Bush to View Wildfires Damage

President Bush will travel to California on Tuesday to survey damage left by deadly wildfires that have swept across the southern part of the state.

"The president plans to travel to California to view the fire damage and receive an update on our efforts to assist the people of California," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Friday in Crawford, Texas, where Bush is staying for the next several days. "Plans are still subject to change depending on circumstances in California."

McClellan said the White House would announce later exactly where in the state the president would visit.

Nearly 13,000 firefighters and support personnel are battling what Gov. Gray Davis (search) says may be the worst and costliest disaster in the California history. The state is spending an estimated $9 million a day fighting the wildfires; the total cost of fighting the blazes could reach $200 million.

Bush has designated four California counties a major disaster area, and has ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. The president's action made federal money available for disaster-struck people in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.

The trip — Bush's 10th to the state, which carries 55 electoral votes — also gives the president a backdrop for pushing his forest initiative.

Bush wants to speed efforts to thin forests of small trees and underbrush that he says "act as ladders" for wildfires, allowing flames to reach the tops of the nation's oldest and most valuable trees. Environmental groups have opposed the bill, saying it gives government foresters permission to let timber companies log large trees in the interest of thinning.

Late Thursday, the Senate passed, 80-14, a modified version of Bush's initiative, as Democrats joined Republicans in support of a program they said was clearly needed after years of devastating wildfires across the West.

Meanwhile, the House on Thursday approved, 216-205, a record $2.9 billion spending plan for forest firefighting and fire protection. The Senate will take up the measure next week. The money includes $800 million in direct firefighting money, 60 percent more than the current budget.