One story out of California hits especially close to home for Oprah. At 5:45 p.m. on November 13, 2008, a raging fire broke out in her neighborhood in Montecito, California. The most recent reports say that as many as 100 homes have been destroyed and as many as 5,400 residents have been evacuated. "This fire's about 2 miles from my house," she says. "Some of my friends left their homes with only their dogs last night. I was calling [asking], 'Are you all right? Are you all right?' They said, 'We have the dogs, and the kids aren't here, so we're okay.'"
KABC-TV reporter Scott Reiff is calling from a helicopter that's hovering over the scene of the fire. He says last night's heavy winds of up to 70 miles per hour made the fight against the flames extremely difficult. "Most of these homes are nestled up into the hills along the Los Padres National Forest. There's a lot of brush around them," he says. "That's what makes this area so gorgeous. With that, though, these homes are almost impossible to defend when we have these high winds, and the firefighters just really cannot do much." Instead, Scott says efforts were focused on evacuation. "It was just a matter of, 'Let's get everybody out of here; let's save the people.'"
Scott says there have been no deaths or major injuries due to the fire. "The latest reports say ... 13 people were injured—10 with smoke inhalation, three with burns—but all of that minor," he says. "It appears that everyone [escaped. The firefighters] did get in quickly; they did get everyone out." Since the area has many windy roads, Scott says it's a miracle that no one got trapped in their homes.
Today does bring some positive news out of this tragic story, Scott says. "The godsend right now [is that] there are no winds," he says. "With that, they'll be able to save these homes." And though the fire hasn't been contained, Scott says it's static. "It has stalled, and that's the best word you can hear when it comes to a fire."
Rob Lowe photo: WireImage
Rob says he drove straight to a friend's house to make sure the family was safe. Though his friends were able to evacuate, their next-door neighbors were trapped behind a gate. "Their daughter was lost on the property, so another gentleman and I pried the gates open," Rob says. "He went up into the property to look for her; I went to comfort [the family]. Embers were raining down—they were in our hair, they were in our shirts. The wind was easily 70 miles per hour, and it was absolutely Armageddon."
Fortunately, Rob's house survived because he says the winds were blowing opposite of where he lived. When he left his home, he says he only had time to make sure the family got out safely. "We just left with the kids," he says. "It was so close to people who we know and love's homes, that's what I was thinking about. ...They had eight minutes to get out. This thing came on so fast, you just can't believe it."
Oprah says seeing a fire so close to where she lives made her see this kind of tragedy in a new light. "From now on I'll have so much more empathy and compassion for people who are going through it," she says. "When it's in your neighborhood, when it's your friends, your house, you feel differently about it."
Though Oprah wasn't home when the fire started, she says if she had been, she knows what she would have saved. "I don't have kids so the most important thing for me is my dogs," she says. "And my little dog Sophie's ashes."
The vote overturns a previous ruling from May 2008 that made same-sex marriage legal in California. Protests against the proposition have been taking place every day since the election, and people on both sides of the debate have been speaking out. "This vote is horrible," political commentator Keith Olbermann said on his show Countdown with Keith Olbermann. "This isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics. This is about the human heart."
The Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church told Fox News he was in favor of the proposition. "I absolutely believe in loving everybody, giving respect to everybody and giving everybody the freedom of choice," he says. "I just am opposed to redefining marriage. For 5,000 years that term, 'marriage,' has represented a man and a woman."
Melissa says she thinks part of the reason Proposition 8 passed was that the wording on the ballot was confusing. "If you vote yes, it means no, [you don't want gay marriage to be legal]. If you vote no, it means yes, [you want gay marriage to be legal]," she says. "It was very complicated."
The passage of Proposition 8 also brings up complex issues about the separation of church and state, Melissa says. Some people believe marriage is about religion, whereas she believes it's about civil rights. "We are a country that allows all religious freedoms. It's wonderful," she says. "But, I [should] still get to have the same rights as you do."
Melissa says their fate is still undecided. "What I've heard is the courts are trying to decide [if] this nullifies those [18,000] marriages or if they can still go forward," she says. "If you nullify it, just taking rights away from people blows my mind. But if you okay it, then Ellen and Portia can be married, but Tammy and I can't? What sense does that make?"
Oftentimes, Tammy says people get hung up on the word "marriage" when discussing gay couples. "I would like to see more people looking at just making sure we all have the same rights," she says. "Who cares what kind of fistful of letters you want to call your relationship?"
Currently, Melissa and Tammy are bound by a civil union, which was made legal by former California Governor Gray Davis. They may be recognized as domestic partners, but Melissa says this classification does not guarantee them the same rights as married couples. For instance, Melissa says they can't file the same income tax return. "There's a lot of things people take for granted in a marriage—[like] combining two incomes into a household," she says.
In a recent blog posting about the passage of Proposition 8, Melissa vented her frustration by saying she would stop paying taxes. "I tell people I have until April to make true on that blog," she says. "That was [me] letting off a lot of steam. What I wanted to do was show the absurdity of a populous thinking they can take a right away or deny someone a right ... and yet feel completely fine taking 100 percent of our taxes. It doesn't make sense."
Melissa says she was also inspired by the unity she saw on Election Day. "We feel this feeling of unity coming over not only just our country ... this feeling of oneness, this feeling of understanding," she says. "I feel you all know we can't be left behind. There's no more 'us' and 'them.' There's no more, 'We get these rights, but they don't.' That's last century—we're moving on."
"I feel that hope too," Oprah says. "You said it as beautifully as could be said."
This at-home genetics test, which costs $399, was developed by 23andMe, a company founded by Linda Avey, a mother of three, and Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Linda and Anne say the test once cost $1,000, but as technology evolves, the price goes down.
Thanks to these women, genetics testing is now as easy as spitting into a test tube. How does it work? First, you log on to their website, 23andMe.com, and order the service. Then, they ship you a saliva kit, which you spit into and mail back. "It gets sent off to the laboratory, where they read these 600,000 points in your genome," Linda says. "Then, about four to six weeks later, you get an e-mail from us that your account has been set up. You log in, and that's when you can start exploring your genome."
Oprah says the identification and interpretation of 600,000 genetic markers will estimate your predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions, including your odds of developing cancer, having a heart attack or a stroke and going blind.
Anne, who is nine months pregnant, says she already knows some things about her unborn child. By comparing her results with her husband's, she says she can make some educated guesses. "I looked at Sergey's profile and I looked at me, and we saw that the child has a 50 percent [chance of being] lactose intolerant," she says. "Because of Sergey, the child has a very, very unlikely chance of having blue eyes."
Most importantly, Anne says her husband discovered he's a carrier for a genetic marker that puts him at high risk for Parkinson's disease. "That means that our child also has a chance—a 50 percent chance—of getting that marker from Sergey, so he would also be at high risk for Parkinson's," she says. "It's really changed our life because we've really become focused on how we can enable Parkinson's research."
While some people may not want to know what to expect in the future, Linda says they're happy to give others the choice. "We believe in rights for people to have the opportunity to do this, but if you don't want to do it, you absolutely shouldn't. It's not for everyone," she says. "This is the chance for you to finally get access to your own genetics, and if you want to do that, this is one means of getting it."
Dr. Oz also found out he's 30 percent less likely than the average man is of developing prostate cancer. Which means, he can be a little less diligent about scheduling regular prostate examinations. "Think of the trade-off," he says. "Thanks to this test, I don't have to have rectal exams."
With this test, Dr. Oz believes medical care can become customizable for each patient. "On the show, we are always giving people advice, but in fairness, I'm talking to most people not all people," Dr. Oz says. "With this technology, we can avoid the shotgun approach that we traditionally use in not only giving people advice on their health, but also prescribing them drugs that we think will work for most people, but we know will not work for all."
Some critics of DNA testing say the results could cause genetic discrimination, but Dr. Oz believes it's all about choice. "If you don't want to know your data, that's fine too," Dr. Oz says. "But if you poll Americans and you say, 'Listen, we're going to give you data that you can use to change your life'—for example, eating more leafy green vegetables or maybe not being prescribed a drug that won't work for you—I think most Americans will say, 'I'll take that chance.'"
Dr. Oz also thinks this technology could help people around the world. "As more and more humans take the test—not just Americans or Europeans—we're going to be able to look across the planet to build health in humanity," he says.
Photo: Mandell Ngan -AFP/Getty Images
The following day, Oprah says President George W. Bush gave a gracious interview to CNN about his first impression of America's next leader. "One of the things that President-elect Obama was really interested in after we had our policy discussions was how his little girls would like the White House," President Bush said during the interview. "First and foremost, [he wants to be] a good dad. I think it's going to be an important part of his presidency."
"I just think the role model as father for this country is so fantastic for all of us," Oprah says.
Gayle agrees. "It's beautiful to see."
To get a ticket, Oprah says you must contact your senator or congressman. "This year, they will be distributing 240,000 tickets, and they are free, but they won't be given out until the week or two before the inauguration," she says. "That ticket is for the swearing in ceremony only—no balls, no parties."
According to reports, more than 1 million people are expected to travel to Washington, D.C., for the January 20, 2009, ceremony.
Photo: Libby Moore
Watch Oprah's tribute to Solomon.
Oprah has had a number of dogs over the years, but she says she felt closest to Sophie and Solomon. "They were like my little children," she says. Oprah received Solomon as a Christmas gift from Stedman in December 1994, and from the moment she laid eyes on him, she says she knew he had her. "What I didn't know was how he would change my life," she says.
For 14 years, Solomon stood by Oprah's side, traveled the world and became a bit of a celebrity in his own right. But Oprah says simple treats like doggie biscuits and belly rubs really made his eyes light up.
"For me, Solomon was pure, unconditional love. He was our family, and as we said goodbye one last teary time, I knew that not only have I loved him every day of his 14-year life, but I'm a better person because he loved me back," Oprah says.