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Bush Vows Help for Victims of California Fires


President Bush got a first hand look Thursday at the damage caused by the wildfires that have ravaged parts of northern California. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports.

White House officials say this is the single largest fire event in the history of California.

Since a massive lightning storm on June 21, more than 2000 wildfires have destroyed roughly 364,000 hectares of land.

About 25,000 firefighters have been deployed, and are now reporting more fires contained with each passing day.

The president flew over some of the hardest hit areas to survey the damage. He was accompanied by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency - or FEMA - David Paulison.

Mr. Bush offered encouragement to the firefighters, and said the federal government will do all it can to help.

"I'd like to just let the people out here know that we are paying attention in Washington D.C., we care about you, and we will respond as best as we possibly can," said President Bush.

FEMA has already set aside more than $154 million for firefighting and related expenses in California.

The agency has been strengthened in recent years - a response to the severe criticism the government received for its handling of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says the quick federal response to the wildfires shows how far FEMA has come.

"80 percent of the U.S. resources in firefighting are right now in California," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "So this is extraordinary kind of work from the federal government."

To date, the number of casualties in California has been low compared to past wildfire seasons. One firefighter died of a heart attack while on duty, and a man burned to death in his home after refusing to obey an evacuation order.

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