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Cooler, Damper Weather Helps Firefighters Battling California Wildfires

California firefighters are getting some help from cool weather and light rainfall, but winds are making it harder to control dangerous blazes in two mountain areas. Fires in Southern California have killed at least 20 people and destroyed more than 2,600 houses. State and federal officials are promising help for the victims.

Mike Brown, the head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says government loans and grants will help the victims get their lives back to normal.

"The president has instructed me to help those victims do that as quickly as possible," he said. "We have already established the first of the disaster recovery centers. They are up and running."

Outgoing governor Gray Davis pointed out that help in fighting the fires is coming from many places. "Everywhere you look, from Canada to the navy to our neighboring states to California, every asset available for deployment is being deployed to fight these fires," he said.

The threat remains most serious in mountain communities near San Diego, at the southern end of the state, and near San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles.

The mountain resort of Lake Arrowhead has been lucky. No houses have been lost there. But 350 homes were destroyed in nearby Cedar Glen.

Dave Kirovac lost his home in Devore, in the foothills of the mountains. He described how he felt as he gazed upon the rubble. "Just amazed. Just amazed that something that took that long to build and to put together can be gone that quick," he said.

According to Renee McCormack of the U.S. Forest Service, firefighters have saved thousands of other houses, working around the clock to battle the flare-ups. "And everybody, despite the long hours and the tired people, when it hits us, they find that extra energy," she said. "It's like it's almost the first day, and everybody works really hard and they're making incredible stands. These guys are great."

Hot Santa Ana winds, which blow in from the desert, have finally subsided. Damper, cooler ocean air is helping in most places. But eastward-heading winds threaten to push the fires in new directions, and high gusts are predicted in mountain regions for Friday.