by Mark Silva
With a half-million people evacuated from fire-threatend homes in Southern California, President Bush said today that he has pledged all the federal assistance possible to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a fight against nature itself. Bush will head to California tomorrow.
"I had a conversation with Gov. Schwarzenegger,'' Bush said following a Cabinet meeting at the White House today. "My question to him was, 'Are you getting what you need; are the people there in California getting the help they need from the federal agencies to help the good folks in California deal with these devastating fires?' His answer was, yes. I assured him that if he needs anything, then, great, we'll provide it, we'll do so.
"I've been meeting with my Cabinet secretaries that are responsible for helping the state and local authorities fight these fires,'' the president said. "I believe the effort is well coordinated. I know we're getting the manpower and assets on the ground that have been requested by the state and local authorities.
"I wish we could control the wind, because one of the things that's hampering our joint capability of fighting these fires is the strong westerly winds,'' he said. "I'm told the winds may be dying down soon, in which case it will make it -- make this equipment we've got in place a lot more effective at helping fight the fires. ''
The president this week declared an emergency in seven southern California counties and today signed a "major disaster declaration,'' enabling federal funds to be released to families who have been disrupted by the wildfires.
"Looking forward to going out to California tomorrow,'' he said. "We'll continue to make sure that our efforts are coordinated, that we are responsive to the needs and people.
"And most importantly, I want the people in Southern California to know that Americans all across this land care deeply about them, we're concerned about their safety, we're concerned about their property, and we offer our prayers and hopes that all will turn out fine in the end,'' the president said. "In the meantime, they can rest assured that the federal government will do everything we can to help put out these fires.''