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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 00:27 GMT 01:27 UK
Bush flies over California fires
Mr Bush with Jay and Kendra Jeffcoat in the rubble of their San Diego home
Estimated fire damage stands at more than $1bn.

US President George W Bush has flown over the area devastated by the California wildfires to see the extent of the damage for himself.

After his tour with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he said the federal government would provide every help to victims of the infernos.

The air tour came as the death toll rose to 14, with four bodies found near the Mexican border east of San Diego.

Meanwhile, fire crews began to prevail after winds fanning the flames lulled.

Mr Bush praised the efforts of the emergency services following his bird's eye view of the seven-county disaster zone in southern California.

'Heartbreaking'

Touching down in Escondido, California, Mr Bush assured victims of the infernos: "We're not going to forget you in Washington DC.

"We want the people to know there's a better day ahead. Your life may look dismal today, but tomorrow life's going to be better. And to the extent that the federal government can help you we will do so."

TACKLING THE FLAMES
A firefighter tackles a blaze on the La Jolla Indian Reservation, California, in the early morning of 25 October 2007
8,000 firefighters - including a number of prison teams
1,500 national guards
50 helicopters
55 firefighting planes
Source: Office of Emergency Services

The fires, which broke out last weekend, have forced one million people from their homes in the biggest US evacuation since Hurricane Katrina two years ago.

Mr Bush was heavily criticised for the federal government's sluggish response to that disaster and analysts say he is keen to avoid repeating the mistake.

The US president heaped praise on Mr Schwarzenegger and made an apparent dig at the authorities in Louisiana, which bore the brunt of Katrina.

"There is no hill he's not willing to charge, no problem he's not willing to solve," Mr Bush said of the governor, adding: "It makes a significant difference when you've got someone in the statehouse willing to take the lead.''

Mr Schwarzenegger said their tour had been "heartbreaking" and thanked Mr Bush for his prompt signing of a disaster declaration, which will free federal funds to help victims.

The Republican governor said: "I want to say thank you to the president for his tremendous support and immediate help in this disaster and for taking the time to come and see what the people of our state are going through."

Arson?

On Thursday afternoon, the charred bodies of three men and one woman were found in the Barret Junction area east of San Diego, near the US-Mexican border.

A US Border Patrol spokesman said they could be illegal immigrants.

San Diego police said two bodies had been found in the burned ruins of a house in Poway.

One death directly linked to the fires was reported on Sunday and authorities say several others could have died during evacuations.

A firefighter with a chainsaw at a blaze on the La Jolla Indian Reservation, California, in the early morning of 25 October 2007

Meanwhile, police have offered a $70,000 (34,000) reward and called in FBI investigators to capture an alleged arsonist they believe started one of the larger fires.

Orange County officials are convinced the Santiago Canyon blaze, which broke out on Sunday, was no accident.

Around 15 blazes remain untamed but fire chiefs said they had "turned the corner".

Maurice Luque, spokesman for the San Diego Fire Rescue Department, told the BBC: "There's no Santa Ana winds. The weather has turned a little more calm, the humidity is up, the temperatures are down a little bit in some areas."

The firestorm has ravaged at least 704 sq miles (1,825 sq km) of land from Santa Barbara down to the Mexican border.

More than 1,600 homes have been incinerated and over $1bn (488m) of material damage caused by the wall of fire.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Bush and Schwarzenegger's news conference



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