AFP, June 28, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — US President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency in California on Saturday and ordered federal aid to help authorities battle more than 1,000 wildfires burning out of control.
“We have over 1,000 fires burning in northern California alone, our resources are stretched extremely thin,” said Cheri Patterson, a spokeswoman for the state’s fire department, Calfire.
“Our biggest concern is we don’t have any of the fires under control,” she told AFP, and welcomed the federal resources ordered by Bush.
The state’s more than 12,000 firefighters have been battling the fires, many of which were sparked by lightning from dry thunderstorms, for more than a week now, stretched thin by the sheer number of blazes.
Patterson said that while they were making progress to contain some of the them, more thunderstorms were expected this weekend, including dry lightning later Saturday that risked provoking more fires.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had urged Bush Friday to call a federal emergency, saying the fires were “of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state.”
Around 265,000 acres (107,000 hectares) of tinder-dry forest and parkland have burnt across northern California since the fires erupted on June 20, his office said.
Schwarzenegger warned that “federal assistance is necessary to save lives.”
“The president today declared an emergency exists in the State of California and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the area struck by wildfires beginning on June 20, 2008, and continuing,” the White House said in a statement.
California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds and recent housing booms which have seen housing spread rapidly into rural and densely forested areas.
Last October, devastating wildfires were among the worst in California history, leaving eight people dead, destroying 2,000 homes, displacing 640,000 people and causing one billion dollars in damage.