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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California fires rage on but crews make progress

Oct 24 - The wildfires have already caused extensive damage--- and threaten to shut down a major power transmission link to San Diego.

Weather forecasters say the fierce Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert should begin to subside over the next 24 hours. President Bush signed a major disaster declaration for California and plans on visiting the affected areas on Thursday.

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Wildfires that have charred a huge swath of California and destroyed 1,300 homes burned into the night on Wednesday, but firefighters said a break in the weather had given them a chance to go on the offensive.

As night fell across the state some 15 fires were still blazing largely out of control, mostly in San Diego County. But a drop in temperatures and weaker Santa Ana winds had slowed their march toward threatened communities.

Around 9,000 men and women fought the blazes as towering flames lit up the sky. Thick smoke hung over much of the lower half of the state, raining ash over homes and cars.

"Today I can finally say its a good afternoon," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender said.

The wildfires have already blackened nearly 800 square miles, destroyed 1,300 homes, claimed six lives and injured dozens of people, many of them firefighters.

President Bush, who has declared California's fires a "major disaster," triggering extra federal help, was scheduled to tour the fire areas on Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had 1,000 people on the ground in San Diego, Sanders said. FEMA and Bush were both criticized for being slow to respond when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region in 2005.

San Diego County, at the southern end of the state, has been hardest hit by the four days of intense fires, suffering losses in excess of $1 billion, and three of the largest fires still burned out of control there.


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