Calif fires 224.88.
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Property damage from this week's devastating Southern California wildfires totals at least $1 billion (â‚¬700 million) in San Diego County alone, officials said Wednesday.
"Clearly, this is going to be a $1 billion or more disaster," Ron Lane, San Diego County's director of emergency services, told reporters during a news conference.
He said at least 1,200 homes had been destroyed in the county, a number officials believed would rise. That brings to roughly 1,500 the number of homes destroyed in the seven-county region that has been ablaze since Sunday.
The announcement of San Diego's staggering losses came as President George W. Bush signed a major disaster declaration for California in the wake of wildfires that have burned about 410,000 acres (165,925 hectares) and forced at least a half-million people to evacuate.
Bush said he wants the people of Southern California to hear a message loud and clear from Washington.
"Americans all across this land care deeply about them," Bush said after a Cabinet meeting convened to coordinate federal efforts. "We're concerned about their safety. We're concerned about their property."
The president was scheduled to travel to California on Thursday.
Exhausted firefighters hoped fighting the 16 blazes would become easier Wednesday with an expected slackening of fierce Santa Ana wind that has stoked the explosive blazes.
Forecasters said the wind will begin to weaken late Wednesday afternoon, followed by cooling sea breezes. The shift could allow for a greater aerial assault and help firefighters beat back the most destructive blazes, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"If the weather cooperates, maybe we can turn the tide," he said.
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