Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Sunday Morning

Out-of-Control Wildfires Burning in California

Aired November 16, 2008 - 07:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING for November the 16th. I'm T.J. Holmes.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Hello, everybody, and good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

You know, the big story of this hour, of course, those wildfires still burning in California.


NGUYEN: Look at this live picture. And yet, for another night, firefighters battled those fast-moving flames. All the while, a third wildfire erupts in Orange County.

HOLMES: Also, we're looking at what's coming up this week for the now former senator from Illinois -- yes, and now the President- elect Barack Obama. We'll have details and live report from the Capitol on him, stepping down officially from his Senate seat but has another big seat to fill now.

But first, we do want to talk about those devastating wildfires that have been just getting whipped by those winds, those hurricane force winds we've been seeing the past several days in Southern California. Nearly 16,000 acres have burned in the past few days. Those fires are being spread by those 70 and 80-mile-an-hour winds. Flames and thick smoke have forced highways to close. Ten thousand people have been forced to flee -- a lot of them fleeing at the very last minute, just minutes to spare. Hundreds of homes also have been destroyed.

NGUYEN: These fires are spread across the San Fernando Valley area, Yorba Linda, Sylmar and northwest of L.A. in Montecito. There's a map of them.

But I want you to look at this. This home that we're about to show in Yorba Linda is just going up in flames. At least 18 structures have been destroyed here and in Corona. But that number is certain to rise.

Another Yorba Linda home is on fire. Look at this, well, this is quite a large one as well. Those fires appear to strike suddenly. One resident says she took her sister to piano lessons yesterday morning and when she tried to return home, she could not. Her house was on fire. CNN's Chris Lawrence was in Yorba Linda last night watching these flames just race up the hillsides. Listen to the wind whipping in the background.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has just been amazing to see how strong these flames are and how quickly they can just totally engulf a house. We're standing on the hillside, too, in Yorba Linda where we have seen several homes destroyed. Here's is Ken Newman.

Tell me, Ken, you live right next door to this home, right?

KEN NEWMAN, HOMEOWNER: Yes. I live next door. I'm upwind of this house. What I'm trying to do is trying to protect my house. We've got tall trees right next to the wall and put a screen on (ph). And we're worried about the embers get to that tree on fire and spread down to the next three houses.

LAWRENCE: Just a second ago we saw a couple of embers just pop over to your roof.

NEWMAN: Yes, we saw a couple, got them out. We go douse the trees about every 10 to 15 minutes. I come back and trying (INAUDIBLE) knock this thing for the backup. But I evacuated earlier today and saw no fire trucks were stopping here and said, I could do something with this. And maybe I put a front up here. And it's been working for the last three hours.

LAWRENCE: How afraid are you that just one ember might catch your home?

NEWMAN: There's a chance it could happen but, you know, if we keep water on it, we're OK. We just spot it and put it out (INAUDIBLE). Night time (ph) will help us because we can see the embers. In the daytime, we can't see them.

LAWRENCE: All right. Thank you very much again.

NEWMAN: Thank you. Good luck.

LAWRENCE: That's Ken Newman. This is his neighbor's home. The couple that lived here, they were not home when this fire broke out. The chance is, it only took about 10 minutes and the home was completely engulfed.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Yorba Linda, California.


HOLMES: Well, Yorba Linda and Corona, both in Orange County.

Lynnette Round is with the Orange County Fire Authority. She joins us now on the phone with more on this so-called triangle complex fire. Ma'am, thank you for giving us some time here. What is the overnight update? Can you update us on acreage and also, on the number of buildings, number of structures destroyed?

VOICE OF LYNNETTE ROUND, ORANGE COUNTY FIRE AUTHORITY: Yes. This is the triangle complex fire. It's encompassing the fire that begun in Corona, that flipped through Yorba Linda and to the Anaheim Hills and out in the Carbon Canyon, Chino Hills area. Seven thousand three hundred seventy-three acres have been scorched so far with 5 percent containment.

We have 10 homes and 10 apartment buildings in Anaheim that have been destroyed or damaged, 70 residences in Yorba Linda, 16 residences in Corona, and we do have one structure at Brea High School.

HOLMES: One structure. Is that -- you say one structure at the high school or are we talking about this entire high school that's been taking hit?

ROUND: Not the entire high school.


ROUND: One of the structures at the high school in Brea.

HOLMES: Just one building there. OK. And what's update -- do you have injuries there to report?

ROUND: We have six minor firefighter injuries. And those can be anywhere from minor burns to twisted ankles. I don't have the full information on those. But we do have six minor firefighter injuries.

HOLMES: What is your level of optimism that you'll be able to gain ground on this fire today? You said 5 percent contained. You'll hope that will get a whole lot better containment.

ROUND: Well, if the winds can die down, it will give those firefighters the upper-hand on fighting those fires. It is a wind- driven fire, and with those gusty winds up to 25 miles per hour, it's really giving the firefighters a really difficult time. It's hopscotched throughout the county. And what those firefighters are trying to do is gain an upper-hand, get those structures protected, and get as much water on there to cool it down.

HOLMES: How many structures are we talking about and what else, I guess, besides structures? What are, I guess, what's under immediate threat right now? I guess the people are heeding the warning, maybe in getting out, you want to protect life first. So, I guess, what are now the priorities?

ROUND: Obviously, protection of life. Property comes next. We want to let people know that if they are asked to evacuate, that they should do so, it's for their own safety. We have quite a few areas -- in the Anaheim, Yorba Linda, Chino Hills, Brea area. I could go over all of them but there's quite a few of them. There is some more than 12,000 people that are being evacuated from that area. HOLMES: All right. Lynette Round with the Orange County Fire Authority -- ma'am, we appreciate you in giving us time on what we know is a busy time for you all. Good luck out there. Take care.

ROUND: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, California does need help and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in three more counties devastated by the fire: L.A., Orange, and Riverside. He's already said Santa Barbara County is under a state of emergency. And the governor did get a look at what is happening and calls the destruction unreal.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R) CALIFORNIA: When you walk around the areas that was devastated, it looked like hell today. And I tell, I feel horrible for the people that have been affected and that those homes have burned down, and losing all of the personal belongings and to now having to rebuild their homes. I mean, there's tremendous loss.


NGUYEN: People who live near the fire danger zones need to be extra careful. Health officials say that the air quality right now is unhealthy for everyone.

Well, near sunrise, authorities in L.A. County will see if they can get to a mobile home park destroyed by fire. I want to give you a look now. This is the Oakridge Mobile Home Park where about 500 homes were destroyed. Every single one of those fires is a mobile home.


NGUYEN: We spoke with the L.A. coroner's office just a few minutes ago, and they tell us that the area was too hot to enter overnight but a search team is going in this morning. Our Josh Levs will take a look at evacuation routes for all these fires, coming up a little bit later in the newscast.

HOLMES: All right. You heard the word a lot -- change, change, change. But are things really changing when it comes to race relations in this country?

NGUYEN: A conversation about that, and this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 2:00 o'clock in the morning when we decided to leave. We just couldn't take it any longer. The flames were coming over the ridge on this side. And it literally just took over.

And this is all that's left of my house. This is it. Only seven years to go on this house, too. I would have been done. But thank God I have family. That's all that matters -- it's family.


HOLMES: Heartbreak on the front lines of the California wildfires.


HOLMES: Again, some of the shots we've been seeing over the past several days that we have been seeing these devastating wildfires in Southern California. Some of these still pictures are telling the story better than any words ever could. But firefighters out there up against it, fighting those fires and fighting those heavy winds right now, and still fighting to get those things under control. A whole lot more to come on those wildfires right here on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

Now, from the president-elect to the people of Illinois, it's been real, but I got a new job. Yes, on his last day as senator, Barack Obama is thanking his home state supporters for the opportunities that touched off his political career. He's written them a "Thank You" letter. It's printed today in the "Chicago Sun- Times" and several other newspapers across that state.

Here's part of it, I can read to you now. And it says, "Today, I am ending one journey to begin another. After serving the people of Illinois in the United States Senate -- one of the highest honors and privileges of my life -- I am stepping down as senator to prepare for the responsibilities I will assume as our nation's next president. But I will never forget, and will forever be grateful, to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible."

That was without the cough actually. There's so much to do before President-elect Barack Obama takes office. One of the top tasks right now is filling the seats of those who will be standing there beside him.

CNN's deputy political director, Paul Steinhauser, in Washington for us.

Paul, he's got a lot more positions to fill, but which ones has he taken care of so far?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, a couple of names we've been getting this weekend, T.J. And I hopefully I won't get your cough, either.


STEINHAUSER: First of all, let's start with the guy called Greg Craig. He's going to be -- sources tell us -- he's going to be the White House counsel, which is basically the top lawyer for President- elect Obama and for the White House. If you remember this guy, if he looks somewhat familiar, about 10 years ago when President Clinton was impeached, he was the guy who is defending him in the Senate during the impeachment trial. But this time around, he didn't -- in the primaries last year, he came out and supported Obama, not Clinton.

Valerie Jarrett, that's another name, they made it official yesterday. They said Valerie Jarrett, and you've heard her and seen her quite often over the campaign. She's somebody who knows the Obamas very closely. In fact, she met Barack Obama years ago when she hired Michelle Obama for a job at city hall in Chicago.

She is now going to be -- like let me read this -- this is a long one. She's going to be named senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison. That is a long title, but it basically means she's going to be one of his tight advisers at the White House. She's been in the transition and she's now a senior person heading up the camp, she was heading up the campaign as well. So, somebody who knows Barack and Michelle Obama very, very well -- she'll continue on to the White House, T.J.

HOLMES: And we missed that. Can you repeat her title for us?


HOLMES: I'm just kidding, buddy.

All right. A couple other positions, of course, he needs to fill. Is there any chance he's going to be filling a spot with a man by the name of John McCain?

STEINHAUSER: You know what? Don't count that.


STEINHAUSER: But he is going meet with John McCain tomorrow. People are asking, what's this meeting all about. Tomorrow in Chicago around noontime, McCain and Obama will meet. This is the first time they'll see each other face to face since mid-October, right after the presidential debates.

And what's this meeting about? It's probably something to look ahead to, you know, next year when Barack Obama becomes president. I think it's pretty clear. If he wants to get things done, he's going to need the support of Republicans. Well, John McCain is going to be returning to his day job and he is one of the leading Republicans in the Senate.

So, McCain and Obama tomorrow will meet. Along with them will be Senator Lindsey Graham who is McCain's -- one of his best friends in the Senate, and Rahm Emanuel who now will become the chief of staff for Obama's White House. That's how this meeting got together. Those two men brought it about. And we will see what happens tomorrow, T.J.

HOLMES: All right. And we know he's a -- I mean, he's got a couple months before he actually takes office, but the expectations are high. And people have a lot of hopes and aspirations and dreams and everything vested in this man and this movement, if you will. Just how high is the bar for Obama?

STEINHAUSER: It is really high. Take a look at these brand new numbers from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation that show how much there are -- how much great expectations there are. Take a look at this number, we ask them, "What do you think Barack Obama will do to change the country? Is this guy going to make a difference?" And, 63 percent say, "Yes, he's going to change it for the better," and only 9 percent, T.J., just nine, less than one in 10, say he's going change it for the worse.

They really think he's going to do so many things from the economy to global warming to ending the war in Iraq. He's got a lot on his shoulders according to this poll.

HOLMES: All right. Paul Steinhauser for us this morning, our deputy political director. It's always good to see you, buddy. We'll talk to you again soon this morning, alright?


HOLMES: All right. Betty?

NGUYEN: Well, Barack Obama won the White House on a platform that is all about change. And America responded by electing its first African-American president. But what exactly does that mean for race relations in this country? Well, the results of a new poll are awfully interesting.

We'll look at those today with Michael Hodge. He's a sociology professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta and joining us this morning.

Thanks for being here.


NGUYEN: Good morning. OK. I want to ask you, do you think race relations have improved, have changed since the election of Barack Obama?

HODGE: Well, it's kind of a short time to make that assessment. So, I would say that people are looking to him for a lot in terms of race relations among other things. So...

NGUYEN: A lot on his shoulders.


NGUYEN: Well, I want to show you the results of a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Now, this was done following the election, between November 6th and 9th.

Take a look at this. When asked the effect of Obama's election on race relations, 34 percent said it was a start of a new era; 43 percent said there are some improvement; 14 percent no real change; and 9 percent said it would make things worse. But, when you break that down between whites and blacks, 31 percent of whites said it would be the start of the new era, while 51 percent of black said it would.

Why do you think there such a large margin of difference?

HODGE: Well, the difference probably comes from the different experiences of the two groups. And African-Americans are really looking for participation in society. I think the key to race relations is -- you participate fully in American society, and Barack Obama kind of symbolizes that. So, as he becomes the symbol of these change ideas, I think, people are looking to him to be sort of a signal that things have indeed moved in the right direction to fulfill the promise.

NGUYEN: Well, let's take another look at that. Because when we look at these poll numbers, and we got another one to show you right here, the election of a black candidate as president will be good for the country: 49 percent of people said yes, it will; 2 percent said bad for the country; and 48 percent said we're going to wait and see. But, breaking it down between whites and blacks, 48 percent of whites said it would be good for the country, while 60 percent of blacks said it would.

What does it say about expectations when it comes to what's being placed on Barack Obama, especially when it comes to the African- American community?

HODGE: He's -- the expectations are great for him because, again, people are looking for the ability to participate in the society. And once we can participate in society, as Barack Obama shows, that we've moved from being in slavery all the way to Jim Crow, all the way to today that we got a president.

NGUYEN: But, do African-Americans expect more from a Barack Obama administration?

HODGE: More than whites?


HODGE: I think African-Americans are realistic. And I think that they recognize that he can only do what he can do. And as a symbol, I think he raises the hopes and aspirations of everybody. But, I think, indeed, because of the experiences of African-Americans, he raises those expectations even higher. So, I think, yes, we do -- we are asking him for more.

NGUYEN: For more -- all right. Let's delve just a little bit more into the race issue. One more poll I want to show you that is very interesting, too. When you asked or when we asked, the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, will race relations always be a problem in the U.S. -- look at these numbers -- whites said 41 percent yes, it will; 44 percent of blacks said yes, it will.

OK. That's pretty much even. But compare the numbers between what people are saying now to back in January and how they felt back then. Back in January, 52 percent of the people said that race relations will always be a problem in the U.S. But look at it now, post-election: 44 percent say that. It appears to be some improvement since the election. HODGE: I think so. I think so. Just being able to see that African-Americans are doing the same things that everybody else is doing and do it well, I think, is a testament to Barack's ability to mobilize people across the spectrum, from young people to older people to the Internet generation. All of these people he was able to bring together and to work together. And I think that African-Americans are going to be while hope is there.

NGUYEN: So, that hope and change is resonating.

HODGE: Hope and change is resonating.

NGUYEN: All right.

HODGE: And I think that they are very much looking forward to being able to demonstrate to the world that America is living up to its promise.

NGUYEN: All right. Michael Hodge, thank you so much for talking with us.

HODGE: A pleasure.

NGUYEN: We appreciate it. T.J.?

HOLMES: All right. Well, those hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in that bailout bill, will any of that help you out? Josh Levs has an eye on the latest mortgage plans the government is talking about -- Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey there. The plans are designed to lower mortgage payments but whose mortgages exactly? I'm going to have that for you coming up, T.J.

HOLMES: Thank you.

Also, more live pictures out of Southern California live, this is Chino Hills. We're keeping an eye on these wildfires that continue to rage and continue to be fanned by those high, high winds. Stay here.


HOLMES: Another live look at Chino Hills, California, Southern California. This is one of several -- at least three major fires we're keeping an eye on out there. They've charred some 16,000 acres. Very few injuries associated with it but we know that hundreds of homes and other structures have been destroyed by this fire.

Most of these fires have very little containment. But firefighters, hundreds of them out there, are working on these fires which have not been helped at all firefighters by the wind that continued to kick up and continue to cause these flames to spread. But we are keeping an eye on all three of these major fires happening in Southern California.

NGUYEN: Well, just about everybody is hurting financially these days. So, how do world leaders want to deal with the global financial crisis? Here are some of what came out of their emergency meeting yesterday in Washington. One big theme: the recognition that world economies are increasingly connected, and that means those in charge need to keep a close watch on risky investment strategies. They also need to watch out for weak spots in regulatory systems. Leaders also agreed not to raise new trade barriers in the next year.

Well, the government has been announcing all sorts of different ideas for how to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars in that bailout money.

HOLMES: One of those latest ideas could involve your mortgage. Josh Levs joins us to explain -- Josh.

LEVS: Yes. So, we're going to take a look at it. You know, in the recent days, the Bush administration announced this plan to change mortgages. So, what would happen is, people would pay less each month and the goal is to avoid foreclosures obviously. But the thing is, you really have to read the fine print to figure out if you're one of the people who might be helped in any way.

The plan centers on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now, together they own the majority of mortgages in the U.S. They own or back 31 million totaling about $5 trillion. The government overtook them in September, but under the plan that's being discussed, really, only a few people would get help.

Here's who is eligible. Our folks at put together a really good list here. You have to have -- first of all, homeowners who are 90 days or more late in their payments and you have to owe at least 90 percent of current home value, you have to live in the home, and you cannot have filed for bankruptcy.

So, how many people is that? When you look at how many mortgages are actually late enough to even qualify, it's a tiny fraction of the millions of mortgages that are out there. I want to zoom in on the board. Check this out. From, they put this together, a total of about more than 450,000. But we're talking out of tens of millions, about 450,000 -- even among those, a lot of them wouldn't get help either. So, really, in the end, we're talking about just a relative, tiny, handful of the mortgages that are out there, guys.

NGUYEN: All right. But is there a separate plan, Josh, that could actually help more homeowners?

LEVS: Well, there's one that's being discussed. Let me zoom in here on one more thing. This one that they're talking about right now, this was really surprising. The FDIC on its own -- let's zoom in for a second -- announced its own plan, just the other day, to help homeowners there by reducing their payments. And this is what it would do, you're seeing it here. It could initially help 2.2 million borrowers -- which is a lot more -- but that has to be approved by the treasury or Congress before it could even happen.

So, as of right now, we don't know if any of these are going to happen. Lots more details at But the basic idea here is, guys, we hear all these plans, in the end, how many actual people are going to get help? We don't know but it looks like a few.

NGUYEN: All right.

LEVS: All right.

NGUYEN: Well, you know, we're going to talk with the California insurance commissioner a little bit later this morning and we're going to ask him some of those questions. Thank you.

LEVS: Yes. People need the help. Thanks.

HOLMES: Well, heavy weather in North Carolina delivers heartbreaking devastation as homes are flattened; lives lost. But, is there something to be thankful for?

NGUYEN: And more live pictures now from Chino Hills in Southern California, where you can see still a blaze at this hour. They are trying to get a grip on these fires. But there are so many burning and so many homes that are just really, just burning down to the ground that it's hard to stay on top of. We'll have the latest.


NGUYEN: Welcome back, everybody, on this Sunday morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: And hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes. We continue to get new images from those California wildfires still coming into us here in the newsroom. Take a look at this. We got this a short time ago. This scene appears horses trapped in the hills where those fires continue to burn out of control.

NGUYEN: And we do have some live pictures from Chino hills that we want to show you. Look at that. I mean still on fire. Flames shooting into the air as they just burn through the hillside.

HOLMES: And let's show you Yorba Linda. There are 20 structures there in the area of Corona that have been destroyed. Also Chino Hills is the one you were just (inaudible) there. Betty, where firefighters joined nervous residents to watch smoke pouring from nearby hills, embers flying by gusting winds are threatening several areas. Fire officials in Yorba Linda say they expect the number of destroyed homes to go up.

NGUYEN: Well, the fires have just devastated entire neighborhoods. Firefighters say they can't even read some street signs because they have melted away. CNN's Kara Finnstrom spoke with some more resident who must now tell his young son that their home is gone.


AUGUSTINE REYES, FIRE VICTIM: This is all that's left of my house. This is it.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Augustine Reyes says his family lost everything they own. So did his neighbors in home after home. The fire blasting through Oakridge Park decimated about 500 mobile homes.

CHIEF MICHAEL BOWMAN, LOS ANGELES CITY FIRE DEPT.: That's exactly what they were dealing with. The blow torch type of hit. You got gusts of 60 miles an hour. The fire was laying down. You had again zero visibility. The smoke was extremely hot.

FINNSTROM: The fear of firefighters bringing in search dogs next, not everyone may have gotten out. Emergency crews are still facing a fire out of control. A fire moving so rapidly instead of evacuating everyone from this hospital, firefighters protected some patients inside while structures all around burned.

Firefighters here have staged one massive line to beat back the flames. You see behind me here, this is one of the child care centers on the campus of the hospital and they have been working here to contain these flames.

The devastation is hard to comprehend and even harder Augustine Reyes says to explain to his young son.

REYES: He's seven years old. And he's autistic. And he doesn't do well with change. So it's going to be very hard to explain to him and bring him. It's going to be very hard.

FINNSTROM: In Sylmar, California, Kara Finnstrom for CNN.


HOLMES: And we are hearing a lot of stories from people who were forced to get out and get out fast. Take a listen to this evacuee.


JOANNE WOOD, EVACUEE: Well they didn't tell us that we had to evacuate.

We had no warning. We had no warning.

WOOD: Yes.

JOANNE WOOD: Our bush just exploded in front of our house and we knew we had to get out of there. There was no evacuation -

MIKE SCHOEPP, MONTECITO RESIDENT: We are fortunate that the house didn't burn down. But we lost the garage and all the cars in the back and the shop. So we're lucky to have a home still.


HOLMES: Well, our i-reporters have been out in force. Mike Raabe took these photos for us from a park overlooking the Santa Barbara area. They were shot Thursday night when the tea fire first started. Raabe says curiosity about the smoke drew him to the hill. That's when he saw the fire. His house just a quarter mile away. And you can send us your i-report by going to but we do beg you to be safe as you go out there and get those pictures. Don't put yourself in any danger.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. And for more on the wind conditions and how that is really making it very difficult to fight this fire, let's turn to meteorologist Karen Maginnis. Karen, I know yesterday they were at hurricane force speeds. What are you looking at today?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: If we see anything Betty it's just going to be a minimal drop-off. We're not looking at anything very dramatic at all. Still under a red flag warning all across the same counties plus one or two that we saw yesterday from Ventura County all the way into Orange county extending down to San Diego county, San Bernardino county. The western most edge is also under that red flag warning. What do we mean by that? Well, the relative humidity is going to be very low. In some cases single digits. So we don't have a lot of moisture in the atmosphere so that's not going help dampen these fires. Hot temperatures. I'll show you those in just one minute. And gusty winds up to 70 miles an hour.

Now, you might be thinking that's no different than what we saw yesterday. The thing is that these are in favorable zones. If you're backed up against some of those foothills and some of those mountains, definitely you're going to feel the effects of that wind coming down the mountains from the east and from the northeast as that ridge of high pressure moves in. The air compresses and heats up and then it just kind of shoots out through those canyons and through those passes where it's going to be especially gusty. Now where do we have the fires now? We talked about the biggest fire that we have now called the triangle complex that includes the Carbon Canyon area, the Santa Ana hills, the Chino Hills, and also into Yorba Linda.

And they were saying yesterday we told you about a similar fire where we saw the mobile homes where the embers were just on top of the mobile homes. Well, before it was all said and done, hundreds, 500, 600 mobile homes were destroyed. Look at these high temperatures we saw yesterday. Los Angeles, 93. And Betty and T.J., it looks like today maybe 90 degrees. So only just a slight, slight drop-off possible. But much better into Monday.

NGUYEN: OK. Karen, thank you for that. We're looking at the live picture to the left of the screen now. We're going to bring it up full to you can really look at it. Now if you look at the bottom right-hand corner of that you can see how they're really trying to fight these fires. We have crews on the ground firefighting crews but look at how close T.J. this fire has come to the homes in that neighborhood.

HOLMES: You know and sometimes you as scary of a site as that is, you know you got firefighters that can fight that fire that that close but often times though we see, we talk about those embers sometime were picked up and just blown and sometimes it's unlock of the draw if you will just landing on top of some homes but here that's a scary site to see these flames that close. Again this is the Chino Hills fire. Again, we have three major fires out there burning. We're getting close to 20,000 acres that have been torched. This is just a scary scene to see. And there you go. This is another shot. This is video now of the firefighters Betty we're just referencing down there trying to do their best to save those structures. It looks like homes at least we've seen apartment buildings as well. We've seen schools. We've seen all kinds of things being affected by this but firefighters essentially making their line and making a stand there trying to keep - wow, just look at that.

NGUYEN: Just like the flames right there, looks near impossible but it's amazing what these firefighters can do if they can get there in time and put water on those flames and create kind of a fire line if you will. But the problem is there are so many fires burning right now. And sometimes it's even hard for us to keep up with it. Some of them have even been consolidated to one particular name. We've been calling it this and that because they've been in many different areas. Like for example, the triangle complex fire. That has burned so far 5,800 acres. And get this it is only five percent contained. More than 1,000 structures have been threatened. So you can see why and the winds are not making the situation any easier. Of course, we're going to continue to follow this throughout the morning.

HOLMES: Up next here, we are going to share with you a particular friendship that at first it might seem like an odd couple if you will of a rich art dealer and a homeless man who spent his life in prison and on the streets. Today they are best friends and they became best friends after they realized they were the same kind of different. Our faces of faith next.


NGUYEN: Breaking news of course that being the fires out in California. Just look at these pictures that we have gotten from what is burning. Flames shooting into the air. You're looking at a plane here fix wing aircraft that's putting some fire retardant on these flames. You can see them from the streets. You can see them from the hills. You can see them from neighborhoods. These wildfires are burning out of control at this hour. We're continuing to watch it for you.

HOLMES: You know it. We all know it but we don't always live it. We're all the same even if there's a lot that separates us. But I recently met two men who are in fact living up to it. They are helping those whose lives around them sometimes seem hopeless.


RON HALL, CO-AUTHOR: I want to introduce to you my best friend who is now "the New York Times" best-selling author if you can imagine that, a man who did not know how to read and write four years ago has now become a "The New York Times" best-selling author.

HOLMES: Denver Moore and Ron Hall are an likely pair of best friends. Denver born into a Louisiana share cropping family lived his life in prison, homeless shelters and on the streets of Ft. Worth. Ron was an international art dealer living a life of luxury. HALL: When I became wealthy as an art dealer but Denver is the one who made my life rich.

HOLMES: Ron's late wife Debbie first approached Debbie at a homeless mission where she was a volunteer. She (inaudible) taking great pains to convince him that he was loved and there was no real difference between them.

HALL: She refused to call a homeless person a homeless person. She refused to call a vagrant or a street person anything other than god's people. She said, Ron, these are children of our most high king and the world is treating them like trash. She said they are not trash. They're god's people. And we're going to treat them with dignity and respect.

HOLMES: After Debbie died from cancer, Ron and Denver decided to help fulfill her dream through their best selling book about their friendship "Same kind of different as me" and Denver's art works they are raising money and awareness globally and they're traveling cross- country, visiting homeless shelters and trying to give hope to the destitute.

DENVER MOOR, CO-AUTHOR: And don't be scared to shout at the world. Don't be scared. You're very important to America. Because you've been homeless and you've been in school and it's time for you to do something with yourself because all of you mean something to the world. All of you have something special. There is no two people on earth that's the same.

HOLMES: Denver and Ron's friendship is uniting people from all walks of life in a common cause.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that people stop and the human element of that story is actually getting people to stop and to think about it and to say, hey, you know, Denver is just like me.

MOORE: Because we must understand that the only thing that we keep forever is the thing that we give away. And the more you give, the more you get. We'll never know whose eyes god is watching you out of.

HALL: We have basically one message that we like to stick with. And that is that one person can make a difference.


HOLMES: These two unlikely friends actually do now live together and something else that was really Ron's wife dying wish for those two to become friends and they are absolutely taking her wish and running with it. If you want to find out more about Denver and Ron and what they're doing to help the homeless, you can check out their website. It's at Betty.

NGUYEN: Such a great story. But this unfortunately is not. California burning. Entire neighborhoods reduced to ashes. We are tracking the wildfires. Stay with CNN for the latest. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: And as we continue to cover the wildfires out in southern California, we get help from our affiliates in covering it. KCAL, one of our affiliates and covering it. KCAL, one of our here with their live coverage. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A couple canyons over they have growth that's 50 to 80 years as a whole. And they were watching as there was another flare-up and what appears to be a tree over there in the distance. There are a number of residents who have stayed especially on this street. I've seen at least three or four of them and they've been watering their lawns, watering their homes, we hear this all of the time. The people that stay behind and want to defend their homes. What advice do you have for them? Is that something that you want to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when they declare a mandatory evacuation, once you're out, you're out. They do not let people back in. When they declare a mandatory evacuation we would like to see everybody leave. Because we're concentrating on fighting the fire, protecting the property but of course we're supposed to protect life first. When we know that people are still in their homes, we have to keep watching out. Well, are they still in their home? Have they left? Are they able to get their car out? Are they able to get out of the area? And sometimes what happens is people while they are trying to get out have actually been known to run into fire engines with their lights going and now we have an accident. We have an impedance in the road where we might have to go and rescue someone else or fight some fire before it becomes major.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's what we're seeing, just a few residents just here that looks like they just drove in this area. In terms of this neighborhood, is there a way out? This is a fairly isolated neighborhood. So some of the residents who are here, are they going to be able to get out if they need to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We've spoken to most of them, that we know they are in their homes. Now we have advised them of a safe escape route. Now granted that we have these rather large fire apparatus and they have their smaller cars so they can congest the area rather easily because they're not used to driving in smoke. They're not used to driving in emergency situations. They might lose their wits about themselves. And actually block the road for us to get out and try to help them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This may be a silly question, but water - southern California is definitely getting close to a drought type situation. Has water and access to water been an issue at all in this neighborhood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, in this neighborhood, no. But we did, there is a pump house right down the street. That was one of our priorities, because if the pump house were to go out, that we would have no water pressure for water to help save this area so that was our number one priority. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we were watching that pump house, as the flames came dangerously close to that. Luckily, it appears safe. There was no problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. We were able to pretreat the structure. We were able to fight the fire that was around the structure and save it. So we got - we had enough water here and water pressure to suppress the fires that came through this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this neighborhood a little tricky? There are a lot of homes clustered together and then there's a lot of empty lots separating another section of homes. Is it tough to keep - keep control and keep at least an eye out to this whole neighborhood here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is. It is - a fairly new neighborhood. And there are brand-new homes here, as well as homes that are under construction. So you know we have to be careful of those homes under construction because the eves are open, it's exposed wood and not stucco or there's not a roof on it yet.

HOLMES: We have been watching the flames since Thursday night in southern California. We have three major wildfires that are burning right now. None of them contained none of them even close to containment. They continue to spread and continue to be fanned by those heavy winds. We got some of our affiliate coverage. Our affiliates lending us a hand in covering the story for the past several days. We will continue to lean on them as well as our own correspondents who are there on the ground as well. A live look here at what has been the scene for the past several days and it doesn't look like it will be letting up anytime soon.

NGUYEN: Yes, some of the fires only five percent containment. So obviously, they have a lot of work still to do. And as firefighters work around the clock, to contain these blazes, areas under evacuation, well that can change as well. So we are trying to keep on top of all of this for you. Our Josh Levs has an eye on the web. And he's here to show you how you can get the latest information on what you need to do to stay safe.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I tell you something. First of all a lot of people even in California are out very early this morning. The are watching us and they want to see the latest. Also, anyone anywhere who is concerned about people there, this is how you get the latest information. I want to zoom in on the board. Check this out. This is a blog from the L.A. Fire Department. And they're doing something interesting. Real signs of the times here.

Let's scroll down a little bit and look at social media users. They're naming here twitter, flicker, and youtube. They are consistently updating all of the major interactive sites that exist to get people lots of information there. They also on this blog have the latest on all the fires, including evacuation maps which is where I'm taking you now. This one example. The Sayyr fire. What's in blue is what's being evacuated for that right now. Yesterday we had seen it jump interstate 5 and there were more evacuations. They've since scaled-back evacuations for that specific fire. You can get the latest about evacuations from that site.

Also this is really popular today. the "Los Angeles Times" getting a lot of traffic. They tracking all the major fires throughout the whole area. And they offer maps of all of them. Sylmar, Orange County, Montecito. Just as an example, we are taking you over here to what they have. This is looking at Yorba Linda area. They keep updating this at all times. You can zoom in on any of the major fires. You can click on what they are offering here. And they will tell you what's going on there, and sometime they have video as well. Sleepy hollow, ordered evacuated. If you have friends or family in that area, or if you're in that area, check out the "L.A. Times" website.

One more thing before I bring you back, Betty and T.J.,, one of our top stories, obviously, we talk about these strong winds. We have our own map as well. And as you know, we are consistently getting a lot of video from this area. Let's click on just one example. We are going to keep uploading it with video throughout the day. So any time you want to know the latest, you can keep it at And obviously, guys we are going to keep updating that consistently, every few minutes. Whenever we get new information on the fires and evacuations as well.

NGUYEN: OK. Thank you, Josh.

LEVS: Thanks a lot.

HOLMES: And again, we are staying on top of this story, on top of these fires. Another live look, Chino Hills. Here's specifically as firefighters continuing to try to get everybody out. A lot of people heeding the warnings, and thousands evacuated but right now the issue after saving lives, trying to save structures and that is the battle now. We are on top of the situation in southern California.


NGUYEN: Well someone sees this as a buyer's market with home prices coming down in many parts of the country. Here's CNN's Christine Romans with "right on your money."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's check out this scene downstairs here.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Atlanta real estate agent Melissa Morgan is helping Claire Brown navigate a market that's overcrowded with properties but not so many buyers.

I think buyers are overwhelmed with the number of inventory that we see on the market today.

ROMANS: Claire wants a home with a rental unit that could provide extra income. She has decided to act now while prices are lower.

I'm more motivated by what's happening in the stock market, what's happening with the weakness of the U.S. dollar.

ROMANS: Personal finance author Eric Tyson says long-term investment properties can pay off. But in today's economy, would-be landlords need to realize they won't always have tenants.

ERIC TYSON, CO-AUTHOR "HOME BUYING FOR DUMMIES": You can't assume the property will be rented 100 percent of the time. You will have a certain vacancy rate.

ROMANS: If you are prepared for those hassles he says there are deals to be had.

TYSON: We have gone through a pretty significant correction. The likes of which we haven't really seen since the early 1990s. so there really are some terrific buying opportunities right now. If you do your homework and you're careful about what you buy.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN, New York.


HOLMES: The Iraqi cabinet this morning approved the long-awaited security pact with the U.S. According to an Iraqi spokesman they set a June deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities and towns. All troops would have to be out of the country by the end of 2011. The draft now goes before the country's 275 seat parliament for a vote.

NGUYEN: We do want to update you on a breaking story from yesterday. A series of strong thunderstorms and tornadoes ripped through North Carolina, killing two people. Today the state's governor will tour some of the areas hardest hit. One of those areas is Wilson, where a child was killed. For more now on the situation, here's Chris Calporthwaite (ph) of CNN affiliate WNC in North Carolina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to imagine what it was like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make your way through the destruction on London church road. Through the battered cotton fields, around the twisted metal and you will find George Pryce's place.

GEORGE PRYCE: Whole house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pieces of his life are broken. A look back through the cotton. And you will see why he's counting his blessings.

ANGELA ALLRED, WILSON, N.C. RESIDENT: It's really, really thankful to see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was this neighborhood, after all, battered, broken, that went looking for the one they lost. That 10- year-old boy.

ALLRED: Saw him get out of the ditch right there. Followed his father. He was there calling for his son. He said I can't find my son. It's really sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in a small group of about a dozen houses, a reminder of how life changing those few seconds were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm lucky. We're all lucky.


HOLMES: From the CNN Center, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING on this November 16th 8:00 a.m. here at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. It is 5:00 a.m. out west. Good morning to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes.

NGUYEN: Yes. Hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. We do want to thank you for being with us.

We are continuing to follow this developing story this morning, that being, of course, those wildfires that are burning across Southern California. Firefighters are doing their best to get the flames contained as more wildfires pop up.

HOLMES: Also, it's more than a week now after voters in three states outlaw same-sex marriage, thousands take part in the simultaneous nationwide rallies to protest those bans.

NGUYEN: And let's get right to those dangerous wildfires. We want to give you a shot, a live one of Chino, California, and bring that up a live picture from our affiliates. A number of homes have been destroyed there and all around Los Angeles. And look at it, still on fire at this hour.

HOLMES: And that's give you kind of an idea here. We have a map for you of where these fires are. You see Los Angeles there, you see Sylmar, where hundreds of homes went up in flames yesterday, and in Yorba Linda, where more than 70 homes were destroyed as well. And more than 7,300 acres have burned in Orange County.

CNN's Rick Vincent tells us these fires are stretching the area's resources.


RICK VINCENT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dynamic was the word fire officials in Southern California used to describe this wildfire, officially called the Sayer fire that started late Friday in Sylmar, north of Los Angeles. The message from local government on Saturday, winds are making this fire move quickly, so if you're told to evacuate, do it.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: So, if you wait until the fire gets there, you have waited too long.

VINCENT: Also, a concern that the fire is threatening high voltage transmission lines that provide power to greater Los Angeles, that combined with high temperatures at an already stressed water system, and the Los Angeles' mayor is urging people to conserve energy and water.

VILLARAIGOSA: We want folks to really understand we can all pitch in here. And the best way to pitch in is to conserve and is for every one of us to do our part.

VINCENT: Meanwhile, a hospital in the fire zone was not spared from damage. The medical center temporarily lost power and the daycare center which was reduced to ruins. Firefighters worked long hours to preserve the safety of the patients.

UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: It's just been real windy. And, a long hard work all night long. I have been here since 1:00 o'clock this morning.

VINCENT: Hoping to get the maximum amount of resources in the area to help the situation, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency on Saturday for Los Angeles County.

I'm Rick Vincent reporting from Atlanta.


NGUYEN: OK. So, let's get to you the scene right now. It's still dark in Los Angeles. And joining us by phone is Lynette Round with the Orange County Fire Authority.

Ms. Round, give us an idea of the numbers of homes that have been burned as well as the acreage.

ROUND: OK. Right now, we have approximately 150 homes that have been damaged or destroyed. And it's covering four different cities. We have 16 residences in Corona. We have 70 residences in Yorba Linda. And 10 residences in Anaheim Hills as well as 10 apartment buildings which include 50 apartment units. So, their counting that as 60 residences. So, all in all, about 150 homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Right now, the size is still at 7,373 acres with 5 percent containment. But that number is due to change when we have our 7:00 a.m. briefing here.

NGUYEN: OK. And so, that should be coming up shortly there. As we wait to see, we are looking at new video -- I mean, homes are just going up in flames. Is there any idea whether -- I know only 5 percent has been contained -- any idea on whether maybe you'd be able to get a handle on this fire?

ROUND: We are hoping that those winds will have died down and that will give the firefighters an upper-hand on fighting this fire. It is a wind-driven fire. And so, depending on which way the wind is shifting, it's where those embers are flying and landing and starting new fires. So, if those winds can die down and work with us, then we can get an upper-hand on those structures that are on fire as well as protecting those ones around them.

NGUYEN: But, in the meantime, some 7,300 acres have been burned. Are you expanding the evacuation orders?

ROUND: Not at this time. Right now, we have four different cities that have evacuation orders in place. People have been very good about following those orders. We have three shelters set up. One is in Anaheim. One is in Placentia. One is in Brea. We also have one out in Corona. And we have over 300 people in those shelters.

NGUYEN: I imagine. Do you have enough resources to fight this? I mean, it seems like -- and so many different cities, fires are burning and they are spreading.

ROUND: Yes. We have limited resources initially. But we have over 1,200 firefighters out there on the scene from state, county, and local jurisdictions. We're all working together, working hard, trying to get this fire out.

NGUYEN: Best advice to those watching wondering what to do.

ROUND: Actually, what we are telling people in these affected areas is to be prepared. Have all their personal belongings, their photographs, their pets, prescriptions, things packed up and ready go. And when they are ordered to evacuate, we would want them do that for their safety.

NGUYEN: OK. Lynette Round with the Orange County Fire Authority -- thank you so much for the information today.

ROUND: Thank you.

HOLMES: Well, speaking of people evacuating, we're hearing a lot of stories from people who have been forced to get out. One of them is Tom. We caught up with him in Chino Hills. This is from our affiliate KCAL.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we moved here, you know, this whole area is all dry embers. I mean, it's going to spark eventually. But, of course, you are going to -- I mean, we wanted to live here if we wanted to live in a golf course (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I don't know if that's your car there.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But we saw you pull up. Do you have your most important things in the car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. My wife -- my wife and unborn kid is and our in laws.


HOLMES: Well, our iReporters in Southern California have been sending us a lot of video and photos of the fire in Sylmar and Santa Barbara County. This is from Mike Raabe, he happens to be a professional photographer. He shot the photos of the Santa Barbara fire about a quarter mile from his house. He says he took them from a hill that overlooks the city.

Santa Barbara's mayor says as many as 200 homes have been destroyed or damaged by that fire.

And a look at the fire by the numbers here. So far, more than 16,000 acres have burned. Up to 10,000 people had to get out of their homes as the flames moved in. Some of them have been allowed to go back to their houses. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in four counties.

NGUYEN: So, will the folks on those areas see any relief? That's one of the big questions. We want to turn now to Karen Maginnis in the weather center. And when we're talking about relief, we really mean when are the winds going to die down?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, still see them pick up today. They are still going to be erratic, 60 to 70-mile-an-hour wind gust possible. And a lot of those favorables zones, and what do I mean by favorable zone? If you back up to some foothills or some mountains, you've got canyons, you've got passes, and that's what the air likes to funnel in, it speeds up, it heats up.

We'll show you some temperatures of just how hot it was yesterday. We zoom in across the triangle complex. There you see Yorba Linda and into the Chino Hills area. A number of areas that have jumped around because the fire and the wind are so erratic. And we head a little bit farther towards the north. This is just at the edge at the city of Los Angeles, in Sylmar hills area. There you can see some of the fires, fire signatures. In the San Fernando Valley, they closed portions of interstates there because of the winds and the visibility was so low.

And this is the fire that we have talked about, beautiful Montecito area. Just around the coastal areas between Santa Barbara and Summerland region.

All right. How about those temperatures? In Los Angeles, 93 degrees. And that was just about the warmest temperature that I did see. Elsewhere, we were looking at weather conditions where the winds were gusting between about 60 and 70 miles an hour. And the peak winds as I saw yesterday was in the Sylmar area, where they saw about 74 miles per hour. Our red-flag warning does continue from Ventura County to San Diego County.

Now, back to you -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Karen, we do appreciate that.

I want to talk about this, though. Deadly thunderstorms tearing or have torn through North Carolina. Look at this video. Officials say, a child and another person were killed by the fast-moving storms early yesterday morning. Today, the state's governor expected to tour some of the areas that were hardest hit. At least a half dozen homes were damaged. And officials estimate 9,000 power customers lost electricity at one point.

HOLMES: Well, let's turn to Prop Eight now. It's been a week since California passed that proposition which outlaws same-sex marriage in that state. Thousands now have turned out across the U.S. to protest it.




HOLMES: This was the scene in CNN Chicago yesterday. Marchers carried flags and banners to join solidarity for California's gay community. Organizers in Chicago say they hope they can achieve full marriage equality in the state of Illinois.

Well, protesters against the ban on same-sex marriage rallied outside Atlanta's City Hall yesterday as well. The event was part of the nationwide protest against Prop Eight, which passed on November 4th. And in New York, they stood behind police barricades holding signs and shouting their support for California's gay community.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is with the scene.



SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Same-sex marriage supporters in New York vowed to keep their movement alive despite California's vote to outlaw gay marriage.

CHRISTINE QUINN, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: We will keep going and fighting until we have full equality, again, in California, in New York, and in every state in our great union.

CANDIOTTI: About 4,000 people showed up for a peaceful yet loud rally. Among them, this couple who married in California last summer and now wonder whether their marriage license will remain valid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all have the same rights and there is no such thing as second-class citizenship. And we are not going to rest until we are all equal.

CANDIOTTI: So, are you going for (ph) the benefits for the same (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we want marriage. Marriage now.

CANDIOTTI: Same-sex marriages are legal only in Connecticut and Massachusetts. New Jersey, Vermont, and New Hampshire have civil unions. New York congressman Anthony Weiner says it's time to address the issue on Capitol Hill to ensure the same benefits for gay and straight couples. REP. ANTHONY WEINER, (D) NEW YORK: This is a place the federal government has to get involved. We have to say this notion of letting every state allow basic rights probably has to give way to the federal government say, you know, what, there are certain basic rights that people are entitled to.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Some groups opposed to same-sex marriage argue equal benefits are one thing but the definition of marriage is another.

(voice-over): William Walker and Jeffrey Dreiblatt say Saturday's rally probably won't be their last. Not until marriage is treated as a civil right.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.


NGUYEN: Well, one journey ends and another begins for President- elect Barack Obama. His formal "Thank You" to the state of Illinois.

HOLMES: Also, a financial expert goes inside New York City's housing project to talk money with the residents there get by, and he says, can help those during tough economic times.


NGUYEN: Well, from the president-elect to the people of Illinois on his last day as senator, Barack Obama is thanking his home state supporters for their opportunities that touched off his political career. He's written a "Thank You" letter, printed today in the "Chicago Sun-Times" and several other newspapers as well across the state.

And here's what it says. "Today, I am ending one journey to begin another. After serving the people of Illinois in the United States Senate -- one of the highest honors and privileges of my life -- I am stepping down as senator to prepare for the responsibilities I will assume as our nation's next president. But I will never forget, and will forever be grateful, to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible."

Well, President-elect Barack Obama has next to no time as he transitions to the White House. So, he's been very busy working with his transition team to fill those posts. And tomorrow, he has a meeting with John McCain.

But today, let's talk about this. CNN's deputy political director Paul Steinhauser joins us.

And, Paul, we have heard about three more appointments this morning. What can you tell us?

STEINHAUSER: You know, Betty, I guess, it shows we're not the only ones working early this morning.


STEINHAUSER: Because the Obama transition team is up this morning. It has put out a release in the last 15 minutes -- three new names that will be part of Barack Obama's team at the White House.

First of those is the guy called Jim Rouse, he's going -- he's being named as a senior adviser to Barack Obama. Jim Rouse has been Barack Obama's chief of staff at his Senate office for the last four years. Jim Rouse is a guy that Barack Obama, when he was elected to the Senate asked, kind of even begged, please be with me and take this job. Jim Rouse said, and he kind of schooled Barack Obama on the ways of Washington. So, that's the number one.

Mona Sutphen is the second name here. She's going to the deputy chief of staff. And Mona Sutphen is somebody who worked in the Clinton White House on national security matters and she knows a lot about foreign policy.

And finally, a guy called Jim Messina. He will be also, another deputy chief of staff. Jim Messina is somebody who was a chief of staff to a number of senators and members of Congress. So, he knows how Washington works as well. Barack Obama is beefing up his team.

NGUYEN: Yes. Pete Rouse, senior adviser, that's a pretty big one to fill right there.

All right. You know, let's talk about this for a second, too, because polls show people are raising the bar high for this president.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. I think you can call it a case of great expectations. We have a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Take a look at these numbers. And we asked, "Do you have a favorable rating opinion of Barack Obama?" And 75 percent of those said, yes, they have a favorable rating of Barack Obama.

How does that compare to other presidents who were just elected? Well, he is the highest in recent memory. Ronald Reagan who was very popular after his convincing win over Jimmy Carter in 1980 was at 67 percent. You can see the others there. Bill Clinton, when he was elected, at 60 percent. George Bush, the current president, 59 percent -- and his father, at 50 percent.

So, yes. Betty, you are absolutely right. There's a lot of good feelings about Barack Obama. And people really think he's going to get a lot done according to our poll.

NGUYEN: All right. We'll see how it plays out. Thank you. We do appreciate it, Paul, as always.

HOLMES: Well, astronauts aboard the space shuttle Endeavour are getting a wakeup call from earth this morning at 9:25. They still got another hour and 10 minutes to sleep. Endeavour will dock today with International Space Station. They'll ill be adding some rooms, yes, an expansion of the space station. And they're doing that over the next several days. But first, they'll be taking more images of the shuttle. Part of the routine inspections now is to make sure no debris hit it during Friday's takeoff.

Well, retail stores turning to an old method to get people shopping and to spend their money. Josh Levs taking a look at layaway. That's coming up.

Also, fires, we will keep an up-close eye on these as are the firefighters out there. And a whole lot of residents who are keeping an eye, who have been forced to flee without having to keep an eye on their homes from things like this. Live pictures from television that they are forced to watch from afar. But we are keeping an eye on three major wildfires and all of the happenings out in Southern California. Stay here.


NGUYEN: California on fire once again this morning -- live pictures on the left of the screen and on the right. These are in Chino Hills, California. And as you can see, the hillside really set ablaze. But it's more than just the hillside. It's in the neighborhoods. And that's where the big problems are, trying to fight these fires back so that they don't destroy any more homes. We are watching this story for you, we'll have the latest. So, don't go anywhere.

Well, just about everybody is hurting financially these days. So, how do world leaders want to deal with the global financial crisis? Well, here is some of what came out of their emergency meeting yesterday in Washington -- a four-month timetable for some new market rules. Those guidelines would target risky investment strategies like the ones that help get us into this economic mess, and calls for a new government spending and more interest rate cuts for some countries. The leaders also agreed not to raise new trade barriers in the next year.

HOLMES: Well, trying to turn despair into hope. CNN's Gerri Willis takes us now into the projects of New York City where one man is helping residents free themselves from poverty.


RYAN MACK, OPTIMUM CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: The facts say that you should be discouraged. The facts say that you should be upset and maybe you should even lose hope. But that's not the truth. The truth is the facts don't show the will and the spirit of the people that are in this room.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are tough economic times for people across the country. But in the New York City housing projects, hard times have been a around for years. On this night, residents are looking for advice on what they can do to help themselves.

MACK: We have a problem in the community when our income rises but our net worth does not rise.

WILLIS: Ryan Mack is a frequent guest on CNN and owns a financial advisory business. He and his colleagues are visiting low- income communities across New York City. Their goal: to help residents learn the basics of personal finance and inspire them to start businesses.

DAMON JENKINS, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: A lot of us don't know exactly what's out there and we will be -- what we have out there to offer us. So, you know, well, that's not normal. There's no reason for us to go out there and look for it.

WILLIS: Damon Jenkins is one of Mack's proteges. He turned his life around after serving time in prison. Now, he owns a construction company and tells his story to encourage others.

JENKINS: I came right out of the projects. Like everybody else, you know, I'm gang banging and, you know, just real crazy for me. You know, when I got in touch with these guys they showed me so many different things. They showed me how to build my company. I started my own company.

MACK: So, we have to understand what do we have and how can we use what we have to create wealth for ourselves.

WILLIS: Raliek Rivers works as an insurance salesman but he wants to start his own green technology business.

RALIEK RIVERS, ASPIRING BUSINESS OWNER: I definitely have a goal. I just didn't know how to achieve it. So, this seems like a good place to -- these guys have this. So, you only ask people who know. And I found people who know.

WILLIS: Mack and his colleagues hope passing on their knowledge will empower Rivers and others here to reach for their own financial success and lift the entire community in the process.

Gerri Willis, CNN, Brooklyn, New York.


NGUYEN: Well, in this economy, stores are taking some new steps to try to draw in customers for that holiday shopping. And in some cases, those new steps are actually pretty old. Our Josh Levs joins us now with the latest on that.

All right. So, what are you getting to?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Betty and T.J., have you, guys, ever bought anything on layaway? Have you?

NGUYEN: Back in the day probably.

LEVS: Did you?

NGUYEN: Yes. I mean, you have to go -- yes. LEVS: I never bought anything - well, this is the thing, it's catching on. Well, we have a story about it on dotcom. All these people are talking about layaway. And some big stores are trying it now. Take a look at this ad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go Christmas shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, Christmas, didn't we just carve pumpkins?



ANNOUNCER: Of course (ph), it's K-Mart layaway.


LEVS: It's catching out (ph), but you see on these major national ads. So, we started wondering are there benefits, are there drawbacks? And guess what, there's an expert. Ludwig Bstieler of the University of New Hampshire, he's joining us now.

Ludwig, are you with us?

VOICE OF LUDWIG BSTIELER, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE (through phone): Yes, I'm here. Good morning.

LEVS: All right. Well, it's great to know that there is an expert on everything. You're an expert on layaway. We got to do this fast with so much news today. I want do this. I have a graphic based on some things you've told me. Who should do layaway? Take a look at this and tell me about it. Who is layaway good for?

BSTIELER: Well, for those people that can't or are unwilling to pay the full purchase amount up front...

LEVS: Right.

BSTIELER: ... which these days might be quite a few people. For those people that will have to buildup a history of credit, a credit history to be able to apply for, you know, credit cards at some point. And it's actually a bit it's a plan that could be beneficial to those people that have a hard time managing their own money.

LEVS: Ludwig, really quick for you. You need to build credit history. If do you layaway, does this somehow show up on your credit history or no?

BSTIELER: I think -- I'm not aware that it would negatively reflect if you miss it.

LEVS: OK. So, if you missed it that it would be a problem. Now, some benefits you told me about that. That you lock in the access price. That it can help you achieve fiscal discipline.

But I want to go to this last screen here, which is really interesting. There's some fine print people should know about, will end with this here. Let's go to this last graphic. One of the things that you tell me the fine print, sure, there are service fees and cancellation fees, but a lot of people don't realize that last thing. If a price changes, if you buy something at layaway, and then the price drops, you can't go back to the store and ask for the lower price, right?

BSTIELER: Right. You can always cancel the contract, though.

LEVS: But you can cancel. But then you lose that service fee and the cancellation fee.

BSTIELER: Absolutely. It's like the prepaid oil contract.

LEVS: OK. All right. Well, listen, we really appreciate this. In the end, it looks like it's pretty straightforward. I guess not too much fine print for you to find out about. More details at Give it a shot and let us know, send some us iReports about layaway shopping.

Betty and T.J., back to you.

NGUYEN: Yes, that's really interesting that you lock in that price. And that could hurt you in the long run. How long has layaway been gone, done away with?

LEVS: You know, it was created in the Great Depression. And apparently, it had a heyday to the '70s. And then it kind of died down in the early '80s. Wal-mart canceled it a couple of years ago, but now, boom, it's coming back.

NGUYEN: OK. Thank you, Josh.

LEVS: All right. Thanks.

NGUYEN: With so many people looking for work or changing jobs, the story of one man who stood the test of time.

HOLMES: And he's been at the same job for a good portion of the last century. How did he do it? His advice to get through these tough economic times.


NGUYEN: California on fire this morning. Look at these live pictures. It's hard to tell if that's the hillside or another home that is burned to the ground. But to give you some idea of the many fires that are really ablaze right now -- in Los Angeles County alone, some 26 square miles have been burned and 800 mobile homes, houses, and apartments, 60 structures have been destroyed. In this particular area, 100 structures damaged and 1,000 homes threatened.

HOLMES: Now, this is actually Sylmar fire. We're getting help from our affiliate there keeping an eye on. They're up live, up early this morning as they have been in the past several days, one of our affiliates.

But, it is just -- just a hurting (ph) scene. We are going to hear from our Karen Maginnis in the weather center. Not a lot of relief expected from the winds which have been whipping these fires. But we will stay on top of this. Expect a whole lot more at the top of the hour. That, we'll be talking about the economy as well.

NGUYEN: And right now, though, we want to take you to CNN's "HOUSE CALL." But, remember, the fire pictures, they will up and rolling throughout the coverage as we continue following that story.