(Reuters) - Firefighters won the upper hand against most of California's wildfires on Thursday, though several still burned out of control as President George W. Bush surveyed what he called "terrible devastation" from the five-day disaster.
As hot Santa Ana winds subsided, replaced by cool offshore breezes, and flames died down, most of the 500,000 people who took part in California's largest mass evacuation were returning home, officials said.
About 2,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged since Sunday, when wildfires began breaking out across the southern half of the state. A pair of burned bodies were found in a house in San Diego County, bringing the death toll to at least eight, including those who died in the evacuation. At least 60 people were injured.
"These fires are among the worst disasters in California history, and the president and I just had a heartbreaking tour of the disaster," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
Bush, who was roundly criticized for his handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, flew over hard-hit San Diego in a helicopter with Schwarzenegger and visited charred neighbourhoods.
"It really is important for me to come out here and see first hand the situation, and there's no question a lot of people are suffering, and there's no question there's been terrible losses," Bush said.
Schwarzenegger has won praise for his hands-on management, but also thanked Bush for his quick response.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized along with Bush for the chaos following Katrina, had 1,000 people on the ground in Southern California.