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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 3, 1993
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                  The Old Executive Office Building

8:45 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. For just a few moments, I want to speak to you good people in Southern California who are enduring in an agonizing tragedy with the spread of the wildfires. Whenever natural disasters like this strike one region of our nation, all the rest of us try to pull together as one community, a family, to help those in need. That's what Americans do. And that's why the prayers and good wishes of all the citizens of our nation are with the people of California. We're facing those fires together.

This has to be a terrifying experience for children awakened at night by their parents and carried away from their homes before their loss; for property owners, some of whom have faced down a wall of fire with nothing more than a garden hose in their hands and a prayer in their hearts; and especially for the gallant, heroic men and women who are fighting these fires and risking their lives to save people and property from being consumed by the blaze.

I'm especially grateful for the work of the pilots, many of whom have flown after dark into strong winds to drop water on the fires to contain their fury. Their actions and the work of countless others define the word courage. And we can never repay them for what they have done and what they are still prepared to do.

In the fires which struck the south, and we've moved quickly to speed federal resources and a strong federal response to those places where it could do the most good in helping the state and local efforts. After designating several counties as major disaster areas, we dispatched Forest Service air tankers and federal firefighters to the scene. At my direction, Mr. McLarty, the White House Chief of Staff, has coordinated the federal response. The Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, James Lee Witt, traveled immediately to the scene of the fires, along with Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and our General Services Administrator from Orange County, Roger Johnson. We work with Governor Wilson and his Emergency Director Dick Andrews, as well as the leaders in your congressional delegation, especially your Senators, Boxer and Feinstein.

And until these fires are out, those in the inland empire and the new ones tearing through the Santa Monica mountains, our work with continue and we won't rest either. For these new fires, the federal response has already begun. We're providing 37 air tankers, 100 fire crews, amounting to 2,000 federal firefighters, 86 fire engines, and 22 helicopters.

I've just spoken with FEMA Director Witt, and he assures me that the federal efforts are well coordinated with the extraordinary work being done by private citizens and state and local government. I talked with Governor Wilson, and he said the same thing. Just a few moments ago, Director Witt announced my decision to provide $15 million to the California Office of Emergency Services

to help pay for the state and local firefighting costs. This advance will be supplemented as further costs are identified in the coming weeks.

I know this is a big burden for California with all your other troubles, and we ought to do what we can to help. I know, too, from dealing with natural disasters in my home state of Arkansas that these problems put unbearable strains on the budgets of state and local government as well as on private citizens. We're going to try to help communities shoulder their extraordinary expenses that they're facing through no fault of their own. As we provide this help, we'll monitor the situation closely so that we can do more when more is needed to be done.

I know there are people who suffered losses who are upset and frightened about the future. I know there are families concerned about leaving their homes in the fires' path and moving to safety, perhaps spending the night in a shelter. I know there are public safety officers and firefighters who are exhausted from their exertions. And I know there are children who are frightened.

For them especially, but for all of you, I know words alone will not heal your hurt or make you whole. But I hope you will take some solace in knowing that your country is concerned about you, and that I am closely following the work being done to protect you. I hope you are sustained by the knowledge that communities in California are pulling together and neighbors are helping each other. This is what our great country is all about.

Have faith and take heart. Soon the tragedy will pass and the recovery will begin. And as this happens, and you know that it will, you will be in the prayers and hearts of your fellow citizens. You are not facing these fires alone.

Thank you, and God bless you.

END8:50 P.M. EST