Top network news crews report to SoCal fire lines

Anchors, producers rush from N.Y.

The Big Three network evening newscasts have made the Southern California wildfires a major priority, dispatching the network's anchors to the region overnight Monday.

With 500,000 people fleeing wildfires from north of Los Angeles to San Diego, the newscasts and the cable networks are devoting major amounts of airtime to the coverage. NBC's Brian Williams, ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS' Katie Couric all are reporting live from the San Diego area, where the worst of the fires are located.

Much of Monday's newscasts were devoted to the fire while the anchors were on the East Coast. Williams left late Monday in a chartered jet from White Plains, N.Y., to San Diego, arriving at about 7 a.m. Tuesday. He reported all day from San Diego for CNBC, MSNBC and NBC and will anchor from California at least through today.

Gibson and his executive producer Jon Banner also flew all night and arrived in Los Angeles. Gibson took a chopper ride over the fires on his way down to San Diego, where he reported from Tuesday.

"A lot of these people have gone through lots of fires before, but many of them have said they haven't seen anything like this before," Banner said from San Diego. Banner noted that on the drive south from Los Angeles to San Diego, the smoke was so bad that in broad daylight cars had to put their headlights on.

Unlike Williams and Gibson, Couric wasn't in New York when the call was made to send her to Southern California; she had been reporting political stories from New Hampshire on Monday. Couric has joined correspondents Dean Reynolds, Bill Whitaker and John Blackstone and reported Tuesday night from San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, where many fire refugees were being housed. So was Williams.

Each of the network news broadcasts were going to do a live West Coast feed to update the changing stories. About half of Monday's broadcast went to the fires; Tuesday's and today's would be even more, "NBC Nightly News" executive producer Alexandra Wallace said.

"You want to devote the time that it warrants, and this warrants a lot," Wallace said.

In a neighborhood where ABC's Gibson was reporting in Tuesday, three homes had been destroyed while two homes across the street were untouched. Banner said he was amazed by the randomness of the Santa Ana winds but said he was also heartened by the community's response.

"The fire trucks are being applauded as they drive by, and people are trying to watch out for one another," Banner said.

On the cable side, Fox News Channel has a team in California that includes Geraldo Rivera, Trace Gallagher, Adam Housely and Jonathan Hunt. CNN has brought out Anderson Cooper, John Roberts, Gerri Willis and others. MSNBC has drawn on NBC talent including Williams and Lester Holt.

Meanwhile, the rich and famous of Hollywood couldn't evade the devastating fires as stars traded their beachfront homes for shelter in posh hotels.

Kelsey Grammer was among those who fled Malibu. He made light of the evacuation for the sake of his 6-year-old, Mason.

"My daughter was nervous in the beginning," he told E! on Monday. "I said: 'Oh, honey, it's nothing. Just relax. Come on, we're going to have some fun.' So she shined the flashlight around and we got out. … We're safe. We got the dog, we got the kids."

His house remained untouched Tuesday, said his publicist, Stan Rosenfield.

Malibu resident Jane Seymour was sweeping across the stage Monday on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" while her husband, actor-director James Keach, protected their house.

"The fire is close to our home, and there was a mandatory evacuation. My husband is illegally there, fighting the fire," Seymour told People magazine. She stayed focused on her performance "with great difficulty," she said.

"I actually decided to abandon my cell phone today," the actress said. "I told a friend if there's something I need to know, then let me know."

The couple's home was undamaged and didn't appear to be in any imminent danger Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman, Susan Madore.

Tori Spelling and her husband, Dean McDermott, whose San Diego County bed-and-breakfast is featured on their Oxygen show "Tori & Dean: Inn Love," learned Monday that the Fallbrook-area B&B had been evacuated, along with the town.

"Fallbrook is obviously very near and dear to our hearts, so we're really worried about the people that live there; there are such great people in that little town," Spelling told "Entertainment Tonight."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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