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American Morning

California Wildfires: Reporter Watches House Burn; The Line of Fire: Hospitals Moving Sick and Injured; 'Planet in Peril'

Aired October 23, 2007 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: An epic battle with Mother Nature. Fires burning entire neighborhoods to the ground, destroying everything that people have, whether they have a little or a lot.
From Malibu to the Mexican border, an update from the fire lines ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Breaking news. A race against time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just impossible to stop this.

CHETRY: On the front lines to save thousands of lives and get people out of harm's way.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: What we need is the weather to change.

CHETRY: Where will everybody go? And what will they come back to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was our garage. The living room over there. And this is what I come home to today.



CHETRY: Yes, that was actually a local reporter, Larry Himmel, who had to come back and report on the devastation of his own home, burnt to the ground.

ROBERTS: Just imagine how tough it is for him and for everybody else who has lost so much in these fires.

CHETRY: And it continues this morning.

It's Tuesday, October 23rd. Glad you're with us.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: And good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.

This just in to CNN. The Pentagon says 800 Marines from Camp Pendleton, California, will help battle more than a dozen wildfires extending hundreds of miles along the California coastline. The fires are spreading from Santa Barbara in the north, all the way into Mexico, and getting more dangerous by the minute.

President Bush has declared an emergency in southern California. It is an area home to more than 20 million people. Among them, some of the world's most famous.

Right now, the largest evacuation in San Diego County's history is under way. Here is the tally of destruction so far: 655 homes have been burned to the ground, 424 square miles of hillside and canyon up in smoke, 300,000 people have been ordered to leave immediately.

In Lake Arrowhead, California, a mountain resort community east of Los Angeles, the devastation is hard to comprehend. Fire officials say 130 homes, entire neighbors, are ruined. The demise of one of those homes was caught on camera right before our eyes. It erupted into a huge fireball and then crumbled into pieces.

With 300,000 people evacuated in and around San Diego, the problem becomes where to put them. Thousands are housed at Qualcomm Stadium. That's the home of the San Diego Chargers. And then there are those who have no home to go back to.

For one local reporter there, there will never be a harder story to cover. His name is Larry Himmel. You've probably got somebody like him in your town, the local neighborhood reporter who tracks down interesting people. He watched and reported as his home went completely up in flames.

Take a look.


LARRY HIMMEL, REPORTS ON HIS BURNING HOME: On any given day, I would say welcome to my home, but this is what is left of my home just outside the Forest Ranch area. A fire crew that fought valiantly to save every house on this hill, at least took a shot at it and were nice enough to let us up here.

That was our garage. The living room over there. There was a porch. Back there, the bedrooms.

No pets left behind. Family out. Cars out. Safe. But you can see my hose right here valiantly trying to do something, but this is it.


ROBERTS: The fires are so intense that you can actually see the smoke from space. Here is a satellite photo of what it looks like over the southwestern United States. Radar used by our meteorologists fooled by the thick smoke, picking it up as if it were a band of rain showers -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, we are continuing to follow these late-breaking developments from up and down the fire line. Our Rob Marciano is standing by for us in San Diego with the latest on the situation there.

Hi, Rob.


The fire, less than 24 hours ago, just moved through this area quite quickly. It's still hot, it's still smoky, it's still smoldering. There are still flames being whipped by these winds that, seemingly, just don't want to let up.

You can imagine what kind of inferno this must have been when it came through. This is not a home that's built out of shingles and siding and 2x4s. The siding on this home, actual ceramic tile. So the heat here just must have been tremendous.

And then it looks like a tornado went through this neighborhood because it's not as if it's just a couple of houses. It's house after house, street after street.

And unlike a tornado or a hurricane, when you -- when you look at somebody's home, at least they have something that they can come back to. In a tornado they can pick up their valuables or personal belongings, but here, everything is just burned completely to the ground.

This is not the only home. Again, this is a widespread event.

We're in Rancho Bernardo, which is on the very northern fringes of the city of San Diego, and this is one of many streets affected like this. Over 500 homes have been destroyed, likely 5,000 more have been threatened.

Firefighters have been coming in from everywhere. As a matter of fact, yesterday, we talked to one out of Huntington Beach. His name is Randy Babbitt. He came down just to help out. Here is what he had to say.


RANDY BABBITT, HUNTINGTON BEACH FIRE DEPT.: Every one of us out here feels like these homes are our own. You know? We know what it's like to see people's faces when they've lost everything, and it's devastating to see so much of this all at once.


MARCIANO: And that is just about it.

You know, we show you the flames. It's certainly awe inspiring. It's humbling to see the power of nature, as always, but it comes down to the human element. These are people's lives that have been torn apart, and this may very well rival the Cedar Fire back in 2003. That was larger, that took more lives. But what firefighters are telling me that's so frustrating about this fire is that it's spotting up in different areas. There are so many battle fronts to deal with. And, of course, the wind.

Take a look at the wind gusts yesterday afternoon. Winds gusting in some spots, not only just hurricane strength, but over 100 miles an hour, 101 in Point Mogu. Laguna Peak, 88-mile-an-hour winds.

Today they're likely to be similar, with the same setup in place. Tomorrow we'll get a bit of a break, but high wind warnings out today, likely to be dropped tomorrow. And then finally Thursday and Friday, Kiran, is when we'll see some sort of relief.

These onshore-offshore winds will finally turn onshore and bring us the moister and cooler weather that typically comes off the Pacific Ocean. But until then, it's these hot, dry Santa Anas that continue to blow early this morning.

Back up to you.

CHETRY: All right. Well, Thursday and Friday can't come soon enough for the people fighting those fires.

Thanks a lot, Rob.

Right now we're going to go to Chris Lawrence. He is live in Del Valle, California, with the latest on the scene there.

And since we checked in with you last, it looks like we're seeing even higher flames and smoke than before.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're definitely starting to come over that hilltop, Kiran.

You know, just to give you some perspective, we are standing about a little over a mile from Six Flags Magic Mountain, which is also home to several large neighborhoods. The amusement park is on one side of the mountain range. The fire is on the other, although that is a big change from what we saw even 30 minutes ago. A lot more smoke, and some of the flames are starting to come up over that mountain ridge.

Now, this is just one of three major fires that are blazing here north of Los Angeles, and the danger that officials are going to keep an eye out for is if they merge into one super fire. Because right now these fires are so widespread, so spread out, and all happening at once, there's been some competition for resources.

Some of the officials up here in Santa Clarita took some heat at a recent press conference from some of the residents here because they felt maybe too many resources are going towards Malibu. But, in fact, several hundred firefighters from Malibu have been assigned up here, and another contingent of firefighters is heading from Malibu to Lake Arrowhead later this morning.

That area is in dire straits. More than 130 homes have been burned, some 2,000 are still in danger. And we spoke with just one family that is probably, you know, one of thousands that have evacuated up there who had to get out on very short notice.


JAMI YERKOVICH, EVACUATED WITH HER DAD: Run around the house trying to make sure we have everything. The first time it actually became mandatory for us.

LAWRENCE: So where do you go from here?

YERKOVICH: We have no clue. We haven't been -- we're just waiting for someone to tell us we can go back up. But we're not sure when that is.


LAWRENCE: Yes, nobody knows when that is going to be. But I've got to tell you, of all the people we spoke with, not one said they planned to move because of these fires. Everybody says they're going to wait it out. And they will be living right back where they were before all this -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, certainly very brave, and they're committed to staying there. And that's what they call home.

Del Valle, California, is where Chris Lawrence is reporting from this morning.

Thanks a lot -- John.

ROBERTS: More extreme weather now to tell you about.

Reports of a possible tornado in the panhandle of Florida near the border with Alabama. The report coming into us just within the past few minutes. A tornado warning expired at the top of the hour.

We're keeping an eye on this for you. We'll keep you posted on any other watches or warnings.

A tornado touched down in the same area yesterday in Mobile County, Alabama. Several houses damaged. One trailer home flipped over. No reports though of serious injuries.

Also new this morning, much of southeastern Louisiana under a flood warning right now after close to 10 inches of rain fell on parts of New Orleans yesterday. And forecasters say more is on the way.

The water was waist deep in some areas. Mayor Ray Nagin says a number of schools will be closed today because of flooding and leaks and drainage problems. Heavy rains forced the Army Corps of Engineers to close floodgates in Jefferson Parish. It was the first time that the gates were tested since Hurricane Katrina, two years ago -- Kiran. CHETRY: Space shuttle Discovery ready for liftoff. Now it's just a matter of whether or not the weather will cooperate. And for the first time, CNN and NASA will be broadcasting the launch in high definition.

NASA is keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. These are live pictures right now of the launch pad for you, and the inside of the shuttle, where it looks like preparations are well under way. There is a 60 percent chance that low clouds and rain could scrub the launch, which is scheduled for 11:38 a.m. Eastern Time.

Some scary moments on "Dancing With the Stars". Marie Osmond collapsed after performing the night's first dance, the samba.

You heard some laughter in the audience perhaps for a couple of seconds. They thought it may have been a joke. But it was real.

She passed out right there as the judges were getting ready to talk about her scores. The live series went to commercial break, she came back on her feet. And she says that this happens to her once in a while when she gets winded.

The 48-year-old mother of eight refused to see a doctor until she heard the results from the judges. By the way, she got a 21 out of 30 for her samba.

ROBERTS: We'll keep you updated on the breaking news in south California.

And "Planet in Peril". Around the world, the behind the scenes of CNN's groundbreaking new documentary, that's straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Breaking news this morning. That's some pictures, Santa Clarita, California. A little bit of breakup there from the helicopter shot.

Our thanks to KTLA for that.

As you can see, the fires continue to burn this morning. And it's like that from Santa Barbara, in the north, all the way south to the Mexican border. And there just is no sign that this is going to let up any time soon. We've heard from fire officials who say that the fires are just no way -- they're zero percent contained, according to one fire official.

Eight hundred Marines from Camp Pendleton, California, will be out there on the fire lines today helping the firefighters who have to be so exhausted from the work that they've been doing in the last three days, trying to get, you k now, some semblance of control on these fires. But impossible at this point.

More high winds predicted again for today. There may not be any relief until Thursday. Now, it could become the worst wildfire that this country has ever seen. That's what one sheriff is saying about the so-called Witch Fire that's burned down 500 homes and blackened 145,000 acres in San Diego County.

The response is unprecedented -- 300,000 people have been told to leave home now. In one town, hundreds of patients, many elderly, were moved by school bus and ambulance from a hospital and nursing home.

Andy Hoang is the spokesman for the Pomerado Hospital north of San Diego. He joins us this morning from Qualcomm Stadium. That's the home of the San Diego Chargers, which like the Louisiana Superdome during Katrina, has been turned into a place for these evacuees to go.

Andy, you took 200 patients out of the hospital and the nursing home. What was the scene like?

ANDY HOANG, SPOKESMAN, POMERADO HOSPITAL: You know, it was -- it was an unbelievable scene. An unprecedented move for Pomerado Hospital. The hospital was built and opened in the '70s, and we have never had a situation where we've had to fully evacuate all of our patients and then shut its doors for a 24-hour period.


HOANG: And looking towards -- looking towards today...

ROBERTS: You had people out there in -- you had people out there in wheelchairs. They had Ziploc bags with their charts in them. You know, we can see pictures of them being wheeled out right now.

You folks also -- you didn't wait for the order to go. You did this on your own ahead of any kind of order. Why did you do that?

HOANG: Absolutely. We learned a lot from 2003, from the Cedar fires, and we did not want to risk or put the lives of our patients in jeopardy. And so we decided to make the move ourselves and order the evacuations and gets folks out there in a safe and timely manner.

There was no telling what could of happened if we had waited. If we were given a call to say, hey, move the patients, and you only have an hour to do that, I mean, you can only imagine what that would be like to move 200 patients in a small time frame.

So we went ahead and made the order around 9:00 yesterday morning and got folks out of there safely and in a real peaceful, calm manner. And thank God we did, because an hour after we removed everyone from the hospital, the helicopters were flying by and doing water drops and police had come by and ordered all of us to leave because the hospital was deemed unsafe.

ROBERTS: And you were evacuating these people even as some of the employees who were engaged in the evacuation were suffering losses of their own. The CEO of the hospital, for example, lost his home.

How are those folks coping? HOANG: Those are the reports that we have received. Some of our nurses have lost their homes. And it's just been an incredible, incredible experience for all of us.

We are family here at Palomar Pomerado Health. Our nurses, a couple of them, have lost their homes. And they continue to work around the clock.

At this point, they can't go home. So they are stuck at the hospital, they're working around the clock. And we're trying to get our night-side nurses to come in so they can relieve our day-side nurses.

ROBERTS: Hey, real quick, Andy, where did the folks who were in the hospital get taken to, and how long will they be there?

HOANG: It's been a tremendous effort from all the hospitals countywide. They were taken to various facilities throughout San Diego. About six or seven in total.

At this point, we don't know when they will be able to come back to Pomerado Hospital. We're waiting from the county officials to let us know when the hospital will be safe to reopen. And once that -- once that does happen, we will be opening our doors and bringing our patients back and treating other folks.

And again, we're still waiting on word today. And hopefully that will happen soon.

ROBERTS: Well, good work there, Andy, getting them out of harm's way long before the danger actually got near the hospital.

Andy Hoang from Pomerado Hospital for us this morning outside of Qualcomm Stadium -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And just ahead, "Planet in Peril". Around the world and behind the scenes of CNN's groundbreaking new documentary.



ROBERTS: It's a groundbreaking investigation that you just can't afford to miss. We've been talking about it for weeks now, but tonight you get your first look at "Planet in Peril".

CHETRY: That's right. It's a wonderful documentary focusing on global environmental issues that really affect all of us.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, as well as chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin, all traveled to investigate, and they join us now with some of what they found.

Congratulations, first of all, for just being in the same room after this whirlwind. We're very excited for tonight's premiere. Anderson, it was interesting. You guys went to four continents, 13 different countries. You traveled all the way to Greenland, Alaska, all over the place.

What surprised you most about what you saw?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Just that you can see these changes happening now. You know, often this discussion in the United States gets mired in hype and hysteria in politics. We really wanted to get away from that, just go to these places, go to the front lines of climate change, of deforestation, and actually to be able to just see for ourselves, what are the facts, and let viewers make up their own minds about how important they think these changes are.

ROBERTS: Jeff, you've had some amazing video in Alaska of you in a helicopter tracking down some polar bears, anesthetizing the mother. You were carrying one of the cubs around.

What can polar bears tell us about the ecosystem and the impacts of global warming?

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: Well, first of all, that was an incredible experience for me. As a wildlife biologist, doing wildlife documentaries, I've traveled around the world. And that was a first for me.

But to sit there and hold that young polar bear and to see the mother anesthetized and know that their future is uncertain, at best, it's very sobering. These animals are telling us -- they're indicator species, and they're indicating that this is an environment that's changing.

The ice is melting, and that melting ice is impacting the wildlife. And if a powerful animal like a polar bear can feel that impact, just imagine how it affects all the sensitive life forms here.

ROBERTS: Watching you carry that baby, it looks like you just wanted to bring her home.

CORWIN: Well, when they anesthetized that female, they don't anesthetize the babies. The baby just ran off. They said, "Go catch it." And I'm like, OK.

CHETRY: So you don't even realize how hard it is to actually see them because of the snow. They blend right in.

Also, Sanjay, you did something that was very interesting as well as it relates to China, the most populous nation in the world, home to, what, 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the entire world. And they're going to be hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

What type of situation are they dealing with?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, this is a country that has explosive growth, there's no question about it. And they've sort of grown so fast that they are starting to see the consequences on human health.

You talked about the pollution. They use 25 percent of the world's cement -- 25 percent of the world's steel, 47 percent of the world's cement all of the time as well. And all that manufacturing without any regard, really, or little regard to just dumping a lot of those pollutants into the air or into the water, we're starting to see that.

I mean, you have places that are called cancer villages. And I thought that meant when they first told me about a place where cancer survivors went. That's not what it is at all. It's a place that is so mired in cancer because of the pollution that they get rates that are, you know, 50 to 100 times normal cancer rates.

ROBERTS: You wonder what we're taking into our body with all of the pollution. And you investigated that. You had a total body burden assessment.

What is that? And what...

COOPER: Yes, I had never heard about it before either, a body burden test. They basically take about a pint of your blood, they test it for some 250 or so chemicals. And you actually find out what chemicals you've been exposed to over your life. And those chemicals are still in your system. I found out I had high levels of something called phthalates, which California just outlawed phthalates in children's toys.

ROBERTS: It's the stuff that keeps plastic pliable (ph), isn't it?

COOPER: It does. It apparently shows up in all the makeup that we're using on this very morning.

So it's -- things like that are alarming. And you realize, too, that the real big impact is on children. A lot of kids are being tested, and they have high levels of flame-retardant chemicals which come from their pajamas.

CHETRY: Oh, that's unbelievable.

And quickly, before we let you go, Jeff, how do you relate to this people? Why do we care that, let's say, a species so far away in the jungle is disappearing?

CORWIN: Well, for example, the rain forest that you just alluded to. The tropical rain forest in Brazil that Anderson and I went to, what we discovered there is that 20 percent of that habitat could potentially be gone forever and 40 percent to 50 percent of all life on Earth lives there. How do we benefit from that life? Forty percent of our medicines come from plants that could, for example, grow in a rain forest.


Well, it's a tremendous program. Looking forward to it. Four straight hours, fabulous HD.

Congratulations. Great work, you guys.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

CORWIN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: This is a year-long project. Amazing.

CHETRY: And we want to let people know once again when you can see it. "Planet in Peril" will be airing tonight and tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: Also, at 27 after the hour, fires burning entire neighborhoods to the ground, destroying everything that people have, whether they have a little or a lot, from Malibu to the Mexican border.

An update from the fire lines, that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: Breaking news again this morning. Take a look at that. That is not an active volcano. That is Lake Arrowhead, California on Monday. The scope of this disaster is just difficult to describe here. Hundreds of thousands of acres burning, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed. It's just really amazing. All of those people displaced.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's the 23rd of October, Tuesday. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry.

In fact, we just heard that the marines from Camp Pendleton, at least 800 are going to be dispatch to the fire lines to help out as well. And this is the description from one father as he took his wife and two children to flee to a shelter. He says it looks like we're in hell and when you see those pictures, as John said, it really feels that way. More than a dozen massive wildfires and they are spreading this morning, stretching all the way from Santa Barbara down to the Mexican border, more than 400 square miles of flame. Thousands of homes in their path and hundreds of them already burned to the ground. There is a virtual ring of fire surrounding San Diego. 300,000 people told to evacuate the area and it's being called the largest evacuation in that county's history.


H.T. LINKE, RED CROSS (voice-over): It's one of the five shelters we have opened in San Diego County right now. This one is called the Mira Mesa Shelter. It's at a high school. A large indoor gymnasium, which right now is filled wall-to-wall with people on cots and air mattresses and some who brought their own bedding. What I should also tell you is that there are another several hundred people outside the shelter. They've set up their own tents or in their recreational vehicles or they're even in their cars that they have come here to the shelter, they're getting food and water from us, but they are either staying outside. Many of them with pets or in their cars or somewhere else.


CHETRY: President Bush now authorizing FEMA to help out. The Pentagon also saying that 800 marines from Camp Pendleton will be dispatched to help battle those wildfires. Also, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger calling 1,500 California national guardsmen, 200 of them actually coming off the border to help out. Another 100 firefighters are coming in from neighboring Nevada.

So, firefighters say they are having some success on the Stevenson Ranch fire, about 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The Magic fire also as it's been called out and broke out near Magic Mountain yesterday, quickly grew to 1,200 acres. People in the immediate path were ordered to leave. So far they have not lost any buildings and firefighters today are saying the fire has moved away from homes and is in an isolated agricultural area.

Here is a look at Ramona. This is northeast of San Diego, where the entire town, 36,000 people in all forced to leave. There is no word yet on the exact number of homes destroyed but you can see that one aflame there and many others like it. This is one of those areas that was hit hard back in 2003 by the devastating Cedar fire.

ROBERTS: Our Chris Lawrence is standing by live in Del Valle, California. Chris, still another hour to an hour and a half before the sun comes up there, what are people going to see when it does?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hard to tell, John. It changes every 15, even 20 minutes. The wind was down, then it flared up for a while. Take a look behind me. It's down again. That fire that we saw leaping over the top of that mountain ridge just 30 minutes ago is now starting to die down a little bit. So there's just no telling. There is no rhyme or reason, no real pattern to the way these winds swirl and that unpredictability is something that is a very big problem for the firefighters on the line.


MIKE BROWN, L.A. COUNTY PIO: The immediate danger right now is the winds. Firefighters on the ground right now are contending with the high winds and gusts. Right now we're dealing with some 50 to 60- mile-an-hour winds in some areas and we have gusts 70 to 80 miles an hour in areas.

Again, the Magic fire is now 20% contained so that is some progress. This is one of three major fires burning north of Los Angeles. And fire officials tell us there is still some concern, not as much as there was last night that, at some point, these fires could merge. There is also has been competition for resources. They say they have been able to take certain engines from one fire to another, moving personnel around. Some of the officials up here in the Santa Clarita area honestly took a little bit of heat from some of the residents during a press conference because some of the residents were worried that too many of the resources were going to Malibu at that time.

But hundreds of firefighters from Malibu did come up to Santa Clarita. Another team from Malibu is, will be moving in the Lake Arrowhead area today. So with so many fires in so many areas, it is a juggling act of resources and equipment to keep the most equipped firefighters on the most important fires. John.

ROBERTS: And as you can imagine, Chris, there's just so much need there. Maybe getting some relief, too, from these marines coming in and also firefighters from Nevada. Chris Lawrence this morning in Del Valle, California. Chris, thanks. We'll check back with you. Kiran.

CHETRY: So we want to explain just what firefighters and residents are facing. How do you move logistically hundreds of thousands of people out of the way? How do they all get where they need to go? And where do you put them once they get there.

Well, a short time ago, we talked to the first lady of California Maria Shriver about what people should do.


MARIA SHRIVER, CALIFORNIA FIRST LADY: We're trying to encourage people to follow directions, to stay calm, to stay off our roads, let firefighters do their job.


CHETRY: Well, there we go. AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho is here to talk more about this as well. You know, first, it's about pinpointing exactly where these fires are burning and who needs to get out.

ALINA CHO, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Hard to count, you know? We've been saying more than a dozen but by CNN's count at least 14 fires are burning now. As far north of Santa Barbara all the way south to the Mexican border. And the scary part about all of this is many of these fires are reported to be zero percent contained. We don't hear about that too often. And the weather certainly is not helping.

Take a look at this satellite image. Those Santa Ana winds and high temperatures aren't expected to go down until late today or tomorrow at the earliest and still there is no rain in the immediate forecast. Schools are closed. Even some evacuation centers have been evacuated and reverse 911 calls are in effect. That's where emergency centers are actually calling residents to give them updates about the fires and about evacuation orders so you will know if you need to get out of your home.

Now, the largest fires as we've been talking about all morning are burning in San Diego County including the witch fire which has burned 145,000 acres so far. At least 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in San Diego. That is the largest evacuation in that county's history and the largest in the country since Hurricane Katrina and Rita. 10,000 of those people fled their homes are staying at Qualcomm Stadium. Take a look at that picture there. This is where the San Diego Chargers play. The Chargers have actually moved their practice sessions to Tempe, Arizona for now.

Also, San Diego's burn unit is full but help is on the way as we've been reporting, Kiran. CNN has just learned in the past hour that the marines have offered a battalion of about 800 to go help fight the fires. Those marines are from Camp Pendleton near San Diego. But you know, when you look at those pictures, we've seen a lot of fire pictures over the years, this is just such an awesome sight. One local fire official said you know this isn't an issue about preparedness. The situation is just so overwhelming, it's hard to know, you know how to help it.

CHETRY: They've been in a drought there at the mercy of the Santa Ana winds. Rob says it doesn't look like we're going to see anything clear up in terms of the calming of the winds and maybe some cooler temperatures until at least Thursday and so it really is a battle where every second counts.

CHO: And that's right. Some of these people don't know where to go. I mean, it's heartbreaking to look at these elderly people leaving nursing homes. They're saying we don't know where to go. Shelters are running out of cots. It's a real dire situation and, hopefully, the weather will help in the next couple of days.

CHETRY: You're right. Those were some of the most heartbreaking pictures, watching people being taken out of the nursing home and really no answers as to where they're supposed to go or how long they will be there.

CHO: That's right.

CHETRY: Alina, thank you.

CHO: You bet.

ROBERTS: Well, in a heartbeat, we're going to take you to the other side of the country now where the Space Shuttle "Discovery" is now ready for liftoff just about three hours from now. NASA fueled the shuttle and it's going ahead with preparations despite a far from perfect forecast over Cape Canaveral. And for the first time, CNN and NASA are both broadcasting the launch in high-definition. You see some live pictures there. The astronauts getting suited up at the deck of the shuttle. CNN's chief technology and environment correspondent, Miles O'Brien at the Kennedy Space Center this morning. Miles, we'll have some fabulous pictures if the shuttle goes up. The question is this morning is will it?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a race against the clock, John. As you look at Paolo Nespoli, the Italian astronaut getting suited up on the deck, about three miles from behind me. Take a look at the launch pad. If you're seeing it on HD, it's quite a sight indeed. It's a beautiful morning here. Right now if the space station were lined up like it should be and it has to be carefully synchronized they would be good to go with the launch but the launch and the synchronization are scheduled for 11:38 a.m.

And if you know a little bit about Florida weather as the day goes on and the heating continues from the sun and it's supposed to be a hot day you get more moisture in the clouds and that ultimately leads to showers and towering cumulus clouds which the space shuttle cannot fly through. Take a look at some of the pictures right now, just off the coast here and what it looks like this morning. And as I say, a beautiful morning, beautiful towering cumulus clouds. The question is will those clouds move into the area around the space shuttle, 20-mile disc around it where there can't be any showers at the time of the launch. Now, they have a five-minute window at 11:38 a.m. So they only need five minutes of good weather. And the hope is that the breezes have set up in such a way this morning that they're going to get that window.

Now, take a look right now, they would be good to go as we point out but they can't launch for a few hours. Take a look right now, live pictures coming to us from the so-called white room. This is the, well, you could call it a shuttle way as the crew members suit up and get in. The commander, the pilot and the mission specialists are now making their way on board the space shuttle discover. "Discovery" is commanded by Retired Air Force Colonel Pam Melroy, only the second woman to command a space shuttle. The first, Eileen Collins will be our guest here, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, to guide us through the launch, weather permitting. She will be meeting up with the international space station which also happens to be commanded for the first time by a woman, NASA astronaut Peggy Woodson.

So, a little milestone of space history. An incredibly complicated space shuttle mission. They're putting on a huge sort of wheel and a tinker toy on the space station that will allow other pieces to connect and they're moving some huge solar rays around to make way for further construction. Five space walks planned over two weeks. Very complicated but none of it begins until they get off the ground, and we're hoping for good weather. John.

ROBERTS: The world's most expensive tinker toy. Miles, we'll keep watching. Hopefully, they'll be able to thread the needle a little bit later on this morning. And if you can't "Discovery's" launch live right here on CNN, watch it on your computer at CNN/com/video. Launch time again is set for 11:38 a.m. Eastern. Kiran.

CHETRY: California wildfires continuing to burn and coming up we're going to share what people in the region are saying on our website. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Well, when can we expect the stronger than usual Santa Ana winds to die down? Chris Lawrence was saying that the winds are gusting right now where he is. Typically it's worst at this point in the night is that a harbinger perhaps good things to come? Our Jacqui Jeras at the weather update desk tracking the extreme weather. So, Jacqui, how is it looking today there? JACQUI JERAS, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: You know, not good. Still, really bad in terms of the strong winds. In fact, in the last hour, we just got an 82-mile-per-hour wind gust at Laguna Peak. So, we're expecting extremely strong winds, you know, 70, 80-mile-per-hour for the gusts. And look at our radar, all that smoke in the air. This is not rain. This is smoke. The particles are being reflected off on Doppler radar and the image coming back and looking like rain. High pressure still dominate here. Santa Ana winds will continue to blow and critical fire danger areas and even extreme fire danger areas, relative humidity just crazy low, 4 to 8%. That is just almost unimaginable at how dry this air mass is. Now, we are expecting the winds to lighten up a little bit tomorrow and we will be in a transition Thursday through Friday. Onshore flow is back and see more moisture by the weekend. Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Jacqui. Thanks so much.

We want to show you some amazing pictures that came in overnight from i-Reporter Shi Rosov (ph) who lives in Canyon Country, California. He was twice told to get out. He was able to come back to his home last night. The fire got about two miles away from his neighborhood. And this is just one of the many viewers who have contributed to our coverage by sending in their i-Reports in the form of either photos or videos. And our Veronica De La Cruz joins us now with what else we've been receiving. Hi, Veronica.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Hello. You know, it's not just these pictures and videos that we've receiving but we've also gotten a huge amount of e-mail. And we've been posting them to where we have created an instant online community. As you know, communication has been limited in southern California so this has become a good way for people to find each other. Take this e-mail from Rosana in Hawaii for example which says, "needing to know that my sister and her entire family are safe. Greg and Roxanne Louie, daughter Ashley and son Benjamin. They reside in Mt. Woodson off 67."

People are also posting e-mails saying they've spoken to friends and family and that they are okay. Now, other e-mails that we've been receiving Kiran are firsthand accounts that read like this. The ash is so thick it gets in your eyes. My nose is full of ash just from going outside a couple times. Horrible traffic, no hotels from Tijuana to Anaheim.

Also, online, Kiran, we've been seeing outrage of the coverage and this op-ed article on the "Los Angeles Times" web site, Steve Lopez addresses people's arguments that the Malibu fires are garnering the majority of attention from media as well as firefighters because of the celebrity factor. Now, in this excerpt, he writes, "it's strange that Malibu has many people worked into a lather. If anything, this is a fairly democratic set of fires, with the Canyon Country blaze and the ring of fire around San Diego causing massive evacuations of people who are not movie stars. Your tax dollars are dousing the homes of rich and poor alike."

And you can read his entire article at "L.A." You can also send us your i-Reports to our and check out our online community as well.

CHETRY: All right. That's great that we're doing that because as you said there are a lot of people...

DE LA CRUZ: Yes, communication is limited. You can't use your cell phones anymore so you can always check out and we are posting messages there.

CHETRY: Sounds good. Veronica, thanks a lot. John.

ROBERTS: More coverage of the wildfires continues all day today here on CNN. CNN NEWSROOM just minutes away now. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead. Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN, ANCHOR: Good morning to you, John. Boy, what a story, isn't? In fact, we have these stories coming up in the NEWSROOM rundown this morning.

The crisis in southern California. More than a dozen major wildfires burning now. More than 300,000 people evacuated and, unfortunately, no sign that they will be going home soon.

Shuttle set to launch this morning. Mission to the space station under a woman's command.

And strangers once, now tied together forever. How one man saved the life of a little girl. A story you don't want to miss.

Join me in the NEWSROOM. We get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN. John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Heidi. We'll see you soon.

Still ahead, what is on your breakfast menu? We will run down the foods to make the perfect and healthy meal. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Nine minutes to the top of the hour. During the morning rush, it's easy to grab breakfast on the run or skip it altogether like many people do.

CHETRY: Yes. We all know that, of course, we've been told time and time again it's the most important meal of the day. So, what should you be starting your day with? We're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's here and John and I we're looking at both of these. I hope these aren't sample breakfast. It doesn't look like enough.


ROBERTS: Spartan meals, to say the least.

GUPTA: But here's the thing, breakfast is obviously the most important meal of the day. Mom was right on that one. You know, we talk about whole grains. People always say how good are they really for you? New study actually coming out talking about the benefits of whole grains saying if you eat it 2 to 6 times a week, almost every day of the week, you can actually decrease your risk of heart disease by about 22 percent. So that's some good news there. Whole grain is actually good at lowering some of your bad cholesterol levels and raising your good cholesterol levels. A couple of caveats though as you look at some of these delicious breakfast there. Make sure it's 100 percent whole grain. A lot of boxes just say whole grain but that is not enough. They have other stuff in there. You should also look at the fiber content, make sure that there's four grams of fiber per serving and watch the calories. No more than 150 to 200 calories per serving.

ROBERTS: So, why is breakfast such an important part of your day? And what would constitute the perfect breakfast?

GUPTA: There's a couple of things. First of all, breakfast really does seem to jump-start your metabolism. So, this is a good thing. If you're not eating breakfast, your metabolism is slower throughout the day. This is very important for a reason that people care about the most it seems which is weight management. You can eat a big breakfast and have a much better chance of sort of maintaining your weight. Eat fewer calories throughout the day and have more energy but you got to watch your sugar. If you eat sugar in the morning, you're likely to have sort of a crash by late morning or early afternoon.

CHETRY: Oh, I'm watching the sugar right now. Because here comes Ali Velshi. It's Sanjay's birthday,

ALI VELSHI, MINDING YOUR BUSINESS: This is a breakfast. This is the happy birthday Sanjay thing.

GUPTA: You guys are sweeping the whole grain off to the side.

ROBERTS: Look at this, it's the "Planet in Peril" theme as well. It's the greeting of the earth.

CHETRY: Happy birthday, Sanjay.

ROBERTS: What are you, a ripe old age of 29 now?

GUPTA: Thirty-eight, guys.

CHETRY: As I said before, you've accomplished more in your life at 38 than anybody.

VELSHI: Grandpa.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: This is the way to start a day.

GUPTA: This actually works as Bill Cosby said, Mom, I want eggs and milk and he gave them cake. VELSHI: This is a cupcake cake as well.

Look at that. You take one of these things out and the whole thing comes down on you.

GUPTA: Our planet will be in peril.

VELSHI: That's exactly right.

ROBERTS: It looks like a building construction in San Francisco. You know, with the earthquakes. Sanjay, unfortunately, this is yours.

GUPTA: Thanks.

CHETRY: That's right and by the way this is what is considered a serving of cereal which is also shocking. We fill our bowls to the rim. This is nothing.

GUPTA: This is 360 calories, 250 and that's about a million.

CHETRY: 50,000.

ROBERTS: We'll leave Dr. Gupta to his perfect breakfast and we'll indulge here.

CHETRY: Happy birthday, by the way and to many more. Congratulations. By the way, if you have a question for Dr. Gupta or Ali, he is here, too. Seriously, though, you can e-mail us Sanjay is going to be back tomorrow when he opens up the mailbag and we'll see if he is back tomorrow after this sugar rush.

GUPTA: Thank you, guys. I'm going to crash.

ROBERTS: Comatose at the back room.

CHETRY: Here's a look right now at what CNN NEWSROM is working on for the top of the hour.

COLLINS: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Southern California scorched. Major wildfires drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Shuttle set to launch this morning. Weather permitting. Woman takes command.

Drought fact check. Is the state of Georgia really in a water crisis?

And a man's gift saves a little girl's life. NEWSROOM, top of the hour, on CNN.


CHETRY: Welcome back. With late-breaking updates now from up and down the fire line. Rob Marciano is standing by for us in San Diego. Rob, what's the latest?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Well, the winds continue to blow here and the flames that are still lingering from this neighborhood that was torn up by an inferno yesterday, less than 24 hours, certainly a reminder of just how powerful this wall of flames was. Behind me, that's an ironing board. I haven't touched that. I can't even get close to it because it's so hot. It's still smoldering, there's still flames, there's still smoke, there's still ash. You know, you walk through these areas. When we're in tornadoes and hurricanes, you try not to get too personal. You try not to look at people's stuff when you're showing this sort of damage but I can't help but notice there's just not a lot of stuff left here.

I mean, unlike a tornado or a hurricane where you at least would see somebody's personal belongings people would be allowed back to find something that means a lot to them, photo albums and things like that there is nothing left here. I'm not sure whether people will be allowed to come back in. There are a few homes in this neighborhood that are still standing but, by and large, this is not an isolated case.

We've been reporting all morning that in San Diego County at least 500 homes have been completely destroyed and likely hundreds more damaged and still we are not, so to speak, out of the woods yet. 5,000 homes threatened by this fire that continues to rage uncontained. Santa Ana winds once again today high winds warning up to 3:00 with winds gusting at times to hurricane strength. That will be another battle for these firefighters and no relief weather wise until at least tomorrow, likely Thursday or Friday. Kiran, John, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Well, maybe some relief in sight at the very least. Rob Marciano this morning for us in San Diego. I covered the Laguna beach fires 14 years ago and went through some garages and saw these puddles of silver there. Aluminum alloy wheels from cars that had melted.

CHETRY: And he says he's afraid to touch the ironing board even though the fire went out hours and hours ago.

ROBERTS: Everything goes in those fires. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you again tomorrow.

CHETRY: That's right and our coverage of these southern California fires continue right now with CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins. It all starts right now.

COLLINS: Good morning, everybody. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Heidi Collins. Tony Harris is off today. Watch events come into the NEWSROOM live on this Tuesday morning, it's October 23rd, and we have breaking news this hour.

Southern California calamity. Wildfires rage on.