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Bush Pledges Federal Assistance for California Wildfire Victims

President Bush has toured fire-ravaged parts of California, where he met with firefighters and families that have lost their homes to wildfires. Mike O'Sullivan reports, Mr. Bush had praise for the firefighters, and promised federal aid for the fire victims.

Speaking with reporters after touring the area by air, the president praised state and local officials, and promised federal support in the rebuilding effort.

"It really is important for me to come out here and first hand see the situation and there is no question a lot of people are suffering and there is no question there has been terrible losses. I am also out here to make sure these firefighters behind me and these first responders know how much I appreciate and how much the country appreciates their courage and bravery," he said.

Mr. Bush has declared seven California counties a major disaster area, which authorized federal funds for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans for losses not covered by insurance.

He joined California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on a helicopter tour, flying over the scorched hills of Rancho Bernardo, near San Diego. In a neighborhood where many houses were still standing but others had been destroyed, Mr. Bush consoled a couple, Jay and Kendra Jeffcoat.

"We want to let you know that American people care for people like you who are suffering. We appreciate you spirit. We really do," Mr. Bush said.

All that remains of the couple's home is a pile of blackened bubble, with a single spiral staircase still standing.

Governor Schwarzenegger thanked the president for coming on what he called a heart-breaking tour. "With 14-hundred homes being destroyed and almost half a million acres (200,000 hectares) having been burned, the only way to grasp the sheer magnitude is to see it for yourself and be out there with the people whose lives have been turned upside down," he said.

Mr. Bush assured the fire victims that officials in Washington will not forget them. "We want the people to know that there is a better day ahead, that today your lives may look dismal, but tomorrow life is going to be better. And to the extent the federal government can help you, we want to do so," the President said.

In San Diego, where local officials estimate damages at $1 billion or more, evacuation orders have been lifted in many neighborhoods, and residents are returning to learn the fate of their houses.

Firefighters say cooler temperatures and higher humidity are helping them in their battle.

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