Bush Views California's Wildfire Damage With a million people evacuated and more than $1 billion in damage in San Diego County alone so far, President Bush toured the Southern California fire sites.
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Bush Views California's Wildfire Damage

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Bush Views California's Wildfire Damage

Bush Views California's Wildfire Damage

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Scores of Southern Californians who lost their homes in the wildfires are just now getting a look at what's left. As we've been reporting, more than half a million people were ordered to evacuate in San Diego County alone. The small community of Rancho Bernardo is in the northern part of the county. Thirty-eight of the 52 homes on one street there burned. And that's where President Bush met some residents and aidworkers today as they were sifting through the ashes.

NPR's David Greene was traveling with the president. He says Mr. Bush was pressed on whether the government was doing better in responding to this disaster than two years ago in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

DAVID GREENE: That was the first question that was thrown at him by a reporter, when he was touring this neighborhood outside San Diego. And the president said he's going to let historians and analysts and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California judge how well he's done here after these wildfires in California. So he kind of batted the question elsewhere.

And the president said he was really focused on people like a couple whom he met in this neighborhood, the Jeffcoats, the couple who lost their home. It was totally leveled. The president spent some time wandering around. And he said he's not thinking about questions, you know, analysis of different disasters and how well he performed. But the president did play up how well he thinks the coordination is going between the federal government and state and local officials. And he said that whatever the state and local governments here asks for, the federal government is ready to deliver. If they want more firefighters, he said, they'll give them more firefighters - whatever they ask.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. And we should note that in the instance of Hurricane Katrina, the first time the president flew over the area and didn't actually get down to see what was going on, he's gone to California this time. Is there evidence that the White House has actually been involved in coordinating with governmental response to the fires?

GREENE: Well, it's hard to say. And I think a lot will have to wait for analysts to take a look at how all this went. And I'm sure they'll be doing that in public at least. The White House has been behaving very differently. They seem to be trying to stay ahead of the game much more than they were during and after Hurricane Katrina. And every area of criticism from the hurricane, the White House is kind of taking it head on and pointing to areas where they think they're doing right. They don't like to talk about the comparison between this and Hurricane Katrina. No doubt, though, that it's on their mind.

SIEGEL: Now update us on the strange bedfellow's front. The president went out to California. He's not the closest political ally of California's Governor Schwarzenegger, but they're shoulder to shoulder on this one, I guess.

GREENE: Shoulder to shoulder literally. They were walking down this neighborhood, going house to house and stepping over the rubble and what was left of people's homes, and greeting residents together. And that Governor Schwarzenegger has taken every opportunity to say that the president is doing everything right.

The public image that I think they both want to put forth is that they are getting along very, very well. It wouldn't help either of them if there was the image of the state and the federal government not getting along at this point. But certainly, shoulder to shoulder in the public image.

SIEGEL: NPR's David Greene outside San Diego, thank you.

GREENE: Thank you, Robert.

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