The National Association of Realtors is donating $500,000 to assist victims of the Southern California wildfires and has called upon its members to contribute to its Realtors Relief Foundation.

Since Saturday, at least eight people reportedly have died as a result of the fires and related evacuations. An estimated 1,500 Southern California homes have been destroyed by more than a dozen wildfires that have burned about 719 square miles, with losses estimated above $1 billion for San Diego County alone.

President Bush has declared a major disaster for a seven-county region in Southern California.

While some news reports have placed the number of evacuees at about 1 million, the Los Angeles Times reports that those numbers may be exaggerated.

At the height of evacuations Tuesday morning in San Diego County, officials said nearly 350,000 households had received automated emergency phone calls warning them to evacuate, the newspaper reported. But some of those evacuations were lifted within hours and some residents chose not to leave.

NAR announced that tax-deductible contributions to the Realtors Relief Foundation can be made online at www.Realtor.org/relief. To contribute by mail, make checks payable to the Realtors Relief Foundation and send to: Realtors Relief Foundation, Attn: NAR Finance Division, 430 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

Realtors donated supplies, volunteer labor and an estimated $6 million to victims of U.S. hurricanes in 2005 and the international tsunami disaster in 2004, NAR reported.

The foundation can choose to provide assistance primarily or solely to victims who are members of the National Association of Realtors.

The California Association of Realtors and San Diego Association of Realtors are also assisting victims and evacuees. The San Diego Association of Realtors has set up a special page at its Web site and is seeking to connect displaced residents with available properties to serve as temporary housing.

The state Realtor group is offering grants to Realtor members and associated staff. The statewide group seeks contributions to a disaster relief fund. To contribute to this fund, make checks payable to California Community Foundation and write “C.A.R. Disaster Relief Fund” on the memo line. Checks can be sent to: California Community Foundation, 445 S. Figueroa St., #3400, Los Angeles, CA 90071-1638. Contributions can also be made online: http://www.calfund.org/8/giving/calrealtorsrelief.php.

Mark Giberson, a spokesman for the California Association of Realtors, said Wednesday that the San Diego Association of Realtors, North San Diego Association of Realtors, Rim O’ The World Association of Realtors (in the Lake Arrowhead area) and Malibu Association of Realtors closed their offices on Monday and Tuesday in response to the wildfires. One local association executive has lost a home to fire, he said.

Several real estate agents who work in and around wildfire areas have kept clients and property owners informed about fire-damaged areas and firefighting efforts through blogging and phone calls.

Amy Steele, a real estate agent who lives and works in Crestline, Calif., has been monitoring emergency crews’ communications online and posting wildfire updates to her blog at the ActiveRain site.

She said today that she left her home on Monday under a voluntary evacuation and has been staying with family about an hour away.

“I’ve had more phone calls than I can count — people wanting to know if their house is OK, if their cabin is OK,” she said.

Crestline has been untouched by the wildfire in the area, Steele said. “The fire is five to 10 miles away from us.” The Crestline area has a mix of cabins, vacation homes and full-time residents.

Running Springs, another community in the San Bernardino Mountains that has mostly full-time residents, has not been as fortunate as Crestline, she said. “I feel so awful — people in Running Springs are losing their full-time homes.”

She added, “It’s awful for us to have to leave our house, but at least we have a home we get to go home to.”

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