COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

George Chamberlin on the Markets

The fires of San Diego County. As a 40-year resident of the North County, I have been through a number of fires. The burn a few years ago that sent flames rushing from Ramona to the shores of Solana Beach was as frightening as anything I ever experienced. And the region's dedicated firefighters and other heroes learned a lot about dealing with such a crisis. What happened yesterday -- and what makes responses so difficult -- is the growing speculation that these were not natural disasters. I think county Supervisor Bill Horn deserves kudos for raising the question about the possibility of arson.

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On a personal note, my daughter and her family were evacuated from the fire near California State University, San Marcos and were able to camp with us last night. Try to explain to a 10-year-old what is happening and how there is a chance the home where she lives possibly may be destroyed. Fortunately it appears their home survived the fire. Thank goodness the loss of property has not been matched by a loss of life. Be safe and never underestimate the power of fire.

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One more note and, again, this is personal. As I watched the progression of the fires in the North County I kept asking when are they going to divert some assets to San Marcos to attack the blaze threatening CSUSM and thousands of residences. The Lakeside fire started well after San Marcos and it was surrounded immediately. Even the reporters in San Marcos -- who kept referring to it as the Lake Hodges fire -- began asking when firefighters might begin water drops and bring in some ground forces. As a result, the fire continues to burn uncontrolled this morning and is still a threat to San Elijo, one of the most populated areas -- the reporters call it Elfin Forest -- in the region. When I left my home at 3:30 this morning you could still see the glow in the hills of San Marcos and see the path heading to Escondido and threatening the new Palomar hospital.

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Life goes on and there are a number of important economic reports hitting the wires today. Unfortunately they are not helping the stock market. Yesterday the Dow industrials fell 106 points following three days in a row of record closing highs and another triple-digit loss could be shaping up today.

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The Labor Department reported this morning the number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell by 24,000 in the past week to 297,000, the lowest level since May 2007. And, the consumer price index rose 0.3 percent in April thanks to higher gasoline and beef prices. Over the past 12 months the CPI has increased 2.0 percent. Both readings still show very anemic increases in the cost of living, yet MarketWatch.com says, "Consumer prices rise sharply in April."

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The big problem for the markets today is Wal-Mart. The giant retailer reported net sales rose slightly in Q1 to $114.2 billion, more than $1 billion a day in sales during the first three months of the year. "Like other retailers in the United States, the unseasonably cold and disruptive weather negatively impacted U.S. sales and drove operating expenses higher than expected," said CEO Doug McMillon. Evidently investors didn't accept the excuse, as the shares are down about 3 percent in early trading. Interestingly, Macy's had the same report yesterday with the same excuse and the stock was up nicely.

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You know the fires are very serious when word gets out that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and his family were forced to leave their Rancho Santa Fe compound because of the risk of fire. Hope all are well.

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