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FIRE OFFICIALS SAY SANTA BARBARA BLAZE IS 95 PERCENT CONTAINED

SHARE FIRE OFFICIALS SAY SANTA BARBARA BLAZE IS 95 PERCENT CONTAINED

Firefighters Saturday had nearly tamed a ferocious wildfire that consumed almost 500 buildings in the canyons above the Pacific Ocean, although that blaze and other major fires in the West were proving more stubborn than expected.

The 4,900-acre Santa Barbara fire claimed one life and injured 40 people, destroyed at least 492 structures and caused an estimated $240 million in damage. It was 95 percent contained Saturday evening, and firefighters expected to have the fire essentially extinguished by Sunday night.Predictions that the Santa Barbara fire and other major blazes in California and Arizona would be encircled Saturday proved overly optimistic.

From his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Bush Saturday declared that a major disaster exists in California and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in fire-struck areas.

The president's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals and local governments in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. Assistance can include temporary housing, grants, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

A review by Santa Barbara County's building inspector determined the fire burned 438 houses, 28 apartment buildings, 13 businesses , 10 public buildings, one mobile home and two farm builidngs.

Authorities continued a search for the arsonist who set the fire and said that person also would face a murder charge in the death of Andrea Gurka, 37, who was found dead in a bone-dry creek bed behind her home in the hard-hit San Marcos Pass Road area.

Rewards totaling $120,000 were offered for the firebug.

The seige of fires in drought-scorched California and the West began Wednesday in the Los Angeles County city of Glendale, where 66 homes were damaged or destroyed in a fire that burned in hot wind and searing 100-degree temperatures. The fire caused an estimated $40 million damage. Like the Santa Barbara fire, it was blamed on an arsonist.

In all, eight people died in more than a dozen fires in the West. Six firefighters were killed in Arizona, where some 34,000 acres burned and 62 summer homes were lost.

A California inmate died Friday from injuries suffered in another deliberately set fire in the town of Hemet near Palm Springs.

In western Colorado, a fire blackened 3,200 acres of brush and timber near Montrose.