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February 29, 2024

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Spring Housing Guide

Firefighters begin aerial attack on California wildfires

SAN DIEGO – The death toll from the Southern California wildfires rose to three and the total acres burned approached half a million yesterday as firefighters took advantage of calmer winds and cooler temperatures to launch an aerial assault on several stubborn blazes.

In some areas, though, it was a second straight day of hopeful signs. Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for most residential areas of San Diego. Shelters emptied at a rapid rate, and residents in some neighborhoods returned to their streets, many lined with the wreckage of melted cars.

President Bush surveyed the damage in the hard-hit community of Rancho Bernardo, where he draped his armed around a woman who had lost her home.

“We want the people to know there’s a better day ahead – that today your life may look dismal, but tomorrow life’s going to be better,” said Bush, who earlier declared seven counties a major disaster area, making residents eligible for federal assistance to help them rebuild.

His visit came just hours after rescue crews found the bodies of a married couple in the rubble of a burned home in Escondido, bringing to three the number of victims who died directly from the flames. Like the previous death, the pair had been urged to evacuate.

Neighbors told authorities they last saw the two around midnight Monday. They were reported missing sometime after that.

Sheriff’s deputies on Wednesday had taken a cursory look around the couple’s home and found no one inside. When the two did not turn up during the day, a search-and-rescue team was sent to the site and found one body Wednesday night and a second set of remains early yesterday.

They were identified as John Christopher Bain, 58, a mortgage broker, and his wife, Victoria Fox, 55, a teacher. A relative who did not want to be identified because she was too distraught to talk to other reporters confirmed the deaths to The Associated Press, and their names matched property records for the address where they were found.

Although officials have reported 10 deaths connected to the fires, seven of those were people who perished from causes other than flames.

In the Los Angeles area, fire crews worked to tamp out many wildfires, including two that burned 21 homes and were now fully contained. But the focus shifted to flames still raging in Orange and San Diego counties, particularly in rural areas near the Mexico border where more evacuation orders were issued.

The total burn area across California had expanded to more than 482,000 acres – about 753 square miles.

San Diego officials said the number of homes destroyed had risen to at least 1,470, about 400 more than previously reported. That would bring the number of homes destroyed in the seven affected counties to at least 1,800.

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