Gov. Schwarzenegger Asks Bush to Declare Fire Emergency as Firefighters Prepare for Long Battle

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked President Bush to declare a state of emergency as firefighters are digging in for what's expected to be a long battle against wildfires burning throughout California.

State fire officials say lightning strikes last weekend sparked 1,000 blazes across Northern California that so far have burned 302 square miles. More lightning storms are expected this weekend.

Schwarzenegger is requesting direct federal assistance. That would include air and ground firefighting crews, debris removal and help evacuating and sheltering residents and animals.

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The counties covered by his request for an emergency declaration are Butte, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Trinity.

Schwarzenegger's office released his letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday.

Hundreds of firefighters on the scene will be dealing with warmer temperatures today as they work to protect about 575 threatened homes and historic structures in Big Sur.

Away from the town, firefighters are letting the fire burn through the steep mountain forests, where flames are toppling massive redwoods.

Since it was reported nearly a week ago, the fire being called the "Basin Complex" fire has burned about 42 square miles.

The blaze is only three percent contained. The fire has destroyed 16 homes and two outbuildings.

A section of Highway 1 through the area remains closed.

Meanwhile, U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is in California to assess the hundreds of wildfires burning across the state. He will be joined by Governor Schwarzenegger at a briefing in Whiskeytown. More than 150 fires have burned about 34 square miles nearby in the Shasta-Trinity Forest.