Conditions improve for Californian firefighters
Cloudy skies and occasional raindrops brought a welcome improvement in conditions in southern California, where firefighters are battling wildfires.
By yesterday, tropical moisture flowing from the south had replaced the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that roared in a week earlier and spread fires over more than half a million acres, destroying more than 2,300 structures, including 1,700 homes.
The number of deaths directly attributed to the fires has officially risen to seven. Officials confirmed that the flames killed four suspected illegal immigrants whose charred bodies were found near the US-Mexico border on Thursday, said Jose Alvarez, a public information officer for San Diego County emergency services. Identification of the victims is continuing.
Although more than a dozen blazes were surrounded, containment of nine other blazes ranged from 97 percent to just 25 percent.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that he would work to improve problems in the state's deployment of fire fighting aircraft when major wildfires erupt. It was reported on Thursday that nearly two dozen military helicopters stayed grounded for days after several wildfires broke out because state personnel who must be on board were not immediately available.
The total cost of the fires in the state is now becoming clearer with thousands of homes and businesses destroyed. Officials in San Diego County alone estimate they've suffered losses in excess of a billion dollars. Assistance centres have been opened so people can get help with rebuilding and counselling.