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President Bush promises federal help for victims of wild fires in California

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Tuesday engaged Washington heavily in the wildfires sweeping across Southern California.

Bush briefly departed from his scheduled war on terror speech at the National Defense University to offer prayers for those losing houses and businesses — or about to.

"All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes and the many families who have been evacuated from their homes," he said. "We send the help of the federal government."

Bush spoke Monday with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hours later, just before 4 a.m. EDT, he declared a federal emergency for seven California counties, a move that will speed disaster-relief efforts.

The president also sent top federal disaster officials to California to see what more could be done from Washington. FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison and his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, were expected to land on the West Coast in early evening. As for a visit from the president himself, White House press secretary Dana Perino said it is "very premature to say."