Bush Surveys California Wildfire Damage

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President Bush promises swift action and assistance to those in fire-ravaged southern California. Joined by Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwazenegger, he toured the charred remains of neighborhoods and met with distraught residents.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Lynn Neary.

On a tour of Southern California, President Bush met with residents who lost their homes and firefighters who tried to save them.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: These fires are tough, but you know better than anybody how hard it is. And so we're here to compliment you on your courage and your compassion.

NEARY: The president has declared a major disaster in a seven-county region. Losses from the fires total upwards of a billion dollars in San Diego County alone.

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As Battle Continues, Many Fire Evacuees Go Home

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Even as residents from the San Diego area are being allowed to go back home, crews are still fighting raging wildfires in Southern California. Of the 20 fires still burning, the Santiago fire in Orange County and at least two others are being treated as arson cases.

In the suburbs around San Diego, thousands of evacuees are returning home to find their neighborhoods stripped bare by flames. The lucky ones will find their homes still standing amid a blackened landscape. But many will be disappointed: At least 80 percent of the 1,800 houses destroyed since Sunday are in San Diego County.

At least 12 people have perished in the fires. Among them were four people found dead in a migrant camp east of San Diego by border patrol agents on patrol.

Some illegal immigrants were among those who sought refuge at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium. Two couples who were accused of looting were handed over to border patrol officials when they couldn't provide documentation. Soon after, witnesses said, another two dozen families left the stadium, in apparent concern over their own legal status.

Among other developments:

  • Qualcomm Stadium, where more than 10,000 displaced residents sought refuge, is closing as an evacuation center today; it was home to just 350 people Friday morning. Officials say it will be ready for Sunday's San Diego Chargers-Houston Texans game, as scheduled.
  • The reward for apprehending those responsible for the fires deemed to result from arson has been raised to $250,000.
  • The Santiago fire has burned 26,000 acres. Together, all of the California wildfires have burned nearly 800 square miles, an area half the size of Rhode Island.
  • In 2003, dozens of homes burned in the town of Julian, near San Diego. But Julian fire chief Kevin Dubler says Julian may escape this time with only minor damage.
  • Of the 1,800 homes lost so far, 80 percent were in San Diego County. The property damage there alone has surpassed $1 billion.
  • Air pollution officials in Bakersfield, Calif., are warning valley residents about poor air quality because of the Southern California wildfires. The warning will stay in effect for the next few days.
  • The Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters were grounded for a day partly because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by forestry "fire spotters" who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time the spotters arrived, high winds made it too dangerous to fly.
  • The National Guard's C-130 cargo planes were not part of the firefighting arsenal because long-standing retrofits have yet to be completed. The tanks they need to carry thousands of gallons of fire retardant were promised four years ago.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press



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