Assistance for victims of the San Diego wildfires will not waver, President Bush pledged Thursday after taking an aerial tour of the fire-ravaged areas of the county, visiting a burned-out neighborhood and thanking firefighters and emergency personnel.
“These fires are going to go out because of the bravery of the people behind us,” Bush said, flanked by about 200 firefighters who met with the president at Kit Carson Park in Escondido.
“There is still going to be needs and concerns,” the president said. “The final reason I have come is to let you know we are not going to forget you in Washington, D.C.”
“We want the people to know that there is a better day ahead. That today your life may look dismal, but tomorrow life is going to be better and to the extent the federal government can help you we want to do so,” Bush said.
The president, accompanied by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar aboard Air Force One at about 9:30 a.m. before quickly boarding a helicopter.
Bush was met on the tarmac by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista.
Schwarzenegger lauded Bush for his “tremendous support and immediate help” with the disaster.
“When something like this happens, I think people want to see their leaders to take a first-hand look and to see and show them that they want to help and do everything they can and I applaud President Bush for doing exactly that,” Schwarzenegger said.
“These fires are one of the worst disasters in California history and the president and I just had a heart-breaking tour of the disaster and some of the devastation,” the governor said.
Schwarzenegger said that with at least 1,400 homes destroyed and more than 500,000 acres scorched across San Diego County, “the only way to grasp the true magnitude is to see it yourself.”
The president’s visit comes a day after he declared San Diego and six other California counties major disaster areas, clearing the way for federal aid to help those impacted by the wildfires.
The presidential disaster declaration includes San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
The proclamation will make available grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and businesses recover from the disaster.
“All of us associated with the federal government, governor, are here to make sure the resources at our disposal are deployed to help you,” Bush said to Schwarzenegger.
Earlier in the morning, Bush met with the family of a burned home on Lancashire Way in hard-hit Rancho Bernardo.
“Many across our nation have been moved by the plight of the citizens who have lost their homes, lost their possessions and particularly those who have lost their life,” Bush later said.
“It is very important for those who are wondering about their future that there are a lot of good citizens all across America who are praying for your future and really want to stand with you,” he said.
“I’ve come here to make sure that federal government provides the help for the people here at the local level,” Bush said.
He thanked both state and local government officials and volunteers and expressed deep gratitude to firefighters and public safety workers.
Gary Johnson, a firefighter with the Sonoma Valley Fire Department, said the president’s appearance “makes you feel important and special.”
Johnson, who left Sonoma at 11 p.m. Sunday and drove overnight to fight the fires in San Diego, thanked the president for “taking time out of his busy schedule to see what is going on.”
Joe Ferraro, a paramedic who spent the last couple of days in the fire zone helping firefighters coming off the line, said “it is always nice to know we have the support of the federal government.”
More than 500,000 people in San Diego County have been evacuated from their homes over the past four days, though many have since been allowed to return. Property damage in San Diego County alone is expected to exceed $1 billion.