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.
Learning from Past Fires
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.
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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.
The powerful Santa Ana winds fueling the fires were expected to slow today, allowing airborne firefighting crews to return to the skies and possibly slow the spread of the blazes.
The raging wildfires across California have burned 400,000 acres, killing at least six people and destroying more than 1,000 homes and businesses. More than 900,000 people have been told to leave their homes to avoid the danger, according to various estimates.
Schwarzenegger remained optimistic even after fierce winds whipped the fires into frenzies and forced thousands of people away from their homes and into temporary shelters.
"When you think about it, I have declared a state of emergency in seven counties, and we requested the federal government and within a day they came through. So that's quick action. I've never seen that before," Schwarzenegger said in an exclusive interview with ABC News. "We have to do everything we can to protect the people and protect the property."
Some local officials have criticized the government's response to wildfires.
"It is an absolute fact. Had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire," said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather.
But Schwarzenegger, who has been under the media spotlight since the fires began, said the state is fully in the fight.
"Anyone who is complaining about the planes just wants to complain because it is just a bunch of nonsense," he said. "The fact is we have all the planes in the world here — we have 90 aircraft here."
Schwarzenegger said at times the planes could not take flight because of the fierce winds.
"Trust me when I tell you — [if] you are looking for mistakes and you won't find it," he said. "It's good news. Trust me."
The governor, who has traveled the state delivering messages of help and support, said he was eager for President Bush's planned Thursday visit.
"Whenever the president shows interest in our fires and wants to help, we want to utilize that help," he said. "The federal government has a lot of help waiting for us."
Even with the federal government's aid, the fires have continued scorching thousands of acres and residences.
A Changing Wind
Tuesday afternoon, the winds died down and gave way for help from the skies. Helicopters and airplanes dropped a red mixture called slurry, which is a nontoxic combination of water and fertilizer.
But the shift in the prevailing winds also created trouble for homes that previously were not in danger.
In some areas, like Westwood, residents were able to return briefly to grab what they could. But many were left scrambling among the more than 800,000 who were told to evacuate.
Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers, has become a city of refuge — a last resort for the multitudes of people staying there.
The length of their stay will be dictated by how long the battles continue on the hills in places like where the Harris fire continues burning, about 40 miles southeast of San Diego. There, flames have burned 72,000 acres near the Mexican border.
"Helicopters are circling to see if the water will drop. If a spot fire occurs, they're going to drop on that," one firefighter said.
At last count, 1,200 California homes were destroyed and there is at least half a billion dollars in damage.
But residents are starting to regain hope.
"This is a real morale boost," battalion chief Cameron Todd, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said of the reduced winds. "Now you feel like you have got a chance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. ABC NEWS.com's Russell Goldman contributed to this report