updated 9/30/2005 10:47:45 AM ET 2005-09-30T14:47:45

Guest: Julia Reed, Rick Halsey, Steve Hendricks, Kevin Nestor, David

Dreier

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight's top headline: wildfires, fighting flames in California.  Hot, dry winds are kicking up a firestorm tonight, as 3,000 firefighters are battling blazes that are devouring woodlands and ranches and homes.  We are live with the latest breaking news throughout the hour. 

And then, investigations into New Orleans' cops looting those they were paid to protect, and also investigations into whether health care officials killed hospital patients to put them out of their misery. 

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, no passport required and only common sense allowed.

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, friends, welcome to the show. 

We have a lot of news to cover tonight, but, first, we are going to be getting late-breaking news out of Southern California. 

And, later, the top cop in New Orleans, of course, is bounced out of his head, while that pathetic department is being investigated for looting and also mass desertions.  We are going to take you inside that investigation and more. 

But, first, let's go to California, where wildfires are racing across the western edge of Los Angeles County right now.  They have already scorched 17,000 acres, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes.  The big fight right now, keeping the fire from jumping across the 101 Freeway.  If that does happen, experts say, there's no stopping the fire until it hits the Pacific. 

Let's go right now to Agoura Hills and going to go to KNBC's Conan Nolan.

Conan, what is the very latest out there? 

CONAN NOLAN, KNBC REPORTER:  Well, Joe, we are looking at three different fires now, one in San Bernardino County, 60 miles to the east of Los Angeles, another in Burbank, where the studios are, NBC Universal, Walt Disney, of course, Warner Brothers as well, in the Verdugo Mountains.

This one, the one you are talking about, the plume behind me, you can barely see it.  It's now 7:00 Pacific.  That is still the main fire, 17,000 acres, as you pointed out.  It's going to be a lot more than that when they calculate it this evening, 3,000 firefighters on the scene, a number of communities evacuated.  As you pointed out, Joe, the real worry is whether this finger of the fire will leap across the Ventura Freeway. 

If that happens, it will go all the way to Malibu, all the way to the ocean.  There will be no stopping it.  Now, the borate bombers, the Phos-Chek bombers normally are sent to the barn once the nightfall sets in, but we have been seeing a couple of air attacks on this finger of the fire over the past half-hour.  That means they are doing everything they possibly can to put as much Phos-Chek, as much retardant, on this fire before nightfall, before it gets close to the Ventura Freeway, the 101, this artery north-south along the California coast. 

We believe, though, that they are going to get a break from the weather tomorrow.  They have gotten one tonight.  The winds have calmed down.  This area where we are standing, they were actually able to fire out what is called a backfire, using the winds to burn up some of the fuel ahead of the fire.

And it appears, it appears that, if Mother Nature cooperates, they will be able to get some more fire retardant on this fire tomorrow morning, if the winds die down—Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Conan, put this into perspective for us for those that haven't been through a lot of these.  You obviously have covered just scores of them right now. 

This is basically the beginning of the season for you all, isn't it? 

NOLAN:  Well, it certainly is. 

Actually, the fire season in Southern California is like nine months out of the year.  And part of the problem is, when it doesn't rain during the rainy season, of course, it's dryer, so the fire season is more intense.  When it does rain, you actually have more vegetation.  So, when it dries out, again, you have even more. 

(CROSSTALK)

NOLAN:  This area was burned about six, seven years ago.  When you talk to people who are looking at fire coming across the ridge, you asked them, are you concerned?  Yes.  Have you been here before, concerned?  Of course we have.  It's just part of living in Southern California. 

SCARBOROUGH:  How dangerous is it for those choppers to go out and dump water on the fire at night? 

NOLAN:  It's very dangerous. 

In fact, it's so dangerous that there was a previous rule that the California Department of Forestry had.  They would not use any kind of air attack once the sun went down.  There was a problem a year ago when they pulled back a Phos-Chek bomber that was headed to a very small brushfire in San Diego county.  That brushfire turned into a huge conflagration, burning hundreds of homes. 

Ever since then, they have used their best judgment on when they will fly, but, again, safety is their number one concern. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks so much.  Greatly appreciate it, Conan Nolan, KNBC.

Let's now go live above the fire to KNBC chopper reporter Jim Holcomb. 

Jim, tell us what you are seeing up there. 

JIM HOLCOMB, KNBC CHOPPER REPORTER:  Well, Joe, we are sitting at about 4,300 feet right now on the west flank of this fire. 

And just before we came on the air, I counted more than 15 locations, separate locations, that are burning.  And there's more on the other side of the fire as well.  This is not a contained fire.  This is burning in a widespread area among a lot of homes.  It's got a lot of hills in this area, and there's also the possibility that, if it does jump the 101 Freeway, it will act as a funnel all the way down to the beach.

So, the firefighters are certainly trying very hard to fight this fire and keep it from jumping that 101 Freeway.  They are being aided right now because we have very light winds, which is a very good thing.  But if those winds pick up and start heading down toward the beach, this thing could really get loose. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jim, you have covered these things time and again.  Give us some perspective on what we are seeing here.  Of course, when we see hurricanes coming in, it's very easy to see the big mass coming in on the weather screen, but these fires, so unpredictable.  They can go in any direction tonight, can't they? 

HOLCOMB:  That's correct. 

The fire here is going to be driven by three things.  It's going to be driven by wind, by terrain, and by fuel.  And you cannot predict the wind.  It can change at any moment.  Plus, the fire also takes on a wind of its own when it starts to combust, because it creates a firestorm, if you will, and that also feeds the fire.  So, even in calm winds like this, it creates its own wind, and that's very unpredictable. 

At this point right now, the fire is probably the best optimum, you know, firefighting possibility for firefighters right now.  Unfortunately, the sun is going down, and, as Conan Nolan mentioned, they don't fight fires at night.  But I do believe that the L.A. City Fire Department still does water drops after dark.  They are the only agency that still does that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Jim, do you have any concerns when you are up there at night?  Obviously, a lot of mountain—it's mountainous terrain.  Anybody that's been out there and driven around there knows that you guys are going in and out of hills. 

Obviously, you want to get the best shots, and you are hearing about the dangers of dropping water at night.  Any concerns up there where you are right now? 

HOLCOMB:  Well, right now, you can imagine it's very busy.  We just looked out the window here.  We just had a fire aircraft fly by us.  As long as we can maintain perspective with the grounds, vis-a-vis the lights, and be able to look and see what's going on, we are OK where we are right now.

But, as it gets darker, this place will literally be lit up just by the embers that are burning.  And it's absolutely massive, because, as we look at the smoke that's coming up from this thing, it's well above our altitude, probably at 8,000 feet.  And it's just totally dark.  It's just the most awesome thing I have seen in the last—in the recent times. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jim, give us some perspective looking at this picture that we are getting from you guys.  Where are the homes?  Obviously, a lot of gated communities, a lot of very expensive homes around this fire, how close are they to the fires that are burning all around the Southern California region? 

HOLCOMB:  Well, these homes are actually dotted in this area because there's little canyons and streets that move up into these areas where people have built homes on cul-de-sacs. 

If we can pull out just a little bit, we will see if we can locate some of the areas where some of these homes are.  But this is what makes this such a treacherous fire to fight is because there's not a lot of through streets.  And, as firefighters get up into this area, if the fire was to reverse on them, they have to find a way to get out of there themselves. 

And it's very, very dangerous.  As you can see, a lot of fire protection going on in neighborhoods.  And this is taking up a lot of resources, because you have got a lot of equipment in all these neighborhoods, just in case this fire moves in their direction. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Jim, thank you so much.  I appreciate you being with us.  And we will be checking back with you throughout the hour, see the progress of the firefighters. 

Let's go to the phones right now.  I want to talk to California Congressman David Dreier. 

Congressman, I know hurricanes.  You know fires.  Tell me what California is facing right now with these fires.  How dangerous is the situation on the ground right now? 

REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, Joe, we know fires, mudslides, and earthquakes. 

You know, we—and this was, frankly, one of the things that we feared following Hurricane Katrina.  And I believe we did the right thing to make sure that we immediately began the investigation of what took place leading up to and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, because we want to make sure that we are able to respond to crises like this as expeditiously as possible. 

Right now, one of the greatest things going there—and that was a superb report from your reporter, Conan Nolan and Jim Holcomb—that fact that we have 3,000 firefighters there through what's known as a mutual aid network, really a unified command that creates a structure whereby firefighters from all over the region can come together, is, I think, helping tremendously. 

And I will say that, for your viewers, I know this area very well.  The thought of this fire jumping the 101 Freeway, Joe, is something that is frightening.  And just to put in perspective, I am thinking of some of the famous old television sets that are there. 

Do you remember the scene in the movie “MASH” when the helicopters got

·         in the TV series “MASH.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

DREIER:  The helicopters come landing in.  That was filmed not far, just on the other side of the 101 Freeway, at Canaan Road (ph) there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Congressman, can you explain to us, again, that aren't as familiar with this as you are, why is it that the 101 Freeway, Ventura Highway, is sort of the Rubicon, that, once this fire crosses, it appears that there's no turning back, it's going to race all the way to the ocean?

DREIER:  Well, the fact of the matter is, if you get to the other side of the 101 Freeway, it is such a heavily wooded area.  I mean, it's one of the most beautiful areas in the United States of America. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

DREIER:  Love going out there.  It's almost as nice as Florida, Joe. 

But, you know, the fact is, as we look at the ability, if the wind, tragically, moves in that direction, as the fire official and your reporter Conan Nolan said, this thing would move all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  It is very frightening.  It's not only wealthy areas there, because there are a lot of people who live in that area, a lot of recreation in there through the Santa Monica Mountains. 

I mean, this—this would be devastating.  And I just—my thoughts and prayers are with the people out there, and, of course, with the firefighters, wishing them Godspeed, and so appreciative of the structure that we have in place to deal with this. 

But, remember, after the—after this happens, we will be dealing with the issue of mudslides again when the rains come.

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt.

DREIER:  And so, this is a—this is a real challenge that we have got, Joe.  But thanks for the coverage you are providing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Congressman David Dreier.

I want to keep that shot up right now.  We have heard, again, what's

happened over the past year, is, there hasn't been—hasn't been a lot of

rain.  Because of that, you have a lot of underbrush, and, as the

congressman just said, once it jumps over the other side of 101, you have

got—you have got nothing but basically fuel to this fire. And it causes

·         I mean, it's just going to cause an implosion. 

Right now, you have got 3,000 brave firemen, firewomen, fighting this fire, or, actually, these fires that are racing across the Southern California landscape, trying desperately to contain it.

We'll be right back in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY with more coverage of breaking news out of Southern California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We are taking you live over Southern California on the first day that the Santa Ana winds came in.  And I will tell you what.  It has caused a mess in Southern California.  We are going to be taking you there when we come back and give you updates throughout the hour—that and much more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Right now, on the first day of the Santa Ana winds over Southern California, wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour, risky nighttime water drops going on right now, usually does not happen, but, obviously, many public safety officials very concerned that these fires could quickly race out of control, go over 101, and then race all the way to the Pacific. 

If that happens, there's no telling how many homes and how many lives could be lost. 

Right now, we want to bring in Kevin Nestor.  He's from the Ventura County Fire Department.

Kevin, thank you so much for being with us tonight.

Get us up to date on your efforts and your men and women's efforts to contain this fire. 

KEVIN NESTOR, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT:  Well, it's been quiet a gallant effort by our firefighters.  A lot of them have been out there for greater than 30 hours trying to fight this blaze. 

The east winds came in yesterday morning.  Thousands of firefighters across California woke up in the morning and knew that—we wondered if this was going to be the day.  And, sure enough, we got a fire started about midday, like you say, 40-mile-an-hour winds pushing the fire.  We are mainly in structure protection, trying to move people out of the way of the fire, and trying to protect their residences.

And I will tell you, the firefighters have done on outstanding job, an outstanding job.  And we are not done yet. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Kevin, there are 3,000 -- there are 3,000 of you out there right now doing everything you can to keep this contained, to save people's property, to save their lives.  What are the biggest dangers for your firefighter out there? 

NESTOR:  Well, especially right now, we are going into a night operational period, and we have firefighters that haven't seen this land.

And we are expecting them to go out there with a fire moving in towards them.  And that's a real high-risk effort right now.  So, probably with the nightfall and the fire aggressively still burning, we have tremendous fire behaviors still out there on the fire ground. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I understand, because you had heavy rains over the winter, you have got a lot more—a lot more undergrowth in these areas.  Does that just add fuel to the fire and make your job and the job of your comrades out there even more difficult this evening? 

NESTOR:  Absolutely.  Fuels in Southern California right now are very receptive to fire.

And with these hot, dry winds, it doesn't take much to get the fire moving at a very fast pace.  This thing was moving half-a-mile, a mile—or spotting out half-a-mile to a mile out in front of itself.  So, not only do we have a flame front, but we have small fires in front of it.  So, it's been a pretty difficult few days for the first wind event here in Southern California. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And it's unpredictable, isn't it?  I mean, a wind kicks up, comes from a different direction.  You guys don't know where it's going, how to respond, and don't know where it ends. 

NESTOR:  Absolutely. 

We get northeast winds.  That's what they call them, northeast winds.  But with the canyons here in Southern California, they could be moving south at one point of the topography, or you go to the top of the ridge, and it may be moving towards the west.  So, they are constantly swirling around and constantly moving the fire in all kinds of different directions. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Kevin Nestor with the Ventura County Fire Department, thank you so much for being with us tonight.  And God bless you and your men and women for being out on the lines doing your jobs and trying to save the people of Southern California from a lot of heartache.  We greatly appreciate it. 

Now let's go to Steve Hendricks.  He's actually a resident of Bell Canyon and was forced to evacuate his home earlier today. 

Thank you so much for being with us tonight. 

Give us a sense of what your day has been like since the evacuation and since you have seen flames threatening your community. 

STEVE HENDRICKS, RESIDENT OF BELL CANYON, CALIFORNIA:  Well, Joe, actually, we were evacuated last night. 

We spent the night in a hotel.  And it was kind of like, let's grab everything in the house that we possibly can.  We are not going to be gone long.  And then, today, watching the news and going through the different iterations of how serious this is, it's really hit home that what we have left in our house, we may never see again. 

But I want to say something that was said in the previous comment.  The firefighters, the volunteers, people are doing a fabulous job.  And I think, in response to what's happened with Katrina and the tsunami, that people are trying really hard.  Humanity is being expressed here in so many ways, of evacuating horses, and even those local businesses.  The hotel that we are staying at has a special rate for the refugees of the fire. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, tell us about these fires.  How close are they to your neighborhood?  How close are they to your community?  And what are the greatest dangers, the greatest threats tonight? 

HENDRICKS:  Well, tonight, the embers and the—Bell Canyon is a canyon with about 700 residents.

And to give you some perspective, it's three-and-a-half miles from that Ventura Freeway, that 101.  So, when you think about them holding this fire off as long as they have to get to the 101, it's pretty much a major feat.  Three miles isn't much.  And Bell Canyon is an equestrian area with horse trails and lots of brush.  And like everyone has said, because of our rains last year, I am a trail runner, and I have never seen foliage and brush like we have right now. 

I ran the Amaton (ph) ranch on Monday.  And it's amazing every time I see it.  The weeds have never been larger or higher. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and, Steve, for most people, that would see that and it would be a welcome development, seeing that type of growth.  But, unfortunately, again where you are from, that's fuel.  That adds fuel to the fire. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  That threatens your community, threatens your home and could threaten some lives out there, the brave men and women on the front lines. 

I want to ask you, if you could, to take on us inside of this.  You know, everybody has been looking at what it's like to escape from a hurricane.  Again, a hurricane, for the most part, is calculated.  If you watch TV, you know what's coming.  But it seems to me, one day—if you are in Southern California, one day, you are jogging on a trail, like you.  You come home.  You think everything is fine.  And then, you know, the next day, you are inside a hotel room. 

It seems like these things just come out of nowhere quickly, and it's got to really be disorienting and very troubling for many people out there. 

HENDRICKS:  Well, that's right, Joe. 

You are told that there's a mandatory evacuation.  We have never been evacuated from our home before, so maybe we took it a little bit lighter than you imagined.  And we took some jewelry out and some clothes for the next day, thinking we are going to be back in our house.  But the most important thing, you get your family together and your animals and then everything comes into perspective, that what you left behind can be replaced. 

But, you know, everyone has that feeling that, oh, this can't really happen to me.  I am not really going to lose my house. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Unfortunately, I think that's something that unites people in California and Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Alabama.  People think that it's going to always hit somebody else; it's not going to hit them. 

And then the storm comes or the flames come, and they find out that you are just as vulnerable as all those people that you have been watching on the TV that have been evacuating. 

Thanks so much for being with us tonight.

HENDRICKS:  My pleasure.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Godspeed to you and your family.  I hope everything turns out all right for you. 

With us now in Simi Valley, California, is NBC's Michael Okwu. 

Michael, try to put some perspective on this.  Talk about the size and the strength of these fires tonight and the greatest dangers from what you are hearing from public health officials in California. 

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, certainly, this fire was something that was very recognizable, highly conspicuous. 

Very early this morning, just driving in here, some 30 to 40 miles away, you could see what looked like two—basically two mushroom clouds turned on its side, horizontal on the horizon, as far as the eye could see.  So, this is something that anyone could see in the greater Los Angeles area as early as last night, this morning.  And even now, as I am standing here and generally in Simi Valley, you can see this sort of thick waft just hovering over the field here.  It's quite remarkable. 

You can't really see it on camera, but I can tell you it's something that all of us are recognizing.  There is a wind advisory—I'm sorry.  There's an advisory for people who might have some breathing problems, people who might have some asthma.  It's part of the reason why some of the schools were closed in the area today, Joe. 

There is good news and there is bad news at this location tonight.  The good news, firefighters say, is that they have been able to save about 200 homes.  The temperature has cooled a little bit.  And they say that the winds are not moving quite as rapidly and with as much force as they were at this time last night. 

Of course, the bad news, Joe, is that this fire is only 5 percent contained.  And anyone can do the math on that.  That means 95 percent of this fire is still burning in such a way that firefighters cannot get a handle around it.  Now, we know that, at this point, with the calmer winds and with the higher humidity, this fire is essentially walking, as the firefighters say, walking in a southeasterly direction, just north of the 101.

And you have heard other reports on your broadcast tonight talking about the significance of the 101.  That divides basically the canyon communities to the north and some of those beach communities to the south, this fire crawling in that general direction.  At this hour, we know that firefighters are actively trying to fight the flames the old-fashioned way, on the ground, using, you know, water hoses to beat the fire back away from some of the homes that it is threatening.

And they are also dumping water and some fire-retardant chemicals from the air.  They are trying to contain this fire before it goes into some areas where the topography is uneven and where it's going to be much more difficult to start fighting the fire on the ground.  It's part of what has made this fire so difficult to fight up to this point. 

As you have probably mentioned, Joe, there are some 3,000 firefighters on the ground right now.  And they say that they will try to get this contained as early as possible.  But nobody knows when that's going to happen—Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Unfortunately, I think you are right. 

Thank you so much, Michael Okwu.

We are going to continue to monitor the fire in Southern California

throughout the hour.  I want you to look at that.  I mean, it's an

unbelievable sight.  You have got 7,000 acres burning, 3,000 firefighters

giving their all right now, trying to stop this from spreading across the

101, wind gusts in some places up to 40 miles an hour.  They swirl around,

so you can't really predict which way the Santa Ana winds are going to be

blowing in, risky nighttime water drops going on, and, again, warnings of -

·         again, warnings of these types of fires throughout the year.

And on the first day that the Santa Ana winds came in, there's just been an absolutely disastrous result. 

We are going to be following this throughout the hour.

But, coming up next, we are going to also be talking about several New Orleans cops under investigation, accused of looting.  And dirty water and dangerous mold could come back to the city.  Plus, we have new details, and we uncover why the levees may have been built to fail—that and much more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Southern California in flames tonight, as the Santa Ana winds come in, in some areas with gusts up to 40 miles an hour.  This fire is burning out of control, only 5 percent of the fire under control.  It's a very fluid scene.  We are going to be staying with it throughout the hour.

But, first, here's the latest news you and your family need to know. 

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Breaking news tonight, fires raging across Southern California, at least three homes already destroyed, others in peril right now. 

We are going to continue to monitor there, the situation in Southern California.

And, right now, I want to go back to Jim Holcomb.  He's the KNBC chopper reporter. 

Jim, the situation obviously very fluid.  And I understand that you got more information on really the extraordinary efforts that are taking place right now to contain this fire.  Tell us about it. 

HOLCOMB:  Well, that's right, Joe. 

We just heard a few moments ago that L.A. City is going to run three helicopters throughout the night, water-dropping helicopters, trying to douse this fire.  They are the only agency that does that.  As you mentioned before, the danger factor just prohibits a lot of aircraft from flying at night, and they just don't do it.  Remember, they have got wires down there.  They have got smoke situations.  Plus, they have no light. 

And just to paint a picture for you, the flames you are looking at right here can be up to 1,800 degrees.  That is so hot that, as this fire moves, it preheats the fuel ahead of it.  It means that it can take green plants, and, as it preheats, it just absolutely dries them out to tinder conditions, so that, when the fire moves through, it just totally erupts. 

And that's why the explanation why these fire moves so quickly and tend to jump from one place to another, very dangerous for firefighters during the day, and especially at night. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Jim, talk about how dangerous water-dropping is, again, even in the daytime.  And, of course, at night, again, you have got the canyons; you have got the winds.  In some cases, you could have wind gusts, again, we have been hearing, up to 40 miles an hour.  Talk about all the things that can go wrong and why it is so extraordinary that they are doing this at night. 

HOLCOMB:  Well, remember that, during the daytime, they have smoke, and they also have it at night.  So, these firefighters actually fly into the smoke and they depend on dropping that water. 

If they have a malfunction on their water-dropping mechanism and that water doesn't drop, they don't get the lift that they would normally get to get out of a canyon.  That's been the fate of many a firefighter that has actually not been able to get out, because they are depending, again, on that lift to be able to drop that 360 gallons of water and get out of there.

So, it's very, very dangerous.  And, at night, once again, they have to know exactly where all these power lines are.  And a lot of them do this just from memory, because they are so familiar with this area and they train in this area all the time. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jim, talk about the area again.  Tell our viewers about the homes that are around there and how close this is to breaking out and, again, going across 101 and causing some major damage in the Southern California region. 

HOLCOMB:  Well, the one thing I want to stress is that this is encompassing an area of almost 26 square miles.  If you drew an X and you pout a perimeter around it, it's almost 26 squares mile. 

Now, it's not all burning.  It's spot-burning.  It's burning in several different locations.  And if this were to get down into the canyon areas, then Canaan Road (ph) and Las Virgenes, it acts as a venturi.  And that's what so dangerous.  It will actually force that fire, it will funnel that fire right down to Malibu.  That's what happened eight years ago.  And that's what firefighters don't want to have happen this time. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You talk about a fire eight years ago.  Compare this fire to other fires that you have seen.  Again, how many fires have you covered? 

HOLCOMB:  I have covered several. 

The one eight years ago started actually on the other side of 101, and it started about 10:00 in the morning.  And, by 6:00 that night, it had moved all the way to the ocean.  This one has actually started on the north side of the 101.  And so, they are actually drawing the line.  And that's why the 101 is such a fire line here.  There are so many homes.  We are looking at numerous homes here on the other side that would absolutely be in the direct path of this fire if it jumped that freeway. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And how many miles north is this of downtown Los Angeles? 

HOLCOMB:  Oh, we are probably about maybe 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, about—northwest of downtown Los Angeles. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks so much, Jim.  We are going to be getting back to you throughout the hour. 

I want to go right now, though, to Rick Halsey.  He's a fire ecologist. 

Mr. Halsey, thank you so much for being with us. 

Tell us what's going on right now and why this fire can be so dangerous. 

RICK HALSEY, FIRE ECOLOGIST:  Well, I have heard a couple of callers earlier talk about the vegetation and the amount of rainfall and whatnot. 

What is really important to understand is, one of the primary factors in these fires and when they ignite are the weeds that have grown up along roadsides and in areas that have burned repeatedly over the years.  So, what's happened is, the native vegetation, which is, at some point, relatively resistant to igniting like weeds are, now you got have got weeds into the system.  And, somebody, all they have to do is throw a cigarette out there, and those things ignite immediately. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Is there—I guess this is—again, the season—I understand, the season goes nine months long, but this is the first day that the Santa Ana winds came in, from what we have been hearing.  How unusual is it that you have this type of reaction to the Santa Ana winds coming in? 

HALSEY:  Well, it happens pretty quick.  And once the winds start blowing, the flames really start to roll. 

And something that the public really needs to understand, and what fire officials can't say, is, the firefighters do the best they can, but, until the wind and the weather stops, there's not a heck of a lot they can do.  All they can do is just run in front of the fire and try to get people out of the way as fast as they can, without getting burned up themselves.

And so, the most important thing in firefighting is for people to take individual responsibility, you know, and get their homes fire-safe, so, firefighters don't risk their lives saving homes that are potentially not savable, and instead can go actually fight the fire, because, as you see, homes that aren't defensible, in the sense of being fire-safe, they force firefighters to defend those structures, instead of fighting the fire. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Rick, it sounds like the situation here is just as volatile as a hurricane that comes in.  Once it hits on shore, you really can't do anything.  You have got to go in your bunkers and wait. 

Of course, the firefighters, you say, are going out there, trying to contain the fire.  But it sounds like you are telling us tonight that, for the most part, they really are.  There at the mercy of the winds. 

HALSEY:  Right.

And this is something people need to understand.  There was a lot of finger-pointing after the Cedar Fire down in San Diego, and I heard somebody call earlier that they withdrew a retardant drop earlier in the fire.  The Forest Service did a study on that.  It was actually a helicopter, a sheriff's helicopter that had a water bucket, and it would have taken 20 to 30 helicopter drops with perfect drops to even put a dent on that thing.

And, even then, there's never been a fire put out by water or retardant alone.  It's the guys and the women on the line down there that actually have to put out the embers, because these things start spotting, because means the fire blows ahead of itself.  And you just can't put those fires out with aircraft alone.  You have got to have the people on the ground. 

SCARBOROUGH:  you know, Rick, there is—there always seems to be debate.  Environmentalists come out and starts debating what needs to be done to have a fire strategy to stop these types of fires. 

Do they make good points?  Is there anything that you can do, that anybody could have done two, three, four months ago to prevent this type of fire from taking place? 

HALSEY:  The simple, uncomplicated answer to that is no.  We live in a fire-prone environment in California. 

These huge, big fires are not unnatural.  They are normal events.  And what people have to do, they have to understand that.  They got to connect with the landscape.  And they have got to be a little more familiar with the natural environment, like hopefully the people back east are with hurricanes. 

We generally—we buy these homes in this beautiful weather, and we have our refrigerators and our lawns, and we forget everything else.  And what we have to keep an eye to, just like the firefighters to when the Santa Anas come, the hair on the back of their necks fly up, we have got to feel the same way and make sure our structures, number one, are fire-safe, number two, we have proper vegetation clearance around homes, not radical. 

Some of the fire departments want people to go out with bulldozers and clear it down to bare soil.  What you have got to do is, you want to keep the weeds out of there.  And that's what that clearance does.  So, you want to cooperate with the fire department and have them help you figure out what is the best way to thin the vegetation around your home. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

All right, thank you so much, Rick Halsey.  Greatly appreciate you being with us. 

Let's look at this fire as we go to break.  Again, these fires just seem to be intensifying.  I will tell you what.  As Rick Halsey says, I mean, again, going back to hurricanes, it's like building homes on barrier islands.  If you build your home on a barrier island, chances are good you are going to get blasted by a hurricane at some point or another.  Same thing with people that build in this area.  Regardless of what anybody says for political reasons, for the most part, these people are living in very, very dangerous areas. 

So, that's why, when the fires do come, they have got to evacuate as quickly as possible.  Look at the intensity of those flames.  It looks like Dante's “Inferno.” 

We will right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We are going to be following this throughout the hour, plus, take you to New Orleans, when we return in just a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it was one month ago today when New Orleans began its descent into a burning, flooded city of anarchy and death.  Police walked off the job, as many as 250. 

Others stood by watching as businesses were openly looted.  And some cops even took part in the looting themselves.  The sick and elderly were left behind by doctors and nurses to die.  And, right now, there are a lot of local officials facing tough questions. 

I want to bring in right now—well, actually, let's talk—again, we have been talking about what's gone wrong.  We have been talking about Mayor Nagin.  But let's do this. 

Let's bring in Heath Allen.  He's of our local NBC affiliate down in New Orleans.  And, also, we have got Julia Reed with us again.

But, Heath, I want to start with you. 

I love this language.  The police spokesman today said that the police officers did not engage in looting, that they engaged in the appropriation of nonessential items. 

Talk about that, if you will.  I thought talk like that only came out of Washington, D.C.

HEATH ALLEN, WDSU REPORTER:  Well, you know, you got to put a good face on something.  If you have video of police officers walking out of a store carrying blue jeans, it's really hard to say, well, I am really carrying this over to some flood victims. 

We are really trying to help out, because they really need these jeans, which happen to fit me perfectly. 

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN:  So, you really have to try to put a good face on that, you know?

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What about—how can you put a—how can you put a good face on the fact that 15 percent of the police force walked off of their jobs during the hurricane, up to 250, while somebody like you dropped your family off, and then came back in, reported for duty? 

ALLEN:  Well, you know, and that's the problem that every—all these officers are going to face, the ones that come back to the job after doing that. 

You know something?  Everybody knew this hurricane was out there.  And they had 1,300 police officers that stayed on the job and stayed on the job through the toughest crisis this city has ever faced.  On the other hand, you had about 250 police officers that, for whatever reason, decided that they weren't going to stand their posts. 

You are absolutely right.  We are a television station that covers news.  We knew we had the hurricane out there.  We took care of our families, and then we came back and we stood our post and covered this storm, which we have done for a month.  You had 250 police officers that did not. 

All right, let's say 10 of them had family members that they had to go take care of, and it was a real emergency.  You had 10 more that, for whatever reason, hadn't take care of business they really needed to take care of.  You still have got over 200 police officers that said, I am out of here. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That's terrible.

ALLEN:  And let me tell you, the cops on the job, the cops on the job, that see these guys come back, they don't like it.  They don't want to be around them.  And there's going to be—there's some real contention already. 

I have talked to police officers that just don't want them rubbing elbows here, because they left when the chips are down.  And especially if you are a firefighter and you saw the firefighters fighting those—firefighters out west.  If you are a police officer, people have to get your back.  And when they desert your back, you can't come back. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it. 

Julia Reed, let me bring you in.

You are back in New Orleans right now.  Tell me what you are seeing. 

JULIA REED, “VOGUE”:  Well, I have heard a lot of—I mean, I have heard some—I mean, I have seen some good stuff, but I have heard a lot of excuses for what we have just been talking about. 

I ran into a police psychologist today on the street.  There are lots of those around.  In fact, like, 500 of them were just landed from Maryland...

(CROSSTALK)

REED:  Well, these guys didn't mean to steal the Cadillacs from the Cadillac store, but they had to, because the police cars weren't working very well.  It's still not a good—good picture. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, again, they appropriated nonessential items, like Cadillacs. 

REED:  They appropriated non—like Cadillacs.

And then—I mean, like Cadillacs.  And then there was an advertisement in the paper the other day saying that we shouldn't call anybody a looter.  They should be called foragers, as in like the forest, I guess, getting mushrooms from the ground. 

We are not supposed to call looters, looters.  We are supposed to call them forages, because they were just there to get food.  The cops who, you know—who knows.  It will be a long time, I think, before we get real clear information.  But, you know, the Cadillac dealership apparently in the CBD, the central business district, was looted. 

It turns out that lots of those folks were cops.  Maybe they needed some cars.  And, in fact, I did see some cars that were not in very good shape, police cars.  But I just don't think this is still a very good signal to send.  So, you are still in a city where you got two-thirds—or one-third of the cops under investigation. 

The police chief has resigned under duress.  You still don't have any information from the mayor.  I mean, the only good news in the city right now is happening organically.  You know, sort of restaurants and small businesses are opening, sort of in spite of the city. 

(CROSSTALK)

REED:  They're not getting any help...

(CROSSTALK)

REED:  ... information. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, Julia.

It sounds like a terrible situation down there. 

Again, some people, though, like you said, are going back in and trying to reopen the city, despite the fact of a total failure of leadership. 

Heath, I want to ask you—go ahead, Julia. 

(CROSSTALK)

REED:  Now, there's a restaurant in town tonight that I just went by, Restaurant August, which is in a—right behind the Windsor Court Hotel.  It's in a sort of swanky tourism area. 

They gave a private dinner tonight for all the law enforcement officials from St. Bernard Parish.  I mean, this is the first time that the chef has been back.  They had water piped in via PVC pipes, you know, above ground into the restaurant.  It was sort of a gala event for all the St.  Bernard Parish law enforcement officers and their families. 

It was such an amazingly great thing to see.  There are those things kind of happening.  They are not happening because the city is making it easy.  I have so many restaurateurs that still can't get any information from City Hall or the mayor's office.  But people are just coming in and saying, by God, we are going to take back our city, block by block, restaurant by restaurant, whatever. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

REED:  I mean, that's the only way it's going to happen. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming along. 

Heath, final question. 

Do some police officers see this as an opportunity to clean out the bad elements in the department and possibly turn this place around? 

ALLEN:  Oh, absolutely. 

I think you are going to see a lot of that.  The police officers that left and didn't come back are probably not going to be welcomed.  They are under investigation.  They are going case by case.  Internal affairs is going to weed out the cops that don't need to be there.  They are going to look at each circumstance and exit the ones that shouldn't be there. 

The ones that had a legitimate excuse, you know, once they have been investigated and cleared, I think the rank-and-file will accept them.  But they don't want the guys that left in the face of the storm. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  Thank you so much, Heath Allen, as always.

And, Julia Reed, greatly appreciate it. 

I want to bring in Tucker Carlson right now.  He, of course, is the host of “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.” 

Tucker, what do you think about these all punks who were paid their entire lives, working lives, to protect people and, when they need them the most, they walk off the job?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  I think it's sickening. 

And if you looked at polls on this subject, you would find people had a lot more respect for the New Orleans Police Department than they do for journalists, which is a shame.  They're wrong, because it was the reporters that went in and a lot of the cops that took off.  It's shameful.  I hope they're all fired.

Tonight, we are going to talking about something else that is shameful, Joe, the release of more pictures from Abu Ghraib.  We all know exactly what happened there.  The release of more pictures will only be used for propaganda purposes to hurt Americans.  But a Clinton judge has decided, for educational reasons, they ought to be released.  We are going to debate that and many other things.  We will give you the latest on the wildfires, too. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, looking forward to it, Tucker.  Thanks so much. 

CARLSON:  Thanks.

SCARBOROUGH:  And make sure you tune into “THE SITUATION” next at 11:00.  I do it every night.  It's must-see TV. 

And coming up next, we are going to go back live to Southern California, going to get the very latest on the fires burning thousands of acres and several homes. 

That's when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  MSNBC.com has just posted on its site, just three minutes ago, this AP report out of Los Angeles, 10:51 p.m.

A wind whipped 16,000 acre wildfires racing across hills and canyons along Los Angeles' northwestern edge Thursday, threatening homes and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate.  The Red Cross has already reported 600 people are staying in five of its shelters. 

We will be back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  With only 5 percent of the firestorms under control, fire officials are hoping that the fact that the temperatures are dropping in L.A. will help firefighters throughout the evening. 

We'll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, that's all the time we have for tonight.

But now, I am proud to toss it to a man who is known fondly in my household as Dave Grohl's former neighbor, Tucker Carlson. 

Tucker, what's the situation? 

CARLSON:  That's pretty former.  But thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is former.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Yes. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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