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665 Sq. Mi. Burned In Southland Flames; Six Dead In Connection To Fires

(AP) – Southern California’s wildfires have burned 426,000 acres, or about 665 square miles.

Twenty-one firefighters and at least 24 other people have been injured. One person was killed by the flames, and the San Diego medical examiner’s office lists five other deaths as connected to the fires.

Fire victims and evacuees who died during SoCal firestorms County officials have recorded one fire death and five fire-related deaths since the weekend, when wind-driven wildfires started burning throughout Southern California.

– Thomas James Varshock, 52, of Tecate, died from burns on Sunday at his property. Authorities had told him to leave the border town southeast of San Diego but he remained.

– James Sharp, 64, died late Tuesday at a San Diego hospital. Sharp had been living at an assisted care facility in Vista when he fell and fractured his spine on Oct. 12. He was recovering at a nursing home in Carlsbad on Monday when he was evacuated to Alvarado Hospital because of the fire.

“His condition rapidly declined and he did not recover,” and his death is believed related to his fall, said Rick Poggemeyer, operations administrator for the San Diego County medical examiner’s office. “The transport probably was not a direct or major cause of his death,” he said.

– June E. Brewer, 95, was found dead in her bed in a San Diego hotel shortly before 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. She had been evacuated from her Rancho Bernardino home on Monday. She died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Poggemeyer said.

– Donald Swarting, 92, was pronounced dead, probably from a heart attack, shortly before 5 a.m. Tuesday. He was being prepared for evacuation from a Spring Valley nursing home when he complained of shortness of breath and chest pain. He went to the bathroom where he became “unresponsive,” Poggemeyer said.

– Alla M. Robinson, 91, was pronounced dead, probably from a heart attack, on Monday afternoon after she stopped breathing while being evacuated from Fallbrook Hospital, where she was a patient, to Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.

– Suzanne Elizabeth Casey, 62, died shortly before midnight Monday. She had left her home in Rancho Bernardo and was staying at a hotel in Pacific Beach when she went to a restaurant next to the hotel.

“When exiting the restaurant she fell down the steps and hit her head and died as a result of that head trauma,” Poggemeyer said.

President Bush continued to step up federal engagement in the Southern California wildfire emergency, signing a major disaster declaration that funnels money to people whose property losses aren’t covered by insurance.

Bush said Wednesday that he wants the people of Southern California to hear a message loud and clear from Washington.

The president held a news conference after a Cabinet meeting convened to coordinate federal efforts.

Bush had already declared a federal emergency Tuesday for seven California counties, triggering short-term federal help.

Responding to a late-night request from Governor Schwarzenegger, Bush went a step further and issued the broader major disaster declaration.

Such declarations set in motion long-term federal recovery programs, some requiring matches from state coffers, to help state and local governments, families, individuals and certain nonprofit organizations recover. The assistance varies from direct aid for uninsured losses to help with rebuilding infrastructure.

Bush said Governor Schwarzenegger has told him he has everything he needs so far from Washington.

The president travels to the fire zones Thursday.

Meantime, officials report property damage from this week’s devastating Southern California wildfires has reached at least one billion dollars in San Diego County alone.

San Diego County’s director of emergency services Ron Lane told a news conference this morning that “clearly, this is going to be a one billion-dollar or more disaster.”

Lane says at least 1,200 homes have been destroyed in the county, a number officials believed will rise. That brings to roughly 1,500 the number of homes destroyed in the seven-county region that has been ablaze since Sunday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

KESQ News Team

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