As winds died down Wednesday and firefighters began to get a handle on battling the 14 wildfires devastating Southern California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger painted a rosy picture of his state's timely response to the fires that have blazed across Southern California for the past four days.
At a press conference this afternoon, the governor began laying the groundwork for the upcoming recovery effort. An hour after President Bush declared California a "major disaster area," Schwarzenegger praised local, state and federal agencies for their efforts, saying "everything has been, so far, going really well."
Returning residents to their normal lives, the governor said, would be the next step in responding to the fires. Several "one-stop shops" across the affected region would be set up by the state's Office of Emergency Services to help residents "replace records lost in the fire, file insurance claims" and seek new housing.
The raging fires have burned 400,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,200 homes and businesses. At least six people have died during fire rescue efforts and evacuations, and more than 900,000 people have been told to leave their homes to avoid the danger, according to various estimates.
Late this afternoon a law enforcement official said state authorities and the FBI have searched an Orange County home and booked a man under investigation for arson, The Associated Press reported.
"FBI Los Angeles is assisting Orange County fire officials and sheriff's office in an ongoing investigation into the source of some of the fires," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told the AP. He referred all other questions to local authorities.
Though the response to state and federal efforts has been generally positive, Schwarzenegger has been dogged by some critics who say protocols established after the fires of 2003 were not implemented quickly enough.
"From the 2003 fire we learned a lot," Schwarzenegger said at a press conference. "We will always have a lack of resources," but through agreements made with several states in the wake of those earlier fires, additional resources were on their way to California, he said.
Earlier Wednesday, President Bush declared a national state of emergency for seven California counties, opening the door to greater federal funding for those areas hardest hit by wildfire.
The people of California, the President said, "can rest assured that the federal government will do everything we can to fight these fires."
In addition to the grants, the federal government has committed 1,500 National Guard troops.
Improved weather and decreased winds led San Diego Mayor Jerry Brown to lift the evacuation order for parts of his city and said residents from areas of Delmar Heights and Carmel Valley could return to their homes today as fires continued to burn through Southern California, resulting in nearly 1 million evacuees.
Sanders called on San Diego residents to "do everything we can as a community to fight this fire … saving water, saving energy and staying off the road as much as possible."
Sanders echoed earlier statements by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and praised the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal authorities to evacuate the region.
Officials said that there were no reports of new fires today, but that they were still days away from containing the blazes dotted across the landscape.