President Bush, as he left Thursday to get a close-up view of the devastation caused by wildfires in Southern California, thanked firefighters, expressed sympathy for those who lost their homes and promised federal assistance.

"It's a sad situation out there in Southern California," he said. "I fully understand that the people have got a lot of anguish in their hearts, and they just need to know a lot of folks care about them."

Bush spoke on the South Lawn as he left rainy Washington for the bone-dry conditions of California, where firefighters are hoping winds cooperate with their efforts.

"Apparently the winds are more favorable today which should be encouraging to firefighters," Bush said.

Bush expected to arrive in California by midmorning. He was scheduled to take a helicopter tour of the wildfire damage and visit a San Diego neighborhood. Bush then was to travel north to Escondido to assess that area's damage and offer a statement about recovery efforts. He planned lunch with emergency responders before returning to Washington later in the day.

"I will assure the people of California that the federal government will be deploying resources, assets and manpower necessary to help fight these fires," Bush said. "As well, I will assure them that because of the declaration I signed yesterday, there will be help for the people of California."