Eager to avoid the mistakes made with Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush has visited California to offer comfort – and federal funds – to the thousands hit by the wildfires. The US president toured the fire-ravaged area by helicopter with the state governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The burning Santa Ana desert winds were dying down and the thousands of firefighters tackling the blazes said the tide has turned, although several are still out of control.
Paying tribute to the 9,000 men and women putting out the wildfires, Bush said: “These fires are going to go out because of the bravery of the people behind us. But there are still going to be needs and concerns. And the final reason I have come is to let you know we are not going to forget you in Washington DC.”
Bush and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency were panned for the chaos which followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans two years ago.
In an apparent dig at the authorities in Louisiana, Bush said it makes “a significant difference when you have someone in the statehouse willing to take the lead”.
Swathes of southern California from Malibu to the Mexican border have been scorched by the some 20 fires that started earlier this week. Three of the largest were still burning in San Diego County, but in the less-populated east. Border patrol agents discovered the bodies of three men and a woman in the mountains near the frontier, bringing the number of people killed by the blazes to at least 12.