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Bush tours fire remnants, praises "best of mankind'

President Bush toured fire-scorched Southern California on Tuesday, comforting those displaced by wildfires and praising the firefighters who battled them.

"We've seen the worst of nature. But when you go to these communities and you realize what's taken place, you see the absolute best of mankind," the president told firefighters and volunteers helping in the disaster recovery. "I think when people realize the scope of the fires, the historic nature of these fires, they'll realize what a super-human effort you all put in to save lives. This is, to me, an ultimate act of sacrifice."

The fires killed at least 20 people, burned 750,000 acres and destroyed 3,400 homes before rain, snow and cooler weather helped douse the flames.

Firefighters contained the biggest and deadliest of Southern California's wildfires Tuesday _ San Diego County's 280,000-acre Cedar Fire _ and turned their attention to mopping up other blazes and heading off mudslides when the rains come.

From a helicopter, Bush surveyed the Cedar Fire area, which includes the towns of Scripps Ranch, Ramona, Barona and Crest. He then took a walking tour of Harbison Canyon, a community 20 miles east of San Diego.

Bush declared large burnt regions disaster areas last week, which made them eligible for federal assistance. But Bush brought no new aid with him Tuesday.

The president's trip allowed him to sympathize with those who lost property and possessions, but also to climb aboard the wave of popularity behind Republican Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, who toured the areas with Bush and outgoing Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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