U.S. President George W. Bush has declared a major disaster in the southwestern state of Arizona, where firefighters are battling the biggest blaze in the state's history. Mr. Bush flew over the fires Tuesday before meeting with rescue workers and some of the 30,000 people who have fled their homes.
The president's action makes millions of dollars of federal funds available for temporary housing for those affected by the fires as well as low-cost loans for uninsured property losses and help for small business owners.
The assistance will also be used to restore roads, bridges and public buildings damaged by the wildfires.
Mr. Bush stopped in Arizona on his way to a summit of industrialized nations in Canada. His plane flew around the fires which have already burned more than 130,000 hectares and destroyed hundreds of homes.
The president visited a local high school which is acting as a shelter for some of those displaced by the fires. He said federal aid will continue to supplement state and local efforts to combat the fires which have now been burning for a week.
"These fires wreak havoc on everybody who stands in their way. They do not pick and choose. And I hope as we stay united to make sure that we do the best job we can to fight these fires, that people stay united in doing this. It is an important moment, an important time for people to stay bound-up in their compassion and in their desire to fight off this devastating disaster that has befallen you all," he said.
The president's declaration of a major disaster in Arizona makes federal funds available for people in Apache and Navajo Counties as well as those on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Officials say they are still assessing damage in other areas and may include more counties in the disaster area once they are finished.