in trying to get it in containment.

Kara Finnstrom joining us live.

And just as we take another look at the situation there in California, just to remind you of how large this is. It's burning some 2,600 acres at this hour. And they're dealing with what we have been told, and meteorologist Karen Maginnis has backed it up all morning long, near-hurricane-force winds, somewhere around 70 miles per hour.

So you can see why it is making the situation so very difficult for firefighters to contain this. And with winds blowing that hard, embers are being carried across the hills and on to neighborhoods -- on to homes in neighborhoods. And we are watching, unfortunately, homes burn to the ground today.

So we're staying on top of this story for you, as well as this one -- falling gas prices. They're actually making a driving vacation a little more attractive these days.

Richelle Carey is "On the Go" to places that you may want to head to on your next road trip.


RICHELLE CAREY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With increasing airfares and those canceled flights, flying these days can be a hassle. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of Americans are often driving to a lot of their destinations. So we're seeing increases to drive to destinations.

CAREY: McGinnis (ph) suggests hitting the road to places like New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the tourist areas in New Orleans are now fully recovered. That means almost every hotel has had renovations. And hotel prices in New Orleans are still very reasonable. Additionally, this is the best time of year to be there because it's caller.

CAREY: And if you live in the West, you may want to ease on down the road and check out The Alamo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: San Antonio's a great family destination because it's inexpensive, the home of the historic Alamo. There are a lot of amusement parks.

CAREY: But McGinnis (ph) says if the drive is more than five hours long, you may want to chance booking a flight.



HOLMES: Another live look at Sylmar, California. Again, just outside of Los Angeles, to the north.

You see what we see here. Can't see the flames, but that smoke has been -- this is the sad scene we've been watching. This Sylmar fire has been going, what, since about 10:30 last night? But we've seen these scenes of neighborhoods on fire, individual fires, homes right next to each other burning.

We don't have a total number on the -- on how many homes have been destroyed in this thing, but the number is going to be a large one. Again, this fire started overnight. Don't know how it started, but has consumed a few thousand acres that we know of that's still moving.

It has been moving westward, but we just heard from a firefighter that maybe they're starting to gain some ground and to slow it just a bit. But we'll keep an eye on this fire. A dangerous situation. Thousands have been ordered to evacuate and are heeding those warnings. But we're keeping an eye.

NGUYEN: President-elect Barack Obama putting his team together and making some key announcements this morning.

So let's get straight to CNN's Ed Henry, who joins us live from transition central there in Chicago.

All right, Ed. So who was put in place today? ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Betty. That's right, some new information from the transition team here.

First of all, Valerie Jarrett named to a top post in the White House. She's going to be the head of Intergovernmental Affairs, also public liaison for the president. That is sort of a powerful inside job. She's a longtime ally from Chicago here, a longtime ally of the president-elect.

Also, Ron Klain named to be chief of staff to Vice President- elect Biden. He served a similar role for then-Vice President Gore back in the Clinton days. Very well known in Democratic circles. And finally, Phil Schiliro, he's going to be the president's liaison to the Congress. Longtime congressional aide, served people like Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

So they're putting the building blocks together of this incoming administration. But everyone is buzzing about who's going to be in the cabinet, including potentially Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.


HENRY (voice-over): Whether or not he nominates Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, President-elect Barack Obama is stocking his team with lots of Clinton veterans, starting with incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who cut his teeth with Bill Clinton and is now in Washington eying other former Clinton insiders for key posts.

Three officials close to the transition say Greg Craig is getting strong consideration to be White House counsel -- the powerful post of the president's chief lawyer. Craig represented Bill Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial, but picked Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and played a key role in the vice presidential vetting process.

GREG CRAIG, PARTNER, WILLIAMS & CONNOLLY LLP: This is the first major decision that Barack Obama has to make in front of the whole nation. And he has done it systematically. He's done it carefully. He's included a lot of people in the process, in terms of candidates.

HENRY: Meanwhile, two people familiar are transition deliberations say retired General Jim Jones is getting a close look for energy secretary or national security adviser.

Candidate Obama touted Jones during the third presidential debate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: ... this committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO. Those are the people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House.

HENRY: Jones is a bipartisan figure who also advised John McCain, who is coming to Chicago Monday for his first post-election meeting with the president-elect.


HENRY: Now, Obama aides say the two men on Monday, in their first post-election meeting, will talk about issues like global warming, where they think they may be able to work in January. But there's even some buzz that potentially John McCain could be tapped for the cabinet, because you'll remember right before the election, Barack Obama, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, suggested he'd be willing to consider that possibility, maybe on an issue like global warming, where they come together. He could pick McCain for something like energy secretary.

But still, Obama insiders think that's a long shot.

NGUYEN: Yes. OK. Well, that's one rival. Another rival that we've been hearing about, Hillary Clinton's name for secretary of state.

But she's not alone. We've also heard Bill Richardson as well.

HENRY: That's right. In fact, the New Mexico governor was here for a private meeting with the president-elect in Chicago yesterday. He's still in the running for this.

He's Hispanic, a very prominent Democrat. Obviously diversity is one issue that has been mentioned by Obama aides as one of many important criteria they'll be looking at as they try to find the best and the brightest, as they believe it, for this cabinet. John Kerry, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, being talked about as well.

But as you mentioned, team of rivals, that could apply to Hillary Clinton or even some Republicans. We've heard names like Republican Senator Richard Lugar, or Republican Senator Chuck Hagel potentially for something like secretary of state. So they're trying to cast a very wide net -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN's Ed Henry joining us live from Chicago today.

Thank you, Ed.

HOLMES: Well, here we are now -- wait, there I am.

NGUYEN: Yes, behind the fires.

HOLMES: OK. That's how my stomach kind of feels sometimes.

NGUYEN: Oh goodness. You're not feeling well today either.

HOLMES: Not feeling that well. But that fire, the raging wildfires, we're keeping an eye on. We're going to leave that box up there a lot during our show so you can see what's going on there.

And there is what's going on there, Sylmar, California. Thousands of acres have been burned. And you know what? "Marvel" is the word that one firefighter used, that we've only seen two minor injuries in this thing.

People have heeded the warnings and have gotten out of there. So that is very, very good news.

Homes are being burned. That's one thing. But they're saying life certainly is the priority right now, to save lives. And it appears that they are doing a very good job of doing that right now.


HOLMES: But we're keeping an eye on that.

NGUYEN: Which is quite amazing considering how fast this fire is moving.

Also, this. Can you believe it's been more than 40 years since President Kennedy was assassinated? And, you know, all those rumors of a cover-up. We've heard the conspiracy theories.

HOLMES: Still out there 40 years later.

NGUYEN: Still -- yes, almost 45.

Well, coming up, a forensics expert puts this conspiracy theory in the line of fire. We'll talk to him.

HOLMES: That's coming up, so stay here. We're keeping an eye on all these fast-moving stories.


HOLMES: Twenty different world leaders meeting right now in Washington. They're talking about the global financial crisis, how we got to this point, and how could we avoid another one in the future.

John Defterios is in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, for us this morning.

John, Saudi Arabia is at this particular meeting. What do they have at stake? What do they bring to the table? What do they want to take from the table?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Well, Dubai is very far, as you know, T.J., from Washington, where the scene is taking place right now. But there is a direct connection. And if I can be so blunt about it, it's cold, hard cash.

Saudi Arabia sits on better than $500 billion of reserves. In fact, it ranks number four behind China, Japan and Germany in terms of reserves right now.

And this greater region -- we often talk about sovereign wealth funds buying assets in the United States, like Citigroup or Merrill Lynch, or very recently the Chrysler Building in New York. They have $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion available during these tough economic times. They're looking to the six countries of the Gulf to provide capital for the International Monetary Fund and basically provide some gas for the global engine of the world economy, which is sputtering right now.

HOLMES: What are they looking to this sputtering economy? I mean, you know, you talk about so much money and this infusion of cash. And some seem like they're doing so much better than places like the U.S.

So, what is it they need to hear from the U.S.? Everybody has a stake in it and wants the U.S. and other economies to be doing all right. This has affected the entire global economy, but still, what specifically would they like to hear from the U.S.?

DEFTERIOS: Well, let's start with the G-7. The U.S. is the leading country of that group of seven industrialized nations. It's very likely that this is going to be restructured in the future to be a group of, say, 14 or 15. And basically these Gulf countries, the six, are saying if you want us to be a player at the table and you want our capital, let's restructure it and make it a group that's better representative of the global economy right now.

So very likely, it's going to be Saudi Arabia at that table. Very likely, India and China at the table, Russia permanently at that table, to represent some 90 percent of the global economy.

And we have always thought of the Middle East and the particular Gulf economies as the source -- or resource for oil. And that's still the case, but now they've been benefiting from those very high oil prices in July and have the capital, and they want to put it to work, but they want to also have a voice for the money that they're putting at the table.

And there's other implications from this. And that is the dialogue between the Gulf and the United States, for example, and even Iran. It's a huge issue here. It's a stone's throw away from Dubai, for example, and the Straits of Hormuz, which is a major shipping lane.

To have Saudi Arabia within this broader group would improve the dialogue for security going forward as well. So you have a new president coming in to Washington, and then a partner in the region that has one-to-one contact with Iran.

HOLMES: All right. John Defterios for us in Dubai.

Kind sir, thank you so much this morning.

NGUYEN: Well, back here in the states, we want to get you the latest on California and the fires that are burning there. Homes are in harm's way. We'll have a live report on that.

Also, the latest in the JFK assassination. There is a new investigation dealing with a documentary that's about to come out. So, conspiracy theories, are they right? We'll put it to the test.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NGUYEN: All right. So 45 years after President Kennedy was assassinated, a new forensics test is trying to determine if there's any credence to those conspiracy theories. It's part of a new documentary by Discovery Channel, and Gary Mack helped oversee the project. He is also the curator of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

Gary, thanks so much for joining us.

OK, let's get right to it, because this new documentary really takes the "CSI" approach to looking at these conspiracy theories, specifically if there was a second gunman.

What did you find?

GARY MACK, SIXTH FLOOR MUSEUM AT DEALEY PLAZA: What we tried to do is we made a human skull replica and we fired test shots at it from a recreated Texas School Book Depository and a recreated Grassy Knowl. And we filmed the results and matched them to the Abraham Zapruder home movie of the shooting. One version matches precisely and the other version does not.

NGUYEN: OK. And so was there a second gunman, or do you think this was a lone gunman deal?

MACK: Well, our tests can't really give us an answer to whether there were others involved in the shooting or not. What we proved was that the fatal shot to President Kennedy's head did come from behind in the Texas School Book Depository.

NGUYEN: All right. But, you know, people looking at that will say there are records from Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald, that show that he wasn't an expert marksman. I mean, wouldn't it have taken some precision in order for that fatal shot to be placed from the Texas Book Depository?

MACK: Well, the tests show that Oswald was a mediocre marksman, or at the lower grade level. We don't really know what his abilities were at the time of the Kennedy assassination. Our study was directly aimed at determining where that fatal shot came from, not who was holding the rifle.

NGUYEN: Got you. All right. So, you know, let me ask you this though. You've been studying this for, what, some 25 years? I used to work in the Dallas market, I've interviewed you several times on this.

Have you ever believed in any of those conspiracy theories? Have you ever given them a second thought?

MACK: Well, some of them are really interesting, and there are holes in the story. And people like to plug in mysterious answers to some of these things. I don't know if any of them are true. I just deal with the history with the Sixth Floor Museum and let others theorize all they want.

NGUYEN: All right. Got you.

And this is going to be 9:00 p.m. on Monday night?

MACK: Sunday night.

NGUYEN: Sunday night on Discovery Channel. Very good information. Looking forward to it.

Thank you, Gary.

MACK: Thank you, Betty.

HOLMES: Well, the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM comes your way right now.