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The Situation Room

Fire Crews Battle Major Wildfire Outside L.A.; Interview with Tom DeLay; Gay Penguin Couple Separates

Aired September 29, 2005 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where news and information from around the world arrive in one place simultaneously.
Happening now, it's 2:00 p.m. in Southern California where a wildfire is burning out of control, thousands of acres charred, hundreds of homes threatened.

It's 4:00 p.m. Central in New Orleans where a probe is under way into allegations of looting by police officers.

It's 5:00 p.m. here on Capitol Hill where embattled Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas is standing by. He'll talk to us about the indictment that cost him his position as House majority leader, at least temporarily.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Seventeen thousand acres and counting. Fire crews battling a major wildfire outside Los Angeles. They've managed to save 2,000 homes, but hot, high winds are testing their limits. CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now live from Thousand Oaks with the latest.

This is a very popular area, Thousand Oaks. Update our viewers, Dan, on what's going on.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is one area that's been under attack all day long. If you look up, you can see the fire personnel up there. Those are hotshot crews. And what they're doing is they're building a fire line, trying to keep those flames at bay, trying to top the flames dead in their tracks.

And with us right here is Battalion Chief Gary Croucher. He's with the San Miguel Fire Department. Explain how this process works.

GARY CROUCHER, SAN MIGUEL FIRE DEPARTMENT: Well, what we did is we brought the engine crews in along with the hand crews. And there's a lot of unburned fuel in between where the fire came through. And what we don't want to happen is some small fires reigniting, taking us back out, and being just as big of a threat as initially it was when the first fire came through.

SIMON: You told me that you and your crew have been up for about 36 hours. What's the most, I guess, alarming thing you have seen so far? CROUCHER: Yes. We got in last night about midnight and I think the most alarming was this morning right about daybreak when the winds really picked up. The fire really took off, blew into the structures that we were protecting. And it just came up and really just blew right past us. And there were some of the people that hadn't evacuated that we had to get in and get out. And like I said, it was pretty intense for a little while.

SIMON: It's pretty tough getting a handle on this thing because of the winds, right now it's fairly calm, but if the winds pick up, what do you fear the most?

CROUCHER: I think the biggest thing we fear the most is we're now getting a handle on it. We're able to get in. We're able to pick up any of those spots. If the wind changes and catches us by surprise, like I said, any of the areas that we have an open line in it's not secured, it can be up and running again in no time. So we are really trying to get in and just close off any of the open lines we have right now.

SIMON: Chief, thanks very much, I'm going to save you from a bee sting right there.

OK, Wolf, right now, 3,000 firefighters here on the scene. Still the estimate we have is 17,000 acres have been charred and only one house has been destroyed and that's because firefighters have truly done a magnificent job bringing in the helicopters, have the crews up, like you see right, really keeping these flames back and protecting these homes.

BLITZER: And we are looking at these live pictures, Dan. These are incredible pictures. You can see the flames and you can see the smoke, the smoke, you're there, can you smell this fire?

SIMON: Yes. And if you have breathing problems, if you have asthma, it's going to be pretty tough for some of these folks. We have had masks, and I put it on from time to time. And I don't know if you can see this, but you know, you can see some of the ashes. Let me see, look at this car, for example. You know, all this, you know, this is just all ash that's come down on this one particular vehicle. And so, because of the embers flying, there's concern that perhaps one of these homes could catch fire. But because, you know, you see the fire trucks right here. They have got the hoses set so none of these homes right now appear to be in any danger.


BLITZER: Have these homes though been evacuated, Dan?

SIMON: Well, it's basically a voluntary evacuation for these folks. I interviewed several of them and a lot of them left last night when things were really getting rough. But we have seen some come back, you know, once they felt like it was OK and that their homes really weren't in any danger. And I think there is a sense of confidence because you see all these crews here that their homes really aren't in danger of going up in flames. But you never know, you know, the way these things work, the winds get going again, they could all be at risk for a second time. And we're certainly hoping that doesn't occur.

BLITZER: Dan Simon, we'll get back to you, thank you very much. Dan is in Thousand Oaks.

Zev Yaroslavsky is a Los Angeles County supervisor. The fire is in his district. He's joining us live once again on the phone.

Zev, thank you very much. Where are you right now?

ZEV YAROSLAVSKY, SUPERVISOR, 3RD DISTRICT, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: I'm at the command post which has just been moved. But the old command post in the city of Calabasas, just south of the fire. And the wind has shifted, Wolf, it shifted about the time you and I had our last interview and clearly there's an ocean breeze now coming, which is good news in terms of the humidity increasing, but it's bad news potentially depending on how fast it blows back in the other direction, as your correspondent was just ascertaining from the firefighters.

So -- but generally things are moving in the right direction. We may have dodged a bullet here.

BLITZER: Well, one of the things you really need is rain. Is there any rain in the forecast?

YAROSLAVSKY: The rainy season doesn't start here in earnest until November, around Thanksgiving. One of the reasons we have and one of the reasons you're seeing such heavy floodings is the -- we had the second rainiest year on record last winter here in Los Angeles, and so the vegetation is thick and dry. It's dry thick because the summer has past but it's because it had a lot of water to grow. So there's a lot of fuel to burn, which complicates the issue a little bit.

But we're fortunate and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this weather holds. But we're fortunate that we did not have heavier winds, and for a longer period of time. And these firefighters have done an incredible job with the resources they have.

BLITZER: Zev, this is an area that I'm pretty familiar with, you're very familiar with, and it is pretty populated. I hear towns like Thousand Oaks and some of these other towns that are potentially in trouble. This is not just a remote area, this is a major bedroom community of Los Angeles.

YAROSLAVSKY: Well, you're right. It's a suburb or an exurb of Los Angeles. It's about 35, 40 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

There have been a number of cities that have grown up here in the last 20, 25 years, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks, the places like that. And they sit the mountain range called the Santa Monica Mountains. Most of those areas have either been hollowed out, flattened out, or they are in the hills. And then you have the surrounding hills, which there are quite a bit of rustic cabins and homes that are isolated. So we spend a lot of times and a lot of resources clearing brush from around structures, educating people on how to inoculate themselves against the fire. And invariably you will see that the houses that get burned are the ones that did not clear the brush from around their house. So they've got something that was flammable right over their roof or next to their house. And those that did take the precautions survived.

So it's one of the controversies we have about how much to develop in the mountains. It's something we've been trying to manage for quite some time.

And it's also found -- you find yourself in the middle of a national park area. These developed areas are surrounded by park lands. They're required by the state and federal government and by the county for open space. And so you have a town here and open space and hills with brush there right next to you. And it can get a pretty good head of steam pretty quickly.

BLITZER: It's a beautiful area. Zev Yaroslavsky, an old friend of mine for many, many years, he's a county supervisor in Los Angeles. Zev, I want to get back to you.

But I want to bring in our Tom Foreman because has been carefully looking here in THE SITUATION ROOM at this situation developing. Give us a little sense about this area that we're talking about, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's expand upon what Zev said a moment ago. You can see how the buildings run right up to the edges of the mountains there. And then start moving into the valleys of the mountains.

Look at this. A little bold here, this is Chatsworth where we're talking about with the fire. If we move into the mountain area, look at this. We have very sharp little short hills, all chopped up in here. If you ever drive up and down here, lots of little winding roads.

A fire starts moving up that area, and what happens is it gets updrafts up the mountains. It moves right up into that foliage and moves up to the top, all those little scrub oaks.

So what they're trying to do here today, big goals that they had today had to do with this sort of thing. Look over here. If we fly over this way, you'll see a natural break. And firefighters look for these a lot. This is the 5 Freeway right here leading up to Santa Clarita, which is over there. They want to keep the fire from jumping across these. They're trying to keep it under control. If any of it gets across, get it out fast.

Firefighters look for that sort of thing. That natural break is important to them because this is a whole collection of houses over here. The winds however will tend to take it south. So let's look down south here. If you move this way, we get down toward Thousand Oaks where our reporter is. And this is the breakdown there. It's the 101. This is the one that they are really looking for because if they can get down here to the 101, they can possibly keep the fire contained here also, because again, as we were pointing out earlier, if you go south of the 101, that's when you start getting a wide open run down toward Malibu, through all sorts of hills and valleys and lots and lots of houses all the way out to the Pacific Ocean this way.

If you go out the other way over here, you're going to lead all the way out to Ventura. So what they're trying to do at very least is keep it hemmed up in the area they have got it in now. If the winds will cooperate, they can do that.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does. Tom, excellent presentation. Thank you very much.

Let's head up to New York. Jack Cafferty is with us once again. He's watching this and a lot of other stuff. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We're looking at a story that just absolutely put my teeth on edge earlier, today, Wolf. It's this. It's been one year since the Congress demanded that the Pentagon come up with a way to reimburse soldiers in Iraq who buy their own body armor out of their own pocket to protect themselves. And nothing has happened, nothing.

The Associated Press reports soldiers and their parents continue to shell out hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for equipment they say the military won't provide for them. This includes everything from protective gear, body armor, armor for their Humvees, medical supplies, global positioning devices.

Now the Pentagon has called the reimbursement idea that Congress demanded they address -- the Pentagon calls it an unmanageable precedent.

Meanwhile Americans continue to die in Iraq. Twenty-one of our troops killed in the last week there. And that brings the total body count to 1,936 American lives lost in that conflict.

The question is this. Why should troops have to buy their own equipment? It is absolutely outrageous, disgraceful. I have no idea why it's being allowed to happen. We have, what, a half-a-trillion- dollar-a-year defense budget it in this country.

If you spend $1,000 to buy body armor for every troop over there, we have got 140,000 give-or-take soldiers on the ground -- if you bought $1,000 worth of protection for each one, it would be $140 million. We have a half a trillion dollar defense budget.

This is disgraceful. It's a national embarrassment that any soldier wearing the American uniform has to reach into his own pocket to buy anything necessary to defend this country.

The e-mail address is CaffertyFile - one word --

BLITZER: You are going to get a lot of e-mail on this one, Jack. Thank you very much. We are going to continue to watch those fires in Southern California, a serious situation. These are live pictures you're seeing right now. About 17,000 acres already scorched in that fire. But they seem to be getting a little bit of a handle on it. We'll watch that situation.

Also coming up, Congressman Tom DeLay calls the day-old indictment against him baseless and a partisan vendetta. Up next the House Republican responds to the charge that forced him to step aside as the house majority leader, and to the political firestorm under way right now.

Plus, a danger in dark and dank places in the hurricane disaster zone, that would be mold, another serious threat after the flooding. That's coming up.

And a far more lighthearted story, love among penguins. CNN's Jeanne Moos -- only CNN's Jeanne Moos can give us the story about what is happening with those penguins. You'll want to stick around for this.



BLITZER: We're standing by to speak with the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay. He will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM shortly.

But first let's head over to CNN Center. Our Zain Verjee is standing by with a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNNHN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. The Supreme Court is welcoming a new leader. As you saw here live in THE SITUATION ROOM, John Roberts was sworn in as the 17th chief justice of the United States today at the White House.

With the president, Justice John Paul Stevens, and his wife at his side, Justice Roberts promised to do the best job he possibly can.


CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I will try to ensure in the discharge of my responsibilities, that with the help of my colleagues I can pass on to my children's generation a charter of self-government as strong and as vibrant as the one that Chief Justice Rehnquist passed on to us.


VERJEE: Meanwhile, in Iraq, chaos and carnage today. A coordinated series of three car bombs went off in the town of Balad, that's north of Baghdad. At least 62 people are dead and more than 70 people injured.

Meanwhile, 21 U.S. soldiers and Marines have died in Iraq over the last seven days according to military officials.


BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thank you very much.

Let's head over to New Orleans right now. The acting superintendent, the new police chief, Warren Riley, is speaking to reporters.

ACTING SUPT. WARREN RILEY, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I want to reaffirm my position that there is zero tolerance for misconduct or unprofessionalism by any member of this department. When allegations surface, there will be a complete and thorough investigation. If the investigation determines the members violated departmental policy or any laws, swift and decisive action will be taken.

The more than 2,000 men and women of this agency stand united in not letting a very small segment of members tarnish the great reputation of this department. These officers have endured more than 30 days of tremendous challenges and should be commended for their work and their commitment to this agency and to this city.

Regarding reports that approximately 249 officers deserted their posts during Hurricane Katrina is simply not true. When we lost telephone service and radio communication, some officers were stranded on rooftops for four to five days. We had to rescue our own police officers to get them back in.

To ensure fairness of every member, I have assembled a committee to review each matter on a case-by-case basis. Once the review process is completed, I will meet with the city attorney and we will decide what disciplinary action will be taken, if any.

Currently there are approximately 1,400-plus police officers patrolling the city of New Orleans, working 12-hour shifts, along with the military and other law enforcement agencies from around this country. The city of New Orleans is safe and citizens should see an increase in presence of law enforcement officials.

Before we open for questions I want to introduce the folks behind the lectern as well. To my left we have Mr. Terry Ebbert, Colonel Terry Ebbert, who is the director of the homeland security for the city of New Orleans. To my immediate right we have Deputy Chief Lonnie Swain who is head of the Public Integrity Bureau. And to my immediate right is Deputy Chief Steve Nicholas, who is head of the (INAUDIBLE) Services Bureau.

We will start to my left answering any questions to the left.

Yes, ma'am.


RILEY: Now let me explain that. The 249 officers, what we did was compile a list of everyone who was absent without leave. Some of those officers left for reasons such as their families were -- once this hurricane hit, they did not know where their family was. They did not know if their families were alive. Their homes were washed away. And some of them left to determine or find out where their families were.

Some people did in fact leave after the hurricane arrived. Some left right before. So we compiled a list of everyone who was absent without leave. And from that we will determine who -- as you all refer to them as deserters, who the deserters were. Everyone on that list is clearly not a deserter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next question, please. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: What's the number (INAUDIBLE)

RILEY: It's 249.


RILEY: At some point, at some point either before, this even includes people who left after the storm, or in some cases they were not with their command. Our operations orders for the storm are clear. If you are trapped and you are on that second watch and you could not make it into the city to get to your place of assignment, you were to in fact go to the closest district station.

So some officers were working in other district stations without communications for several days. We did not know where they were. And this was cleared up as the days went by.

BLITZER: All right. We are going to continue to monitor this news conference, the acting police chief, the acting superintendent, Warren Riley, in New Orleans, briefing reporters. We will go back there for all the latest, our Mary Snow is on the scene as well.

We are also watching these wildfires in Southern California. We'll update you on what is happening there.

But up next, the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, he's standing by. We'll speak with him live right after this.


BLITZER: Want to update you, show you some live pictures still coming in from Southern California. An awful fire under way right now in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, about 17,000 acres near Thousand Oaks and other areas. Firefighters on the scene, about 3,000 of them have been brought in. They're on the ground. They're in helicopters. They're dealing with this very serious problem. We will continue to watch this problem for you, go back out there shortly.

Let's move on to a major story here in Washington. Congressman Tom DeLay is now under orders to appear in a Texas courtroom next month to respond to the charge he conspired to funnel corporate money to Texas political candidates. A day after his indictment and his decision to step aside as the House Majority leader, Congressman DeLay is now joining us live from Capitol Hill.

Thanks so much for joining us. It's not --

REP. TOM DELAY, (R) TEXAS: Wolf, can I just correct your intro?

BLITZER: Please.

DELAY: I have not been indicted for conspiring to move money. I don't know what I've been indicted for. It's not in the indictment.

BLITZER: It says here you and two others were indicted "as part of your relationship with" -- I'm reading from the indictment, that the District Court of Travis County, Texas, released -- that you were indicted for your involvement in this PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, and the money that allegedly was funneled illegally to state politicians.

DELAY: If you're quoting exactly, then I'll take your quote. The indictment that I read didn't read that way.

BLITZER: I'll read it specifically, so you raise the issue. That the three of you "did enter" -- this is a quote -- "did enter into an agreement with one or more of each other or with general purpose political committee known as Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, that one or more of them would engage in conduct that would constitute the offense of knowingly making a political contribution in violation of Subchapter" and then it goes on for those specifics. That's what I was referring to.

To our viewers who are confused right now, what was your relationship or what is your relationship with this PAC, TRMPAC, as it's called, Texans for a Republican Majority?

DELAY: Well, Wolf, back in 2002, we wanted to really increase our effort to win a Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives. Texas had become a very strong Republican state, but because of the way you draw the maps in the state legislature, we did not have a majority of the Texas House. After they redistricted, we wanted to make sure that we got that majority, so I came up with the idea to create a political action committee -- totally legal -- went out to my friends and put it together.

The two gentlemen, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis ran it. They were instructed to check with lawyers on every decision, check with accountants and never do anything that was illegal. Then I joined the advisory board. I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation. There's no way -- because they ran it -- I went to some fund-raisers and helped them raise money. There's no way that you could claim conspiracy to do something that frankly is legal.

BLITZER: Did you engage in any conversations with these two individuals in which you would raise money for this Texas PAC, give the money to the Republican National Committee, then give them a list of which candidate -- Texas politicians -- should receive this money? In other words, the allegation being money laundering in political terms?

DELAY: Not at all. I didn't know they did this legal activity with the Republican State Election Committee. I did not know who they had targeted. I did not know where the money went. I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of TRMPAC. That's the whole point.

BLITZER: Did you have anything to do with raising these corporate funds?

DELAY: I certainly did. I went to fundraisers -- and the corporate funds are legal, by the way. Raising corporate funds --

BLITZER: They're legal to raise corporate funds, but I take it under Texas law and several other states, it's not legal to give corporate funds to state politicians.

DELAY: That is true. And that did not happen.

BLITZER: Somehow these politicians got this money from the Republican Party.

DELAY: No, they didn't. No. The corporate money -- I was not involved in the legal transaction that John Colyandro and Jim Ellis did. They did a legal transaction that's done by Democrats and Republicans, totally legal, totally legal, and has been done for years back in the days when you had soft and hard money.

BLITZER: Under Texas law, a prosecutor does not have to release the evidence that she or she has in the indictment. There is no evidence in this indictment that backs up the claim that this prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, is making. Have your attorneys, though, in conversations with him, or have you directly in conversations with Ronnie Earle -- you met with him in August -- been told what evidence they may or may not have?

DELAY: Absolutely not. They don't have any evidence. All they wanted to do is indict me so I would have to step aside as majority leader temporarily. That's the only reason I got indicted. If the Republican Conference did not have that rule, I would not been have indicted. All they cared about was getting this indictment -- they don't care about the case later. They have drug my name through the mud for two years -- that's the way Ronnie Earle does it. He did it to Kay Bailey Hutchison, did it to Speaker Lewis, did it to Lt. Governor Bullock. That's the way he operates, he drags your name through the mud, then he indicts you -- if he indicts you. And in this case, he made sure I was indicted because he knew I had to step aside as majority leader.

And that is what's going on here. It is a political witch hunt, trying to do political damage and, worse than anything and very dangerous, criminalizing of the election code. Moving elections into courthouses is dangerous to our system of democracy.

BLITZER: We invited him, by the way -- Ronnie Earle -- to come on this program. He declined our invitation.

DELAY: I bet he did.

BLITZER: But he and his supporters point out that he has indicted 12 Democrats and three Republicans in the past. In other words, he's indicted a lot more of his fellow Democrats than he has indicted Republicans.

DELAY: Ronnie Earle has been district attorney in Travis County since 1976. In 1976 there were no Republicans -- certainly no Republicans other than governor, and he didn't get elected until '78. There were no Republicans. The fights were between conservative Democrats and liberal Democrats. Ronnie Earle does this to all his political enemies. He did it to conservative Democrats. He did it -- and he does it to Republicans. And particularly in my case, he did it in conjunction and working with the Democrat leadership here in Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: Well, that's an explosive charge you make, that there was some sort of collusion or conspiracy between Ronnie Earle and Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in the Congress. What evidence, if any, do you have to back that up?

DELAY: It's very good evidence, that they announced this strategy publicly, they put it on their website and this strategy is in their fund-raising letters.

BLITZER: Who specifically -- who announced this?

DELAY: The DCCC, the Democratic Campaign Committee, run by Chairman Rahm Emanuel.

BLITZER: They announced that they were working with Ronnie Earle to get you an indictment?

DELAY: No, they didn't do that.

BLITZER: What evidence is there they consulted with Ronnie Earle, that they talked to him, or they had any dealings with him whatsoever?

DELAY: That evidence is coming. But the point is, they announced the strategy, and it's very funny that two weeks ago, when Ronnie Earle said publicly that I was not part of the investigation, that I hadn't been investigated, and then turns around in two days -- over the weekend -- he now is going to indict me. It is quite obvious, because the Democrats announced this strategy. And we all know how this place works. I'm sure they worked closely with Ronnie Earle on this strategy.

BLITZER: When is the evidence going to be made available? You say it's coming. When are you going to make that evidence available?

DELAY: When it's timely.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

DELAY: When it's timely.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll have to wait and see for that evidence. Let me read to you what Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee -- Republican -- was quoted as saying in the "New York Times" about the indictment of you. He said, "It may be a witch hunt, but it is a huge problem. He will probably be exonerated in the long term, but that is a long time."

What is your strategy right now? You're going to run for reelection next year.

DELAY: This will be cleared up hopefully before December.

BLITZER: It'll be cleared up when?

DELAY: Hopefully before December.

BLITZER: Before December of this year?

DELAY: Will you let me answer?

BLITZER: Please.

DELAY: Thank you. This will be probably done by December. Texas has a speedy trial law. My lawyers tell me that this is such an outrageous, faulty and baseless indictment that we ought to be able to get some sort of resolution by December.

BLITZER: You don't sound very worried. Are you?

DELAY: I'm not worried at all. I did nothing wrong. The truth and the facts are on my side. And we all know what this is.

BLITZER: Tom DeLay. Thanks very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

DELAY: Thank you.

BLITZER: We will take a quick break. When we come back, we will have more on that raging fire that's only apparently getting worse. Coming up, we will bring you the latest on the battle against the blaze out in California.

And it's another nasty New York break up -- a long-time couple on the outs. Everyone seems to be talking about it in New York. The couple in question had no comment. Take a look. That's the couple in question. We'll tell you what happened.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I want to show you some pictures that we're getting in right now, that fire that we've been watching over these past several hours -- in fact 24 hours, since yesterday. Seventeen thousand acres in Southern California, in both L.A. and Ventura counties. These are pictures coming in from our affiliate KABC in Los Angeles. You see the smoke. You see these million-dollar homes that are endangered. We will continue to update you on what's going on.

We're watching other news, including what's going on New Orleans, as well. If you've ever had a flooded basement, you've had it. Specifically, I'm referring to mold. It can be controlled, but it's out of control in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone.

In New Orleans, to talk about the health hazards of mold is Dr. Michael Wasserman of the -- is it the Ochsner Clinic Foundation, Dr. Wasserman?


BLITZER: I just wanted to make sure I was pronouncing it correctly. I was showing our viewers some pictures. I believe this is your own home. We see this mold on this wall, which is really ugly. It's not only ugly, it's dangerous. How dangerous is it?

WASSERMAN: It's unclear how it's going to play out. There's really two major problems that occur with mold. The more common situation is sort of allergic reactions, in terms of allergic runny nose, allergic eye disease, hay fever and asthma. Those sorts of things, that you inhale the mold or mold particles and your body responds negatively against it. And that's the more common thing.

The worse situation is those people who have lessened immunity -- people with HIV, cancer chemotherapy and such. They have the possibility of lung infection, or more serious, deep-seated infections from the mold. And trying to treat fungal infection, mold infection, is very challenging, not easily done and those patients do poorly. So those patients really need to be talking to their personal physician about their own immune status before they come into this environment.

BLITZER: How flooded was your home?

WASSERMAN: I got about three, three and a half feet of water. You can sort of see the water line in some of the video that you're looking at. The problem is my home, like tens of thousands in this area, has become the perfect culture medium. We've got heat, we've got moisture, we've got an enclosed space and the mold just loves it. We have all this porous material: sheet rock, insulation, furniture cushions and so forth, carpeting. So really what you should do to remediate this is get all the soft stuff out of your house. And if you drive around the city and so forth, you will see tons of it on the curbs. And then you need to dry it out and then maybe use bleach or some other anti mold agent.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers the picture of the mold that has developed in your home -- a beautiful home. The furniture stained (ph). It's clearly a mess right now. Is this, from all practical purposes, worth fixing or is it just a matter of tearing down the whole structure and rebuilding it?

WASSERMAN: That's certainly a conversation. It's complicated a little by the fact that there's some concern about, what's the structural integrity of my house and tens of thousands that sat in water for seven, 10, 21 days before the water was pumped out, the water that came in from the various breaches. You have the issue of the mold, and then the issue of the structural integrity. And then it's compounded by the fact that the flood insurance payout is relatively -- has not been changed in 20 years and there's a maximum.

So people have to make decisions and have to put a lot of sweat equity into their home, really, to make this happen.

BLITZER: Sorry about your home, Dr. Wasserman, and sorry about what's going on right now. But as my father always used to say to me, it could have been worse.

WASSERMAN: It certainly could've been. But the -- you know, we lost a lot -- some of our memorabilia. But the bad part is we're losing our social fabric. We are having people dispersed to other cities and that's the part that's really hard. We want to get them back.

BLITZER: Dr. Michael Wasserman is a pediatrician at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation. Good luck to you and all your friends and family. Appreciate you joining us, Doctor.

WASSERMAN: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Some small business owners are returning to New Orleans, but are the vital services they rely on there for them? Are they services ready to help them?

CNN's Ali Velshi is in New York. He's joining us now live with the "Bottom Line". Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Wolf. We have been keeping track of this, actually, since right before Katrina hit, actually, because a lot of the companies that small businesses depend on to get the things they need were thinking about this ahead of time. Companies like FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, they were thinking about what they'd do as soon as New Orleans is opened up.

Now Mayor Nagin is suggesting that some parts of the city will reopen tomorrow to small businesses and residents.

Let's take a look at what's available to these small businesses when they get in. We have spoken to the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Postal Service and FedEx are chomping at the bit to get in to be able to let these businesses operate properly and ship things and order things and restock. There's limited postal service ability in New Orleans, or there will be. Also, limited UPS availability. There is FedEx in most parishes in the area and there's DHL in most of the parishes.

Now FedEx is one of those companies that sent an airplane of supplies down to Armstrong Airport right after Katrina. They have had flights in and out of New Orleans since September the 14th. They have got pick-up and delivery in Jefferson and Orleans Parish. Parishes that don't have power you can drop off -- FedEx will have locations to drop off. .

There's also extended service in Baton Rouge and Lafayette to pick up the business that isn't being done in New Orleans. So people who need restock and get things, they might want to consider Baton Rouge and Lafayette as points to get things shipped to and then figure out how to get it there.

But FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, UPS or DHL -- businesses should be in touch with them to see how they can start getting restocked, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice for small businesses from Ali Velshi. Thanks Ali, very much.

Are American troops being left unprotected by the Pentagon? From body armor to medical supplies, troops unfortunately are buying their own equipment -- at least some of them are doing so -- and they're not getting reimbursement. Why? Jack Cafferty has been looking into that. He's getting your views. We'll have more on that. That's coming up.

And following the fire -- bloggers tracking the blaze out West. These are live pictures. Take a look at this. These are live pictures coming in from Los Angeles and Ventura County as these fires are blazing 17,000 acres. Specifically, many, many homes under threat right now -- beautiful, million-dollar homes. We're watching what's happening in Southern California.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: In the raging California wildfire, the flames are spreading and so is the danger. Let's get the latest from our Dan Simon. He's on the phone with us from Thousand Oaks, California.

These are live pictures, Dan, that we're seeing and it looks like these homes are pretty much endangered if these fires continue to spread even though we know there are what, some 3,000 firefighters on the scene?

SIMON: Three thousand firefighters on the scene, yes. I mean, this is one of the trickier blazes that I have seen. You know, here in the Thousand Oaks, we keep seeing, you know, the whole -- there's -- the flames go up in the mountains and then firefighters will douse them and you think they're out, and then all of a sudden, 45 minutes to an hour later, there they are again.

And that's what I'm looking at. I know that you're seeing a brilliant glow on your screen there, a really bright glow. And gosh. I mean, the winds continue to pick up and then they die down and them they pick up, so it's kind of a strange situation, Mother Nature playing tricks on us.

BLITZER: This is, I guess, somewhat unusual right now. But then again, wildfires in Southern California -- they sort of come up every year.

SIMON: Yes, they do. This time of year it's not uncommon. You have got those brisk Santa Ana winds. And the temperatures get really hot here, especially in the San Fernando Valley.

And you know, Wolf, in the winter we had a tremendous amount of rain here and that's really what's created all this brush so there's no shortage in terms of the fuel.

And, you know, I'm actually looking at a picture right now of hotshot crews. That's what they call them. They're building a fire line and basically clearing away all the brush that's in front of them and taking the hoses and hosing down the area, and it basically stops the fire dead in its tracks and that's going on all throughout Southern California.

BLITZER: How are the people dealing with this? I understand a lot of these homes have been evacuated.

SIMON: Yes, hundreds of folks, you know, have evacuated. You know, this field (ph), you know, people who live in the mountains, they're kind of accustomed to leaving their homes, you know, during wildfire season. But, you know, it's always a frightening situation.

You can just put, you know, put your -- you know, you can kind of imagine what it would be like to be in that situation where you have to kind of grab the photographs, grab the important documents and head out of your house not knowing if it will be there when you return. Every situation is a delicate one. And when I talk to these folks, you know, you see the stress on their faces and they just don't know if there's going to be a house when they return.

BLITZER: Dan, stand by for a moment. I want to show our viewers some more of what's happening. These are live pictures once again. But there are resources online people can go to check out this fire as well.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton. She's checking on the situation on line. Abbi, what are you picking up?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can see just how this fire is not in a remote area at all by mapping it online. There's a site called Now this is a tool that used to be available to fire managers but now it's available to the public.

You can look at all the fires raging in the United States at any one time. Zooming in California and the L.A. area right now, Topanga is the one that we are looking at, this wildfire, 17,000 acres right now. And you can see some of the communities around it, Calabasas there, the Simi Valley.

Zooming right in, you can layer this site so you can add roads and neighborhoods and communities to it. You can see just how close the yellow area there is the fire moving toward these communities, like the people of Chatsworth posting their photos online. As this fire gets very close here, the drive in to work there posted on with the smoke look pretty ominous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thank you very much. We will continue to monitor this fire for you, our viewers.

Coming up, should protecting the troops be a do it yourself kind of project? We want to hear what you think. Jack Cafferty has been going through your e-mail. He's standing by to join us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're keeping an eye on these wildfires out in Southern California. All of our affiliates are showing these aerial images coming in. We're watching what's happening. Fortunately, Zev Yaroslavsky, the L.A. County supervisor tells us -- at least told us a little while ago, they have seemed to have turned back the worst of it. We will watch it for you and get an update as it becomes available.

In the meantime, let's get an update from Jack Cafferty, who has been combing through your e-mail. Jack?

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.

The Pentagon still has not reimbursed U.S. troops who bought their own body armor to protect themselves in Iraq. I have never heard of such a thing. Meanwhile, 21 of our U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in the last week.

The question is this. Why should the troops have to buy their own equipment? It beats the hell out of me. I think it's a very valid question.

Allen in Merrick, New York: "Obviously, it's more important to our national defense to allocate $223 million for a bridge that goes to an island of 50 people in Alaska than to provide protective equipment for our soldiers."

Mark in Encinitas, California writes with tongue in cheek -- at least I hope it's tongue in cheek: "Our soldiers should be allowed, even encouraged to purchase their own equipment, after all, it's a volunteer army, they should be prepared to outfit themselves for war without the rest of us having to pay for it."

A woman in Phoenix writes: "What the heck is going on? I have got two nephews in Iraq. And yes, they've had to buy their own body armor. They're young kids. They don't have any money, so of course they're families, including me, had to help them buy stuff to be as safe as possible. Why isn't our media talking about this?"

I thought that's what I was doing.

Glen in Coleman, Texas: "Bring the soldiers home. They won't need the armor."

And Max in Brooklyn, New York: "We've got to stop low-balling our security. Having soldiers buy their own equipment is like asking A- Rod to buy a ticket to get into Yankee Stadium. If you're willing to sign up and possibly get your butt shot off, then that butt should get covered on the country's dime."

Amen to that.


BLITZER: All right. Max is right in Brooklyn. Thanks very much, Jack. Appreciate it. See you tomorrow.

Up next, why penguin love is not necessarily as simple as you might think. Stay with us.


BLITZER: In New York City, it's a very public and bitter break-up between two long-time lovers brought together by pure animal attraction. And while almost all the tabloids are talking about it, those involved are keeping their mouth shut.

Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's nothing like sexual orientation to touch off a feeding frenzy of gossip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were really, like I guess, boyfriend and boyfriend.

MOOS: But at the Central Park Zoo?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...they're happy.

MOOS: Maybe you've heard of Silo and Roy, two males. They were together for six years building nests, trying to copulate. But then...


MOOS: Not only did Silo and Roy split, Silo eventually went straight with a chick named Scrappy.

(on camera): Is Scrappy exceptionally attractive or anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, she's a cute girl, like they all are.

KELLY RIPA, TALK SHOW CO-HOST: That little home wrecker.

MOOS (voice-over): If you think penguins can get snappy, you should see the press. Ever since the hit documentary "March of the Penguins" came out, French kissing penguin style, traditionalists have praised the birds for their devotion to monogamy and child rearing, to which gay blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote, "when they're not gay, these birds have as many spouses as Larry King." Sorry Larry.

The "New York Post" came up with four reasons Silo could have gone straight. Number one, the zoo doesn't offer penguins domestic partner health benefits.

The conservative Web site Focus on the Family was gleeful, "Silo rains on the Penguin Pride Parade".

(on camera): So, we're not going to see Roy and Silo in a gay pride parade or anything here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they would have to be in a very climate controlled situation.

MOOS (voice-over): A 34 degree parade. We humans can't tell male penguins from females. It takes a blood test. As for the penguins, you're sure they know -- the boys from the girls?


MOOS: At this German zoo, there were so many same-sex penguin pairs, that the zoo brought in females from Sweden to try to increase breeding, upsetting those worried that the zoo was trying to change the penguins' preferences.

But wait. The saga of Silo and Roy isn't over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In '99, we found them incubating a large rock.

MOOS: So keepers gave them a real egg to incubate, and Tango was born. She inspired a kids' book for being a penguin with two daddies.

And who is Tango dancing with these days?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last two years, she's been paired up with another female.

MOOS (on camera): What's going -- what do you guys have in the water here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, we didn't hear that part of the -- so the baby was a little confused maybe, because she had two daddies. We say it doesn't matter. It's OK.


MOOS (voice-over): As long as it's not humans, he said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. It's OK for humans if that's their preference. It's not your preference, right?

MOOS: Don't ask. Don't tell.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM every weekday afternoon 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll see you tomorrow. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starts right now. Lou is in New York.