PHOENIX – President Bush on Tuesday declared Arizona a natural disaster area in line to receive federal assistance that will help the state fight devastating wildfires that have scorched more than 500 square miles.
Bush made a detour to Arizona while on his way to Alberta, Canada, where he is to attend the G8 leadership summit.
"Today, I signed a declaration declaring this an emergency which then provide for federal help, which means money to fight the fires. It means temporary housing money and long-term housing money, it means help for small business owners," Bush said. "It also provides counseling services. For all those folks who need counseling, I hope you ask for it."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the government was providing 13 air tankers, 349 fire engines and 54 helicopters to help put an end to the state's worst wildfire in its history. So far, more than 300 homes have been destroyed by the blazes, and nearly 30,000 people have been forced from their home.
Bush met with Arizona governor Jane Hull, local firefighters, emergency personnel, and evacuees who are living at the American Red Cross emergency center set up on a high school football field.
Standing in front of cases of soda and boxes of food, Bush thanked the people for being brave and told them that "we are all in this together."
Bush got off Air Force One to change planes in Eagar, Ariz., where he boarded a plane to fly him over the burn zones. Eagar is located 40 miles from Show Low, the town that is the latest focus of firefighters.
The fire ravaging Arizona is one of 18 blazes burning in six Western states, swallowing up acreage at a pace roughly double the 10-year average. More than 2 million acres have been charred since spring.
Fire officials said cool temperatures would help slow the fire, and a path was scorched to slow the movement toward Show Low, but assessments were not positive.
"With the fuel built up and the dryness of the conditions, there's not a heck of a lot we can do," said Larry Humphrey, incident team commander for the Bureau of Land Management.
Before he left Washington earlier in the day, the president declared Apache and Navajo counties and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation major disaster areas, making them eligible for federal aid and low-cost loans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.