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tv   At This Hour With Kate Bolduan  CNN  December 31, 2021 8:00am-9:00am PST

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out of colorado where a state of emergency is in effect right now. two massive wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate with very little warning. the fires are burning near boulder. they exploded out of nowhere thursday. fueled by winds as high as 115 miles per hour. officials say these fires are likely to be the most destructive wildfires in the state's history. colorado's governor is taking an
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aerial tour of the damage right now. these are live pictures. we are expecting an update from him and local officials in a briefing in the next hour. cnn's natasha chen is standing by in boulder with the breaking details. when we say this came out of nowhere, people really didn't have notice to evacuate, did they? >> the scenes that we have observed from people taking cell phone video and those really frightening moments show that they were running from debris and ash raining down on them. once they got in their cars it was difficult to see anything at all. we're talking about hazy, orange skies. really making it difficult for them to see where they were going a frightening situation. right now we're in the town of superior. it's just outside of boulder. we also visited the town of louisville where neighborhoods were burned out.
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across the city, hot spots are still gone on. here are a couple residents talking about the very frightening experience of leavingi itheir homes. >> knowing that the fire is only blocks away. knowing that you could never see those family photos again, that part was harder than seeing the devastation. >> we really started to see the sky turn dark. we sensed there was a bad fire, but we didn't know that there was an intense fire right beside us. >> we got into the car, our faces were covered in black ash and debris. we had masks on. it was in our mouths. >> just an example of what people are going to find once they come back to their neighborhoods and see what's left. we're already hearing from folks like the university of colorado boulder assistant football coach
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who said he's lost every material possession he has and has to start completely over again. just really devastating stories here. i'm sure we'll hear more of that as people start to discover the fate of their homes. >> and we just saw those aerial pictures that the governor is also seeing. they're just stunning. it looks like a bomb was just dropped in these areas. you see the smoke in the air and so many neighborhoods completely damaged. the homes are not standing anymore. all you see is ash and smoke and some homes here and there scattered that were able to escape this ferocious wildfire driven by these really strong hurricane-force winds. the national weather service says a truly historic windstorm fanned these wildfires, but high winds are not the only thing
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fueling the fires. jennifer gray has more on that now. jen? >> you're right. the drought situation in colorado is one contributing factor to the wildfires. 100% of the state is under drought conditions right now. in fact, more than 65% of the state in a severe or extreme drought. you can see that bright red near the boulder area. now, this year was the latest first snowfall for denver which happened on december 10th. it wasn't much at all. over the last six months, denver only received about an inch of rain. incredibly dry across the region. but the snowfall is coming. we could see 4 to 8 inches of snow for the region. this is the radar right now. you can see it's already starting to come down. it will come down all the way throughout the day on saturday before it starts to wrap up. so we are going to get intense snowfall over the next few days. so i do think this will be
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welcomed when you're talking about the drought situation as well as those fires. >> all right. jennifer gray, thank you so much for that. so to talk more about this are the mayors of the two hardest hit towns in the boulder area. we have clint fulsome, mayor of superior, colorado and ashley stolzman, mayor of louisville, colorado. i want to start with the devastating damage. first of all, to you, mayor fulsome. tell us about the destruction you're seeing. this could be the most destructive wildfire in colorado's history. >> that's right. thanks for having us on today. it's complete devastation. i was able to tour the area yesterday evening with the town manager and sheriff's sergeant and we just witnessed incredible devastation around the town. then also witnessed houses just
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exploding right before our eyes. it was one of the most disturbing situations i have ever been in. >> can you tell me about how quickly you had to evacuate from your home, mayor? i know you had to run out pretty quickly. >> it was minutes of notice. i was actually out of town during the evacuation. my family rallied very quickly and, you know, just had minutes to get out. same stories all across town. people just had very little time to get out. usually in a situation like this, you have a little bit of time, a little bit of advanced warning, but these winds were just unprecedented. the dry conditions, it just all combined for a tragic situation. >> mayor stolzman, what are you seeing from your vantage point?
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from the pictures we're seeing, you can see entire subdivisions were taken out by this fire. >> this tragedy absolutely touches everyone in our community. we're a very tight-knit community. the amount of devastation touches everyone in our community. we are so grateful for the hard work of the first responders, not just from the local up tos but all the first responds who came in from out of town. >> do you know if everyone has been accounted for given the nature of how quickly these fires ripped through the various neighborhoods? >> you know, there's not an accounting system of people, so we had really strong evacuation, i visited the evacuation centers last night and saw lots of neighbors and folks from towns. >> mayor folsom, i'm just trying
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to imagine, i've been through a hurricane before. in these dry conditions, fueling a fire, we're talking about 115-mile-per-hour winds. can you just talk to us about your experiences in the past? have you ever seen anything like this before? >> you know, high-windstorm events are not unusual in the colorado winters in the front range and in other parts of the state. we have certainly had winds like this, though something of this strength was definitely out of the norm. i guess this was always a fear, you know, you would see dry grasses in the great open spaces that we have next to us, and, you know, we all cherish that space for views and hiking and biking trails, but when it gets so dry and then you combine that
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with wind and some fire, it just becomes a tragic recipe. >> what are you hearing, mayor folsom, about the potential cause of this? >> i have not received any information on that. >> mayor stolzmann, have you heard anything? >> the official cause is not determined, the conjecture was downed powerlines but the official cause has not been released. >> it's new year's eve, we've all been dealing with this pandemic and now you have these fires that have ripped through so many of your communities, people will be without a home. they're -- from what i understand looking at facebook pages, people are still looking for their loved ones, animals, pets. what is your message to the people in your community? we'll start with you, mayor stolzmann. >> thank you.
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yeah. our community has been very strong supporting each other almost over the last year -- >> it looks like both mayors, but we'll stay on top of this breaking news story as we are seeing these devastating pictures of the aftermath of these fires that ripped through at times driven by these 100-mile-per-hour winds. hurricane-force winds. there will be a briefing in less than an hour from now. we'll bring that to you as soon as it happens. coming up, the u.s. is seeing explosive growth in covid cases and sending more kids to the hospital in record numbers. we'll have the latest on the pandemic when we come back. for . it goes on clear. no mess just soothing comfort. try new vicks vapostick.
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the coronavirus is raging across america in the final hours of 2021. the u.s. once again shattering its record, now averaging more than 355,000 new cases a day. more than 90,000 people with covid are sick enough to be hospitalized. most since mid-september. and the number of children being admitted to the hospital with covid is at the highest level ever. it comes as the fda is expected to authorize pfizer booster shots for 12-year-olds to 15-year-olds soon. cnn's elizabeth cohen joins us with more. so how soon could we start seeing shots in arms for this age group? >> cnn hears from sources that it could be just days before children ages 12 to 15 are allowed to go out and get booster shots, something people over the age of 16 have been doing for weeks now. when these children go back to school, this is how many children, if this all happens, will be eligible for booster shots.
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if the fda and the cdc give the green light, there are 4 million children ages 12 to 15 who are already oeligible for a booster shot because they're at least six months past their initial shots. another 4.7 million have received their shots but received their shots more recently so they would be eligible in the weeks to months to come. boosters are great, but as children are going back to school, ages 5 to 11, 14% -- only 14% of children that age have been fully vaccinated. if you are looking at 12-year-olds to 17-year-olds, only 53% have been vaccinated. to in other words, when they go back to school next week with omicron raging, only that percentage are fully vaccinated. and this as hospitalizations among children are on the rise. let's take a look. the peak for children being admitted to the hospital was in september. that was an average of about 342 children being admitted per day.
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now we're at 378. that number is only going to go up. >> yeah. obviously concerning. thank you very much. the explosion of covid cases leading to more subdued celebrations to usher in the new year. several major cities have either canceled or altered their new year's celebrations. hoping to discourage revelers from spreading the virus. paula sandoval is live in times square with more. the ball drop celebration will go on but not at the scale we have seen before. >> yeah. those massive crowds won't be back this year, but just consider alone what we've seen around the world in some of the world's largest cities, not scaling back but just canceling many of these new year's celebrations. the list goes on and on, paris, rome, atlanta as well.
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but also those that are scaling back. in new zealand, instead of going with their annual fireworks show, they turned it to a light show. you also saw a big celebration happening in sydney where officials are certainly hoping that many people celebrate from home and give them an opportunity to actually participate by watching these kinds of displays. but for those in-person celebrations, they're scaling them back considerably. that's what we're going to see tonight here in new york city where authorities say that the show is going to have to go on. in fact, as we heard from mayor bill deblasio in some of his final days in office before the next administration takes over, they said they want to send a message to the world that they'll be fighting through this while taking significant steps, that includes making sure those 15,000 people who are allowed to come into times square are masked, vaccinated and hopefully socially distanced. that's why they're greatly reducing the number of folks allowed in times square tonight. >> thank you. joining me now is a
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professor of infectious diseases at the university of alabama birmingham. welcome to you, doctor. first off, let's focus on this alarming rise of hospitalizations for kids. up nearly 70% from last week. how concerned are you about these numbers, especially as schools, classrooms are set to reopen in the coming days. >> right. i'm extremely concerned like everyone else who has been sounding the alarm, particularly about the low vaccination rate in the kids that we're talking about who are being infected, as i said before, we're around 8% coverage in alabama for this age group. it's really worrisome. remember, this is a function of simple math. the explosive rise in cases is really fueling what normally might be a relatively small proportion of kids who are experiencing these severe outcomes. but you put the gigantic numbers
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of cases together with the small number affected plus the proportion of unvaccinated and i'm really worried that we'll be in for a tidal wave of admissions, particularly for kids in the coming weeks. >> how do you advise parents who want to send their kids to in-person learning, right, but let's say -- here in georgia, there's a lot of schools that don't have mask mandates. if you're a parent who wants their child to mask up and you send them to school that way, without any guarantee that the child next to them or the teacher will be wearing a mask, is that safe? should they wait a few days or a week or two before sending their kids back into the classroom? >> there are so many concerns at play here. everyone, i think, agrees that in-person learning and the loss of in-person learning the last couple of years is probably going to have a devastating and really unprecedented effect on kids. we just don't know what that's going to look like. so anything we can do to safely get kids back to school, especially for parents who are
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really struggling trying to work with their job responsibilities and everything else. the key thing here is that masks are important. i personally would really emphasize the need for masks if kids are going back. the fundamental thing to do is to get everybody vaccinated if you possibly can. what i try to talk to parents about who have legitimate fears about vaccination safety, they're caring, they care about their kids, is that the risk of these vaccines so far in kids is so, so much less likely than the risk of these severe outcomes we're talking about. so it's really a game of trying to figure out what is best for your kid. right now almost all the hospitalizations that we're seeing in children are among unvaccinated children. really critical point to emphasize. >> how safe are outdoor play dates given that omicron is so infectious? >> it's a great question. we spent a lot of time early on in the pandemic talking about
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running, bicycling, all sorts of stuff, and whether you could get infected by tailing somebody on a bicycle. i suspect that we are going to see more infectiousness with outdoor activities. that said, it's so much safer outdoors because of obviously the ventilation advantage and the circulation advantage. it's another thing i don't think we want to take away from kids. please get outside, get some fresh air, do exercise in a way that feels good and i don't think that's one more thing that we really need to, again, take away. >> it's all about balance, isn't it? doctor, appreciate your expertise. thank you very much. happy and healthy new year to you. >> same to you. thanks. >> thank you. coming up, did president biden's call with vladimir putin do anything to defuse tensions? we'll tell you how the white house and kremlin are spinning it next. never seemed to take on. everything felt like a 'no'. everything.
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moscow with more. how did the talks go, nic? >> both sides came out saying they were positive, constructive. both sides seem to understand there's areas where they can have agreement and areas where there will be disagreement. the big question going forward is how big with those areas of disagreement. putin wants clarity over nato and ukraine. when it comes down to the content of that conversation, the kremlin reported it out this way. they said president biden told president putin that if he doesn't reduce the tensions on the border with ukraine, ie remove troops, there will be big sanctions, economic, military and financial sanctions. that was how the russians read it. president putin, the kremlin spokesman replied saying if you do that, that will rupture bilateral relations. it will be a colossal mistake. a mistake that will be felt across the generations. on that key question of is russia or will russia reduce its troops on the border with
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ukraine, the kremlin spokesman said, look, what president putin told president biden was i'm going to continue with my troops, my russian troops where they are just as you would if there were russian troops across the border from the united states. this sort of equation that putin is implying here, nato troops on the eastern borders of europe, close to russia, with the scenario that's happening on the border with ukraine and his troops. you know, both sides have come out of this knowing where the red lines are. that's about as good as it's going to get right now. >> all right. nic robertson, thank you for breaking that down for us. joining me now is william taylor, the former u.s. ambassador to ukraine. ambassador, thank you very much for your time. you heard from nic robertson that they're both drawing the red line. putin saying, look, i'm not going to withdraw my troops just as nato is not going to. what did these talks accomplish
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if anything? >> i think these talks emphasized the importance of the conversations, the dialogue, the discussions that will take place in geneva and vienna and brussels in the first half of january. that's the route. it's the conversations. it's the dialogue that will look for ways to reduce the tensions, to resolve the conflicts. this is the kind of thing that needs to happen and it is scheduled to happen next week. so the conversation yesterday set the stage for those conversations. >> what tools does the u.s. have available right now to continue to put pressure on putin moving forward? it seemed like a frank conversation. biden saying you better not invade ukraine, putin saying if you impose sanctions it's going to be a huge mistake in our bilateral relations. are the options limited since the u.s. has this really fine line -- looks like we lost the
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ambassador's signal there. we'll take a short break from here. coming up, colorado's governor responding to public outcry over a prison sentence many said was too harsh against a truck driver involved in a deadly crash. that truck driver's lawyer reacts to his commuted sentence. that's next. do your eyes bother you? my eyes feel like a combo of stressed, dry and sandpaper. strypaper?
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back with me is william taylor, the former u.s. ambassador to ukraine. glad we have you back. i was in the middle of asking you what can and should the u.s. do if russia invades or what can they do to prevent it, first of all? >> that's the right question. the question is how to deter an invasion. the conversations leading up to yesterday and yesterday's conversation made it clear that there would be very high costs to the russians if they decide to invade. this is the decision -- the decision point is with the russians. indeed with mr. putin, which is why it's a good thing to have the conversation between president biden and president putin. the costs would be very high.
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economically. the sanctions they talked about are clear. the other thing, of course, is the ukrainian army is much better off, much stronger, much better led, much better equipped than in 2014 when the russians invaded at that time. and the ukrainians are defending their own land. the russians are attacking what most russians think of as a friendly neighbor. so this will be a very high cost. in addition, the united states and nato has decided it will do two things if the russians invade. one is it will provide additional assistance, military assistance, weapons to the ukrainians to allow them to defend themselves. and nato will also redeploy units, military units from the united states, from other parts of europe to the eastern allies, the eastern nato allies. so the costs to mr. putin are
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very high. the question is exactly the one you asked, how to deter and hopefully these measures will indicate, will have president putin recognize that these costs are not worth it. >> everyone intends to deter escalation on both sides. ambassador william taylor, thank you very much. >> thank you. developing this morning, colorado's governor has commuted the 110-year prison term of a truck driver down to ten years for his role in a fatal crash that killed four people. the case of rogel aguilera-mederos gained national attention after advocates called his century-plus punishment harsh. he said the brakes on his semi truck failed causing him to plow into traffic. governor jared polis said in a letter that the life sentence was inappropriate for a tragic but unintentional act. joining me now is leonard
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martinez, an attorney for mr. aguilera-mederos. thank you very much for joining me on this new year's eve. first off, your reaction and your client's reaction to this move by the governor. >> obviously we're grateful for the governor, first of all, to take the application for clemency, doing his due diligence. his office and him worked hard in the last few weeks and we're grateful for the chance for my client now that went from 110 years now to ten years with the possibility of parole in five. >> i wanted to bring this up to you because the denver post's editorial board a few weeks ago called on the governor to do what he just did, commute your client's sentence. the paper compared your client's case to that of former boulder mayor, bob greel ey who killed woman in a car accident, he was driving aggressively and he got
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a plea deal, ten years probation and ordered to pay money to charity. i wonder if you think ten years behind bars is still too long. >> we do. again, we're grateful for the governor for this consideration, but when you take cases not only nationally, cases within colorado and cases within jefferson county themselves, most of those cases dealing with vehicular homicide deal with dui or drugs in their system. and they've gotten a lot less than what my client is getting including the ten years. so when you look at that and you look at other cases and it doesn't add up when you see that 110 years and now ten years, when you look at other cases that are similar. you scratch your head and try to figure out what's going on here. >> this came ahead of a hearing to reconsider his sentence on monday. that was less than two weeks away what would have happened,
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do you believe, if the governor did not commute the sentence. >> we would have had a hearing. the judge set a hearing for january 13th. i think the judge would have had in front of him a reconsideration. it was actually filed, which is unusual by the district attorney's office. it was asking the judge to reconsider his sentence. now that his hands are no longer tied, he can reconsider the sentence. there would have been a hearing. i think the judge was asking for limited tell the from the victims and he would have reconsidered whether 110 years was way too long. >> there's been a huge outcry to aguilera-mederos' case as i'm sure you have been following, and criticism against the criminal justice sentence and the mandatory guidelines in states. i imagine you're on that side that there needs to be reform? >> absolutely.
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you see what happened in this case and with something that some people are calling a simple accident. we got to remember, there were four lives lost in this case. my heart goes out to the victims and their families. but when you're dealing with a case like this, and there's 110-year sentence given to one individual and what could be considered negligence, you have to question the judicial system which includes the mandatory minim min minimums, they have to be addressed and this case spotlights what needs to be addressed in it. >> appreciate you joining me on this new year's eve. thank you very much. happy, healthy 2022 to you. >> and to you, too. thank you for having me. >> thank you. and this just in, leaders at the zoo in naples, florida responding publicly after their tiger was shot to save a man who was attacked after he put his hand into the animal's enclosure. the collier county sheriff's office released body cam video.
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we want to warn you, it's quite graphic. it captures deputies responding to the scene and their attempts to free the man from the tiger's grip. you can hear the man repeatedly screaming for help saying please. deputies eventually shot and killed the tiger to free that man. the injured man may now face charges, but the zoo is wishing him well as they grieve the loss of their tiger. >> it was a bad mistake, bad decision, but we only wish him well in the recovery. i want to say that from the heart. we closed the zoo yesterday to give our staff time to grieve. we're continuing to give them time to grieve. we've arranged for a grief counselor. that's how significant this is. this is a huge impact for all of us. >> the zoo said they support the decision to shoot the tiger adding their employees would have done the same thing under the circumstances.
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coming up, georgia hospitals working together to sound the alarm about the covid surge. we'll talk to atlanta's mayor about how her city is handling the demands on hospitals.
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as the omicron variant surges across the country, doctors are pleading with the unvaccinated to get a covid vaccine. in georgia, six hospitals in the atlanta area joined forces this week to urge residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible. it comes as hospitals in the state report a staggering increase in the number of covid
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patients that are hospitalized. of course, the vast majority of them unvaccinated. joining me now is atlanta mayor keisha lance bottoms whose last day in office is monday. it's a pleasure to have you on, and thanks so much for joining us on this new year's eve, mayor. first off, will you please tell us what's going on in the hospitals in atlanta and how they are coping during the surge. >> well, thank you for having me. what we are seeing is very troubling w.reseeing a record number of covid patients in our hospitals. our record high was 162 last january. we are now over 170 at grady hospital which is the largest trauma center in the southeastern united states, so we are seeing over 80% capacity in our hospitals. over 80% icu capacity, and particularly when it comes to grady hospital which is in the heart of downtown atlanta, when you have a major trauma center, you obviously have people coming
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in with heart attacks and other issues, and at the point that we are having to divert ambulance service from grady hospital to other hospitals, and grady is normally our overflow hospital, then that should be a concern for all of us. >> wow. ambulances are being turned away at the grady trauma center. yeah, that is concerning. since this recent spike in cases, mayor, you reinstated the city's indoor mask mandate, and you just recently cancelled the new year's eve peach drop. it was a second year in a row that you have had to do this. what was behind your decision and why not have a scaleddown event like new york only outdoors with a vaccine and mask requirement? >> well, one of the challenges that we have in our state is really about the disagreement between my office as mayor and with the governor, so we don't
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have the ability to -- to require vaccinations and to require masks in the public setting so that was going to be one challenge for us, but also when our major trauma center is almost at capacity, we have to think about large-scale events, so i was less concerned based on input from public health professionals about transmission and then outdoor settings, less concerned about that but more concerned about what a large event like this, the issues it could create when you're dealing with coordination of public safety in addition to where we are with this health emergency in our state, so we thought that it would be best to cancel this event. we would rather be safe than be sorry and, again, if people would simply get vaccinated, if they would get their booster shots, then we can all get back
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to normal at some point. my husband has recently had a breakthrough case of covid. he had a very, very, very tough time with covid when he was infected in 2020. this time went easy but it didn't compare to what he experienced the last time so vaccinations make a difference. >> georgia has a low vaccination rate compared to other parts of the country, just 53% fully vaccinated. before we go, mayor, you are the first modern era atlanta mayor not to seek a second term. i know you've been asked this a million times so here we go, a million and one. your last day in office is monday. what's next for you? will we see you run for office again? >> i will never say never. right now i'm just going to take some time to breathe and do normal things like get my house in order which people do at the end of the year and then i'll be able to make some decisions very
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soon. i'm very grateful that i have some very good opportunities for me and it's the honor of my life to serve of as mayor of than thea. >> bewish you all the best. i know your four years, you faced a lot of challenges including this pandemic that we continue to deal with and all of the up rest that we saw in the city. all the best to you, happy new year. >> happy new year. colorado's governor is about to hold a briefing on these historic wildfires. we will bring it to you live as soon as it happens. that is the big breaking news we are following today. cnn newsroom with phil mattingly starts after this quick break.
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hello and welcome to the new
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year's eve edition of cnn newsroom. we're currently getting be a up date from colorado's governor on the fast moving wildfires that destroyed several suburban county homes. >> actually given the events that we had yesterday pretty miraculous. we were fortunate that the winds dissipated last night. we're expecting snow today. that snow has already started. we're hoping to see three to six inches of snow and some good moisture. that's certainly going to help our efforts. this morning governor polis, myself and others flew over the area to assess the damage. we know there are approximately 2,000 homes in the burnt area. we certainly did not lose 2,000 homes. we did see entire subdivisions as i talked about last night, the west side of superior, parts of superior that are totally gone that. accounts easily for 500 ho

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