High winds that stoked flames and kept water tanker planes from taking off are hampering efforts to more aggressively combat the fires raging through Southern California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday.
The governor praised efforts by local, state and federal authorities and dismissed criticisms that the state had not implemented rapid-response protocols implemented after the 2003 wildfires.
A dozen wildfires raging across the state have destroyed more than 370,000 acres and left more than 300,000 residents fleeing the carnage as gale force winds and dry conditions fueled the inferno for a third day, according to estimates from various wire reports.
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Schwarzenegger said 1,500 homes remain in danger and called on people in the area to evacuate.
"If you're told to evacuate, evacuate. Safety is the most important thing," he told locals.
He said he was in constant communication with federal authorities to ensure aid was rapidly deployed.
"The state is there to help you. I'm here to put a spotlight -- to get state and federal help as quickly as possible," he said.
Schwarzenegger said that more than 300,000 people have been evacuated and some 8,000 of those people had sought refuge at the Qualcomm stadium in San Diego County.
"We have to think about all the little things that fall through the cracks. Is there enough baby formula, for the babies, diapers, toilet paper, cots," he said.
Officials, he said, were working to ensure the elderly and infirm received medical aid.
He thanked the 6,000 firefighters for their "courage and hard work, working 24 hours round the clock," and said he had "great hopes that the fires will be put out as quickly as possible."
Entire communities, mostly in San Diego County, have been evacuated, leaving streets eerily quite as firefighters, short on resources and replacement personnel, battle the blazes.
Despite the damage caused to an estimated 1,000 homes from Santa Barbara to San Diego, only two people have been confirmed dead thus far and 34 people seriously injured, according to the Associated Press.
FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson echoed Schwarzenegger's comments about the cooperation seen between federal, state and local agencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration learned important lessons from the botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and is applying those lessons to battling the fires in Southern California, Johnson said.
"There is day and there is night," said about the differences between the federal government's response to the California fires and Katrina.
Johnson said President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff are communicating with regional and state officials, and federal agencies are cooperating to ensure aid reaches the scorched California coastline.
President Bush is scheduled to visit the area on Thursday, according to the AP.
Qualcomm stadium, the largest makeshift shelter for evacuees in San Diego County, has a capacity for 10,000 people, but there were 19 other shelters in the area. Johnson said there are enough supplies in the San Diego area for the current demand, but that FEMA is bringing in more.