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American Morning

California Wildfires: Almost One Million Evacuated; Types of Injuries From Fires

Aired October 24, 2007 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go! We've got to go!

ROBERTS: Overnight, fires force new evacuations and cut off a major highway.

More than a thousand homes destroyed. Nearly a million people on the run this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm praying that it doesn't go up in smoke.

ROBERTS: Plus, Dr. Sanjay Gupta with exclusive report from San Diego's only burn unit.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So we're giving you a look inside one of these ICU rooms here.

ROBERTS: And a firefighter's personal battle for life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was in the truck when the fire overtook them.

ROBERTS: Live from the frontlines on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: And some more breaking news to tell you about that we just got word of a second ago. Residents in Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch and Del Mar Heights are being told that they can go back to their homes now.

I am in Rancho Bernardo. This is the scene that some of those people are going to be coming back to.

Thanks very much for joining us on this Wednesday, October the 24th.

I'm John Roberts.


I'm about 20 miles south, at the Qualcomm Center. This is the home of the San Diego Chargers. Right now though it's been a shelter filled with volunteers, as well as evacuees of the fire. But as you said, we're getting word that some are able to return, as you said, where you are, in Rancho Bernardo, a community of about 36,000. They have been given the green light to head back, as well as Scripps Ranch, as well as Del Mar heights. And then there are others who are being told that they need to get out.

In fact, we just got information not long ago that a community north of Camp Pendleton -- this is the community of De Luz (ph) -- are now under mandatory evacuation orders. You know, some people weren't waiting for that mandatory call. Some people just making the call on their own either because of the smoke, the heavy smoke, or just the fear that perhaps they were in the fire lines.

So right now, we're watching two new fires burning right now. We mentioned the situation in Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. It's also home to thousands of Marines.

Once CNN producer reporting that those flames have already reached the ocean. Interstate 5, the major freeway there, is closed in both directions -- the main corridor linking L.A. and San Diego. And as we said, the small community north of Camp Pendleton, De Luz (ph), is now under a mandatory evacuation order.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence is near Camp Pendleton, in San Onofre, just a few feet now from the flames.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are standing just a few feet off the Interstate 5 freeway, the main north/south artery between Los Angeles and San Diego. You can see the firefighters have started to create some back burns just off the I-5 freeway. These are fires that they set, but that is because there was a larger fire behind it.

That fire was burning dangerously close to Interstate 5 and it was sending embers clear over the highway. We saw several embers fly straight over, all the way over to the southern side, across the highway, and set smaller fires on that side.

So what they're doing here is intentionally setting a few fires to burn off some of this brush. You can see as you look down some of the fire trucks pulling up now, putting some water on it to make sure it doesn't creep over into the border patrol station directly in front of it.

But again, this fire going -- going pretty well now. And Interstate 5, a major freeway, the main connection between Los Angeles and San Diego, again, closed for several hours this morning.

Reporting north of San Diego on Camp Pendleton, Chris Lawrence, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHETRY: Also, new evacuations at Lake Arrowhead. That's northeast of Los Angeles. Ten thousand homes there are in jeopardy and 400 homes have already burned.

And our John Roberts is in Rancho Bernardo, just about 20 miles north of where we are here at Qualcomm in San Diego.

Residents there are getting the word that they can return, John, but what they are returning to is the big question this morning.

ROBERTS: Well, as you can see behind me, what they're returning to for some people is not going to be pretty. We're going to be talking with a couple of residents that came back to see what's going on in the neighborhood in just a couple of seconds, but let me update you on a couple of other pieces of business this morning.

Police in San Bernardino say an arsonist made a grave situation worse. The suspect was arrested along Highway 173. That's about 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles, up near Lake Arrowhead, up near Big Bear, doing something suspicious. She said that people actually pulled over and threw dirt on the flames.

More than a dozen wildfires are already tearing a path along the Pacific Coast. In Santa Barbara, in the north, all the way down south to the Mexican border and into one of America's biggest and most beautiful cities, San Diego.

The fires ravaging San Diego County are expected to get worse before they get better over the next couple of days. City and county officials expect that the fires will eclipse the damage caused by the infamous 2003 Cedar Fire. That is the worst wildfire on record in California's history.

Some good news could come later today, though. People are keeping their fingers crossed because the fierce winds that have fanned these fires are down compared to where they were this time yesterday and expected to ease somewhat.

We're still getting some amazing pictures in as firefighters battle these flames. Take a look at this.

We're going to take you right into the line of fire with some firefighters as they scramble to save a house in total destruction. Take a quick look at this.

Difficult to get a handle on the hose, let alone the fire there. But, you know, they ran up in an SUV, unloaded the hose, got it hooked up to a fire hydrant and then went ahead and attacked it.

That's how these firefighters have been doing this, driving around looking for hot spots, trying to put them down before they can cause too much damage. But the extent of the damage here is just something that is difficult to comprehend. More than a thousand homes have been lost now, almost a million people have been evacuated.

But as we said at the top of this hour, some people are being allowed to come back into their residential areas. Here in Rancho Bernardo, they're letting people back in, as well as Del Mar Heights and Scripps Ranch, all of which were evacuated.

Two residents of Rancho Bernardo join me now, Pepe and Carolina Galmes.

You're here at 5:00 in the morning California time looking around. What brought you here this early?

PEPE GALMES, RETURNING HOME TODAY: Well, we just had the hope that the police would let us in to see our house. And we still haven't been able to get -- to walk in the house, but saw it from the side of the interstate. We just stood there and see our house was the only one standing in the block.

ROBERTS: The only one on the block that was standing?

CAROLINA GALMES, RETURNING HOME TODAY: Yes. We couldn't believe our eyes.

P. GALMES: It's a miracle.

C. GALMES: I mean, it's a miracle, because our neighbors are gone. And on all the row of houses in the block and also the forest behind -- and we can't believe the house is standing there. I mean, we have to get in and see what is going on inside, probably some damage to furniture. We don't know yet.

ROBERTS: But the one house...

P. GALMES: It's not even small...


ROBERTS: Entire neighborhood.

P. GALMES: It's a miracle. Left and right are down to the ground.

C. GALMES: Gone. The forest behind is gone.

ROBERTS: And what was the situation like, Carolina, when you evacuated? I mean, were you surprised to see the house standing based upon what you saw as you left?

C. GALMES: We believed the whole day of Monday that the house was gone, because when we left, the smoke alarms were going on and also it was raining fire.

ROBERTS: Raining fire?

C. GALMES: Yes. Our children had...

P. GALMES: Sparks all over.

C. GALMES: ... sparks all over their hair. It just was going into the -- when they were going into the car. So we believed that the house was going to be burned completely.

P. GALMES: Our house...


C. GALMES: When we saw it from the highway, we couldn't believe our eyes. We were calling our family, telling them the house was still there.

P. GALMES: And then we were checking the news, and actually we were like street numbers and addresses, except for (INAUDIBLE) 21 blocks -- 21 houses..


P. GALMES: But there were no numbers.

ROBERTS: So your house survived, but you've got to feel terrible for your neighbors.

P. GALMES: Oh, yes.

ROBERTS: Because these are very tightly-knit communities. Everybody knows everybody else.

P. GALMES: Yes. One week ago we were celebrating, like, our neighbor's 50 birthday.

C. GALMES: In his house.

P. GALMES: And we were in their house. You know? Like next door. Right? Now it's gone.

C. GALMES: I'm talking -- I've been talking to her on the phone, and she is destroyed. She saw her house in the news.

P. GALMES: The neighbors on the left, they have been renovating their house for the last two or three months. You know, they have like everything new in the kitchen, new floor, new everything. It's gone.

C. GALMES: They're a very old couple and they haven't even enjoyed this house for a single day.

ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness. It's going to be some time before the neighborhood comes back, but someone was smiling on you.

C. GALMES: Oh, yes.

P. GALMES: Oh, yes.

ROBERTS: Pepe and Carolina Galmes, thanks for being with us, sharing your story this morning.

Hey, we do have a quick update here. Apparently, according to San Diego Fire and Rescue, residents are not going to be allowed back into Rancho Bernardo just yet. So one report that we had perhaps a little bit premature. We'll keep watching that part of the story and we'll give you an update just as soon as we get it. But this according to San Diego Fire and Rescue, people not allowed back in to Rancho Bernardo, which is where we are -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, John. Thanks a lot.

We're back here at Qualcomm. Qualcomm Stadium is usually home to the San Diego Chargers. They're actually training right now in Arizona, and as many as 12,000 fire evacuees are calling this stadium home.

All of them have stories of fear, of uncertainty and loss. And many have no idea what they are going to return to when all of this is finally over.

Meantime, President Bush is scheduled to visit this area tomorrow. The Bush administration promising that this will be no repeat of Hurricane Katrina's experience, saying, this is a "new FEMA".

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is also already here. He's getting a firsthand look at the devastation and what the need will be, and where the federal government will need to step in to help.

Meantime, at least 70 people were hurt in these fires. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now with more.

We also know that you had an exclusive look inside the burn unit. In terms of some of these other injuries, what are the most common ailments we're seeing because of these fires?

GUPTA: Well, you know, a lot of people pay attention to the fire themselves and the obvious burns they cause. Keep in mind, it's just not to the skin, but also to the inside of the lungs as well. The flames get so hot, it actually goes down the trachea, into the lungs. But also, people who have some sort of cardiopulmonary problem, where they have heart and lung problems that already existed, they're especially at risk here.

So, if you've had heart attacks in the past, you have asthma, you have emphysema, those are problems. And we've also seen and you've probably seen it as well, Kiran, just lots of injuries from people trying to evacuate -- lacerations, for example. Even one of our photographers actually had some lacerations up and down the arm from a tree falling. So you're seeing a lot of that as well.

That is primarily what is being cared for in the hospitals right now.

CHETRY: You know, and actually, a little bit earlier, we talked to a woman who decided to evacuate because she feared for the air quality in her home. Her little 11-month-old daughter was not doing well, wheezing and vomiting. And she said, "Even though I did everything right and had all the windows closed, it came in." How are hospitals preventing that very same thing from happening?

GUPTA: They're having trouble. We visited one of the hospitals, as you mentioned. We've talked to several other hospitals.

They're having trouble. They have a filter known as a HEPA filter. It's an environmental filter to try and filter out as much as possible, but several things happen.

One is that they have to keep the windows closed as well and still allow -- the pollutants are sort of getting into the hospitals. One of the hospitals, Scripps, decided to close all of the doors except for one. And the people -- they have people basically coming in and out of that one door. But they're walking outside checking the air quality themselves quite regularly.

And I don't know if you've noticed, Kiran, but I've noticed that even since yesterday when we were here, even around here you saw a lot of particles sort of floating into the air. I don't see as much today myself. That is just my untrained eye. But it seems like it has lessened to some degree.

CHETRY: It has. Right when you walked out yesterday from the airport, you take your first breath. Sometimes it actually gets caught in your throat and you choke, almost as if there's pepper spray or something in the year.

GUPTA: Yes. I'll just mention that my throat had a tickle in it when I went to bed for a couple of hours last night. And this morning it felt a little bit better and I don't feel it as much today.

CHETRY: Hopefully those winds are calming and they are going to be cooperating with us.

We'll check in with Rob throughout the afternoon. That is usually when they kick up a little bit more.

You know, one other interesting thing, Sanjay, before I let you go is that, as you talked about these doctors who are sitting here and they're in the hospitals trying to help these people, at the same time they've been evacuated. They don't know if they have a home to come back to.

This fire certainly has not discriminated, and there are people here that are not only evacuated, but they are also stepping in to volunteer and help others. It's unbelievable.

GUPTA: A lot of the doctors have been evacuated themselves. A lot of nurses as well.

They've shown up here. You know, we were here yesterday. They treated about 70 to a hundred people at this particular area. They just sort of set up these makeshift medical areas.

The good news is, from what we're hearing today, is that by Thursday, most of that shouldn't be shut down because it's not necessary anymore. The vast majority of patients that were being cared for were elderly. They came from convalescent homes that needed to be evacuated.

There are a couple of pregnant women over there. They did not give birth, but they were -- you know, obviously the strain of everything that was going on and the fact that they were late in their pregnancy was of concern. But it sounds like most of them are going to get to go home. Mainly just the lacerations and minor injuries is what they are taking care of here.

CHETRY: Yes. A lot going on, and certainly a community effort to make sure everyone is taken care of.

Sanjay, thanks.

We're going to take a quick break. Our special reporting this morning on AMERICAN MORNING continues when we come right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had about 10 minutes to get my family out, my daughter, my wife and the animals. And there was no time to think of anything except -- except getting out of there. And it was only a moment ago that we realized how fortunate we are to be alive.



CHETRY: Welcome back to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING, live here from southern California, the scene of these devastating wildfires that have led to the evacuations of more people than any time in U.S. history since the Civil War. Nearly a million people told to get out because of the flames and the smoke.

We want to just give you a quick update now about who can return, what neighborhoods are being allowed back. Earlier it was reported that Rancho Bernardo -- that's where our John Roberts is -- are allowing people back. Once again, the San Diego emergency officials saying that is not the case, that people -- residents who have home in the Rancho Bernardo area cannot return.

However, they have given the OK two other neighborhoods that were threatened by the Witch Fire. That is the Del Mar Heights area, as well as Scripps Ranch.


CHETRY: And we're going to head over to John in Rancho Bernardo, a little bit north of where my position is here at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

And John, once again, San Diego Emergency Management saying people cannot come back to the area where you are this morning. ROBERTS: There's a little bit of nuance to that, though, Kiran. And I know that it's very important for people who live in this area, because they want to come back and see what is left, whether their home survived or not.

We've got the spokesman for San Diego Fire and Rescue coming up in just a couple of minutes. He has got the official word on that for you. As I said, a little bit of nuance. Some people will be let back in, but there's certain conditions under which they can come back in.

So we'll get you totally updated on all of that if you're looking for some information on that.

Wildfires, you know, can become so intense sometimes that they actually create their own weather and can, on occasion, take on tornado-like qualities. Take a look at this incredible video. It comes to us from the fire in Silverado Canyon, California.

The swirling inferno that you see there is called a firenado, basically a tornado on the ground with smoke and flames shooting up from inside of it. The tornado-like whirlwind forms in the plume of heated air rising above a large fire.

Now, if you just hang on to this video for a second here, you see what looks like a typical tornado. But watch this. Watch these sheets of flames, firing up into the sky like that.

Look how fast they're moving. That just shows you the power of this fire and the intensity of the heat that's coming off of it.

You know, for the last few days, everybody has been cursing the Santa Ana winds here in southern California that caused so much destruction. And, you know, these winds come up every fall, and almost every fall it's fire season. This one much worse than we've seen in the last couple of years, at least.




MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: For those who have survived and whose loved ones have survived, take a moment to hug and kiss your loved ones, because saving lives is the most important part of this. Everything else can be replaced.


ROBERTS: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff remarking on the fires. And it is quite extraordinary when you think about the extent of these fires.

Only one person has lost their life. And while any single loss of life is an enormous tragedy, it could have been much worse, as we saw four years ago during the Cedar Fire. An army of firefighters numbers more than 7,000 now battling these fires. They're working around the clock under unimaginable conditions, trying to stop the advance of these walls of flame.

Maurice Luque is a spokesman for San Diego Fire and Rescue. He joins us this morning.

Maurice, if you would, first of all, clear up this issue of, can people come back to Rancho Bernardo, the neighborhood that we're in now?


They can come back if they have their proper ID. And again, we have National Guard and San Diego police officers at different barricades stopping people, checking IDs.

They can come in. They'll be escorted. They can take a look at what remains of their home -- or their home.

They may, depending on the structural integrity of the home, they be allowed inside to take a look, maybe gather some belongings. But they won't be able to re-inhabit the house right away. There's a number of things that have to be done first, including utilities, water, those types of things -- cleaning the streets.

ROBERTS: So that's the difference between Rancho Bernardo and the other two neighborhoods that we were mentioning, Scripps Ranch and Del Mar Heights?

LUQUE: Right. Del Mar Heights, Scripps Ranch, those people have been allowed to go back in and continue living in their residences.

ROBERTS: OK. So here at Rancho Bernardo, they can come in, proper identification, with a police escort to look at their home, maybe take some belongings out, but they can't stay?

LUQUE: That's correct.

ROBERTS: OK. So we've got that straightened out.

What's the outlook for today in terms of the fire? I know it's been an incredible last few days for you folks.

LUQUE: Right, it has. It's all dictated by the weather. This has been a strongly weather-driven fire. Weather and a lot of dry fuels.

I mean, the fuels in California are the driest in 200 years. So, that, with the weather conditions that we have, the Santa Anas, it was just a recipe for disaster, which we've seen.

Right now, I mean, the concern is, what happens with these winds? There's going to be a battling wind situation here between the onshore and offshore winds as the Santa Ana breaks down and the onshore continues in. ROBERTS: The fact that it's about 15 degrees cooler this morning than it was this time yesterday, and the fact that there is no perceivable wind where we are now, does that bode well?

LUQUE: It bodes well for the coastal areas. Still, there's going to be some battles going on in the inland areas, where it is going to be a little bit windier and drier. So that's a kind of a different type of fire that they're fighting out there now compared to the one here that's being influenced by cooler temperatures.

ROBERTS: Now, before we went on camera -- you know, we have been talking about this long-awaited switch in the wind to an onshore breeze from an offshore breeze. The onshore breeze would be cooler, would be carrying with it much more humidity. And I said to you, will that be the end of it? And you said, no, that can actually cause more problems.

Tell us about that.

LUQUE: That's a good news-bad news type of thing. What happens is the wind shifts and starts blowing the fire back on itself, but it doesn't necessarily blow it back on the area that's been burned.

It blows it back on other vegetation that hasn't been burned and now you have new fires. And we've seen this in the Cedar Fire, you know, some four years ago. We learned some very strong lessons out of that. So just because the wind shifts doesn't mean we're out of the woods, so to speak, just yet.

ROBERTS: So you'll do whatever you can to be prepared for that wind shift?

LUQUE: Definitely.

MAURICE LUQUE, SAN DIEGO FIRE RESCUE: We have plenty of helicopters. We have still personnel on the scene, and they know what to look for, they know what to expect. They've mapped out these areas. They're know where these potential rekindles might start and they're going to be on it fast.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Maurice Luque, San Diego Fire Rescue, thanks very much for being with us. Great work that you and you folks have been doing the last few days.

LUQUE: Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: We'll be right back here with more on AMERICAN MORNING, our special addition live from southern California.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. It is Wednesday, October 24th. I'm Kiran Chetry here at Qualcomm Center here in San Diego. This is a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. The latest information about these wildfires here in southern California.

ROBERTS: Good morning. I'm John Roberts from Rancho Bernardo, California.

Let's bring you up-to-date on the latest here in southern California. More than a thousand homes are now gone, destroyed by the wildfires burning in seven Southern California counties. Almost a million people have been evacuated including new evacuation orders this morning for Delux which is just northeast of Camp Pendleton and Lake Arrowhead. 18 active fires still fought this morning and two on the grounds of Camp Pendleton. Those include a back burn, a back fire being set by firefighters to try to rob the fire of its fuel so that it doesn't advance too far. I-5 closed in both directions near Camp Pendleton because of the smoke from the back burn. Only three fires have been contained so far.


CHETRY: All right. Joining me here at Qualcomm Stadium right now is someone who lost everything in the wildfire. In fact, she watched on television as her ranch, a historical landmark, in fact, went up in flames. She is from Ramona, Christie Williams. Everything was destroyed down to her daughter's favorite toys. And interestingly you may have seen her home because it's a historic and well-known site she and her family called home in Ramona, California, the Shangri-La ranch there.

Christie, thanks for being with us. Under the circumstances, how are you holding up?

CHRISTIE WILLIAMS, LOST RANCH IN WITCH CREEK FIRE: We're doing OK. I think my kids are taking it hard but we're trying to stay positive and give them a good role model of maybe they will stay positive so we can stay positive.

CHETRY: It's a tough thing to try to explain. You have a 4- year-old, probably the one most upset, a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old. What are you saying about why they are displaced?

WILLIAMS: My 4-year-old saw the fire so she understands the fire came to the house and it's gone. She doesn't understand her toys are gone, though. We've tried to explain her. Took her to target and showed her these things are be replaced and all of us, who were in the home, cannot be replaced. The most important thing is we're out, we're going to be okay. I keep telling her we're strong people! And she keeps saying, we're strong people! So we're going to make it.

CHETRY: You can't even go through your own mourning period for your home you loved because you have to look out for your kids in that situation. Also, you came here because of the supplies. You needed diapers. You needed wipes. How has the response been for people like you who lost everything?

WILLIAMS: Overwhelming. The people here are fabulous! You know, they listen to you. I explained to them that I need some clean blankets because my son has asthma. They went and found them. Everything that I've needed, they're on top of it. They're trying as hard to make everybody as comfortable as possible. Last night, they had music and the kids were trying to dance around, the little games and art projects, that kind of thing. I think that everyone is really trying, really trying their best to help out.

CHETRY: One of the things that struck those of us who have come into this community is how tight-knit a community it is. Some people who are evacuees here are volunteering as well. There are a lot of people who watch the flames and see these pictures why would anyone want to go back? Why would they want to rebuild there knowing this devastation could happen again? What do you say in response to that?

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

CHETRY: I know, it is hard. You're saying you're going to go back and you're going to rebuild it some.

WILLIAMS: Yes, we're going to rebuild. We can do it. We can make it our home again. Actually, we can make a house again that will become our home because the land, I feel, is already ours and it's already our home. You know? We just need to get there. We just need to get home. I just want to get up there.

CHETRY: And you have no reservations about trying to rebuild again and what about this wildfire threat that we see crop up every few years or so in the area?

WILLIAMS: Well, I can tell you this time, when we do rebuild, we will use as many fire safe stucco and all of that stuff that we can. I don't know what else to say, other than I don't want to move. I still want to go home.

CHETRY: Totally understandable. Christie, thanks for sharing your story with us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CHETRY: We wish you the best and hope you guys are able to rebuild your Shangri-La.

WILLIAMS: We are going to rebuild Shangri-La.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks Christie.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Wow. So many people left today with nothing, Kiran.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is going to be briefing President Bush a little bit later on today. This is the worst natural disaster since hurricane Katrina struck in August of 2005. We spoke this morning with FEMA Chief David Paulison about the lessons learned since then earlier on AMERICAN MORNING.


DAVID PAULISON, FEMA CHIEF: Katrina was a wake-up call for emergency management across this entire country, including the state of California. Even the fact that in 2003, the fires we had here, San Diego had some lessons learned from that. We have also. We've been putting those in place the last two years. Exercising training. Changing our philosophy of how we're going to respond. This is a different organization. It's a new FEMA.


ROBERTS: President Bush, by the way, scheduled to visit the disaster area tomorrow. I just want to update you on the situation here. In Rancho Bernardo, people will be allowed to come back if they show proper ID with police and come in with a police escort to take a look at their property, what is left of it, or check out our home and gather any belongings they may want to take with them and leave again. They will not be able to come back and stay. Other areas like Scripps Ranch and Delmar Heights people are allowed to go back to their homes.


CHETRY: All right. Thanks for the clarification, John.

The University of California at San Diego has one of the premier burn centers in the country. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here now. He got an exclusive look at how these people are being treated, those who have suffered burns because of the wildfires.

What did you find when you had a chance to check it out?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, first of all they got calls like everyone else. On 1:30 on Sunday they got the call the first patient is coming in. Throughout the day they got 13 more patients so it was a busy Sunday and it started to taper down by Monday and certainly one patient yesterday at this particular burn center. The story is how they take care of people. They actually just gave us an exclusive sort of behind the scenes look how it all sort of comes together.

An anguished, worried mother.

LINDA LEWIS, MOTHER OF BURN VICTIM: Her first response to me was I'm sorry.

GUPTA: Linda Lewis is talking about letter daughter, who is also a firefighter.

These are pictures of your daughter?

LEWIS: Yes, this is her with her daughter and her with her sister.

GUPTA: So pretty. Now, she is critically injured.

Do you know what happened to her? Have they told you specifically what happened to her?

LEWIS: She told me that the -- she was in the truck when the fire overtook them and had to get out of the truck. So that's how, with all their protective gear, everything was covered but her face was exposed somewhat and so that's why she was burned there.

GUPTA: There were reports that she was dead. The reality is she's very much alive, thanks in large part to this trauma center.

What is going on in here? These beds are full with burn patients? Dr. Raul Coimbra gave me an exclusive behind the scenes look what has become the home for the sickest of the sick patients.

We can, obviously, see a patient over here and we're not identifying any patients but can you tell me anything about some of the injuries of these patients?

DR. RAUL COIMBRA, UCSD BURN CENTER: Here is a patient was one of the last we got early this morning. 40 percent of the body surface area burned patient with severe inhalation injury that was promptly intubated in the trauma room and stabilized and brought up here to the burn unit.

GUPTA: So we're giving you a look inside one of these ICU rooms here. We can see all of the equipment over here used to provide sedation. They're used to actually paralyze the patient they use for pain control. We won't show you the patient's face but it's amazing how much swelling they get just a result of all that fluid. This person was actually caught in a fire and is what's called a chemical coma now, being given so much medication to keep her pain under control and so that her lungs can rest and recover from all of this.

You're pretty optimistic about your daughter's recovery?

LEWIS: Very optimistic.

GUPTA: Dr. Coimbra is confident Linda's daughter will survive and even fight fires again. It's pretty remarkable. I mean that is what the mother said she wants her daughter to do what she wants to do which is be a firefighter.

Nine patients still remain in critical condition now at UCSD Burn Center but they are being upgraded. They were doing some of the skin grafting procedures during the night and seven patients in good condition and one is upgraded to the general care floor so good news, good movement as far as where the patients are headed over there.

CHETRY: A long and painful recovery but hopefully moving in the right direction.

GUPTA: It's does. You know people are going to pay attention the next few days but it's months to recover from some of these burns, as you know.

CHETRY: Also, you have a "Planet in Peril" special, actually part two is airing tonight. You are asking people, e-mail us your questions that you may have about global warming. And we did get one from Dominic. He's in Belleville, Illinois and he asks you, Sanjay, "I'm 26 and until this year I had never seen a tornado in October. I know it has everything to do with the temperature. What else is yet to come in the next 20 years?"

GUPTA: We studied a lot of the effects of temperature sort of on the folks living here in the United States. Something that struck me I think the most as a doctor is that diseases that were typically relegated to the tropics, you know malaria, tularemia, things like that, are starting to make their way further and further north. So you start to see headlines about tularemia in Houston. There are even cases of malaria in New Jersey. That's because most people say that's because of the warming temperatures and the fact that these diseases couldn't exist in these northern climates in the past so what are we going to see the next 20 years? Hard to say. A lot of people would like to say we're going to have a reversal of some of these trends but if it continues the way it is now we will see some of the same diseases probably make their way further north.

CHETRY: Not good news if things don't start to change a little bit?

GUPTA: Yes. We will be confronted with things we have not seen in this country before, or at least not on a regular basis.

CHETRY: Sanjay, thanks. And by the way, we want to let everybody know that "Planet in Peril" airs again tonight, part two at 9:00 p.m. eastern and it will be right here on CNN.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, our special coverage of the Southern California wildfires continues.


ROBERTS: CNN viewers who have been sending us their pictures and stories, adding a true personal perspective to our coverage. We've been showing you a lot of these pictures all morning. Now Veronica De La Cruz has got more. She's been monitoring these I-reports.

Veronica, what have you been seeing today?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Good morning, John. We've received lots of personal stories and tips like how to deal with bad air quality, posts saying we're OK and people have been using as online community to help them get through this fire. Of course, as well, our I-reporters have been diligent in sending us amazing pictures what they're seeing and oftentimes John right in their own backyard. This is near Santa Clarita. Doug Aberg sent in this video saying the flames came out of nowhere over the hill into his neighborhood. There was no evacuation order. People just got out. He is lucky. He is back home now. But four houses down the block burned.

Sue O'Grady took these photos from the other side of Santa Clarita in Hasley Canyon. She saw fire in all directions, four fires on all four sides of her house. She said the blue sky turned gray in minutes. And in this room Heather Osher in Rancho San Diego after watching the news and seeing the fire out of her window, Heather packed up and left. She returned home. She grabbed a couple more things. And then she snapped some photos for us and we do want you to keep sending in your photos. Logon to but, please, do remember to stay safe.


ROBERTS: All right. Veronica De La Cruz for us this morning. We heard from a resident in Rancho Bernardo, she said it was literally raining fire when she grabbed what they could and escaped their home.


CHETRY: Yes they know they just wheeled in a humongous cart of "The Los Angeles Times." And right here above the fold, 1,155 homes and counting. That's how many lost so far. That's how many homes reduced to rubble. A shot of the Rancho Bernardo area where John is this morning. A valiant firefighting effort though on the part of firefighters and a little bit of criticism this morning about whether or not there was enough resources for all of them. They were working tirelessly but were there enough resources to try to help out.

You know here at the Qualcomm Center, home to thousands of evacuees there is a big health concern. Earlier I special -- earlier, I spoke to a woman who brought here baby here to Qualcomm because she was worried about the quality of air in their neighborhood. Now they were not under any type of mandatory evacuation but when the smoke was coming through and they felt it and they saw the sky change color, they felt they should get out.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta actually joined us and talked about just how dangerous smoke can be for small children.

GUPTA: We talk a lot about not just the fire, which a lot of people pay attention to, but the smoke in the air and the particles. It looks like a future reporter here, by the way, right? The particles in the air can be very irritating especially to young children and old people's trachea. What happens a lot of time is the gag reflex gets sort of triggered by that and it may cause vomiting. You know it's not anything necessarily gastrointestinal. It's just that it's profound irritation.

I'm looking at her little eyes here. They're still watering and it's 4:00 morning. She has been up all night and that is part of it but probably just from the irritation as well. The particle size can be profound on these little children in particular.

CHETRY: The other thing, too, I mean she did the right thing, Jessica, by just noticing, not only the wheezing but some vomiting as well and felt like it was probably best to get out of that situation.

GUPTA: Yes. I think that is absolutely the key. You see a lot of people wearing the masks, and staying in the situation. As we talked about yesterday, the masks can only do so much. The particle size gets smaller and smaller, especially as you gets further away which is a little counter intuitive. The closer you are to the fire, big particles and the farther away, the smaller the particles. Those can be actually be irritating and more damaging.

CHETRY: And it's so cute. The baby is actually listening intently to everything Sanjay was saying. She is doing OK. That was Jessica Sergeant (ph) and her little baby, the adorable 11 month old. You know Jessica, like many people here, who were evacuated and came here for help, ended up turning around and helping themselves. Jessica who says she hasn't slept since she arrived was helping hand out breakfast earlier. She wanted to do her part as well. Very thankful about the organization here at Qualcomm to help those who are permanently or temporarily without a home.

In the meantime, the "CNN NEWSROOM" is just minutes away. Tony Harris is the CNN center with a look at what is ahead.

Hi Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Kiran. Good to see you. Always heartening to see how many people are willing to help others.

We have these stories on the "NEWSROOM" rundown for you this morning. Our continuing coverage, obviously of the wildfires in California includes live reports and updates of the people on the frontlines of this battle.

We will also hear from evacuees including one woman who watched her home burn on television. Can you imagine?

Take a look at this. Part fire, part tornado. We will break down this incredible image.

Heidi is in the 'NEWSROOM" with me. We get started just minutes away here in the "NEWSROOM."

Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: All right. Tony, thanks so much. And we have a little bit more to come here on AMERICAN MORNING's special edition live from Southern California covering these wildfires.

We're going to take a quick break. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.


ROBERTS: We are hearing that residents of at least two San Diego neighborhoods are getting the green light to return to their homes. That's people in Scripps Ranch and Delmar Heights but what will those people be coming home to? If it's like here in Rancho Bernardo, it might not be very pretty. Rob Marciano visited with a group of evacuees both animal and human. Take a look.

BETTY SMITH, EVACUEE: It doesn't hit you until it hits home.

MARCIANO: For now, home for Betty Smith and her two dogs is a pup tent behind the local high school.

SMITH: What is going to happen when I do walk home and see what condition my house is in or may not be in? That's the scary part. MARCIANO: More than 1,300 evacuees and all of their pets are literally camping in the San Diego suburb of Mira Mesa. West of there, more than 300 were evacuated from area nursing homes in Delmar. Officials are desperately trying to get them to better treatment.

DR. CESAR ARISTEIGGUITA, CALIFORNIA EMS AUTHORITY: The challenge right now is having enough appropriate beds to send these individuals to.

MARCIANO: National Guardsmen assemble cots for the more than 2,000 other evacuees here.

How do you sleep in a place like this, knowing your home may be at risk in the fire?

ELI BOWSER, EVACUEE: You don't. You really don't sleep.

MARCIANO: After a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call, Nancy Wienecke loaded up her horses, dogs and cats and could hardly see through her windshield as she drove away.

NANCY WIENECKE, EVACUEE: That is when the smoke and the ash had come in and that is when I started thinking, oh, my gosh, this is much worse, much worse than it was four years ago.

MARCIANO: Four years since the last record-setting fire scorched San Diego. But never before has this many people been forced from their homes.

The shear scope of the number of people evacuated from this fire is mind boggling. What is so impressive, John, we haven't really lost anybody. There hasn't been anybody who has really been hurt badly or die in this evacuation effort. It's been well-organized and certainly people around here respect fire and gotten out of the way.

ROBERTS: One person died during the actual fire. Remember the evacuation of Hurricane Rita with the bus load.

MARCIANO: It was terrible.

ROBERTS: And hopefully all of the animals will be taken care of as well. Rob, thanks.

Here is a quick look at what the "CNN NEWSROOM" is working on for the top of the hour.

HARRIS: See these stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM."

Southern California on fire, the latest pictures in our live reports and your I-reports.

Evacuee watches home burn down on television, then talks to us.

They drive the Southern California wildfires. We explain the Santa Ana winds.

And fire NATO. Understanding tornadoes in a fire field. "NEWSROOM," just minutes away at top of the hour, on CNN.