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Wildfires Wane as Bush Visits California

President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talk to firefighters at Kit Carson Park in Escondido, a command post for San Diego County.
President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talk to firefighters at Kit Carson Park in Escondido, a command post for San Diego County. (Pool Photo By K.c. Alfred Via Associated Press)

State officials insisted that they had enough equipment to battle the blazes but were hampered, not by bureaucratic lethargy, but by the strong Santa Ana winds that made it too dangerous to fly.

"Yes, we have enough resources," Peters said. "We also have the safety of the operators to keep in mind. When you have winds 25 or 30 knots, you can't fly in those conditions."

Across the region, 10,693 people fought fires, using 1,293 fire engines. As the fires in some areas -- notably Los Angeles County -- are put down, crews are dispatched to San Diego and San Bernardino, where large fires still rage.

"You see what I mean," Peters said. "The resources are there."

The five-day fight, however, tested the stamina of many of the firefighters.

At a base camp in the eastern San Diego County suburb of El Cajon, crews from across California, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Tijuana, Mexico, rolled in exhausted, and some stocked up on Gatorade, lip balm and energy bars for another turn at the front lines of the 81,000-acre Harris fire.

Fire crews from San Diego County swapped T-shirts and hats with the crew from Mexico -- "Tijuana Bomberos," the hats read -- as souvenirs.

"We got our quarter-million-dollar trucks here, and they're hanging off their $5,000 rigs, and they're here helping us," Greg Groves, a firefighter from Carlsbad, said with a laugh. "Usually it's the other way around."

The base camp sprawls across a dirt square of Gillespie Field, an airport with room for helicopters to land and fire engines to refuel. Tents and trailers provide places for sleeping, showering and eating, plus a few extras such as the chiropractor's tent, staffed by a volunteer who spent the early part of his week evacuated. His home is safe, he said.

"The majority of my patients have been evacuated anyway," Cameron Sutter said after he finished an adjustment on a San Diego firefighter.

At a mess tent Thursday morning, three firefighters from the San Diego County town of Encinitas ate eggs and sausage after their first night's sleep since Sunday.

"In the first 48, I got about one hour of sleep," Gary Goss said. "We do a watch deal -- one guy stays up on the engine to make sure nothing breaks out. But you're sleeping in the cabs and don't get any sleep in there anyway."


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