Saul Loeb, Getty Images
President Bush speaks on the California wildfires while standing with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Escondido, Calif., on Thursday after the two toured the fires' destruction.

ESCONDIDO, Calif. — One is the most powerful Republican in the country. The other is among the most popular. But it took an inferno in Southern California to thaw the ice between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Bush.

It is no secret in California or Washington that the two have never been buddy-buddy, dating back to when Schwarzenegger was a top fitness adviser to the first President George Bush. The younger Bush thought little of Schwarzenegger's first bid for governor and did not endorse him.

Schwarzenegger has taken jabs at Bush on such issues as climate change, stem cell research and Republican fund raising.

"Not hanging-out pals," Schwarzenegger once said, describing their relationship.

But they have, for the moment, become political allies. With wildfires blazing across the southern part of the California, Bush made a quick visit here Thursday, viewing the scarred landscape by helicopter, delivering a pep talk to emergency responders and promising Californians, "We're not going to forget you in Washington, D.C."

Schwarzenegger was there every step of the way, from the moment Bush stepped off Air Force One, where they clapped one another on the shoulder like football teammates, through the canyon neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo, where they picked their way through charred ruins. There, they stood on a hillside, Bush's arm draped around a woman whose home had been leveled, and lavished one another with praise.

Bush went first: "The thing I like about Gov. Schwarzenegger is, he says 'You show me a problem, I'll charge it. You show me a hill, I'll go up it."'

Schwarzenegger returned the compliment: "I call this quick action," he said of Bush's response, "quicker than I expected."

Political analysts say both men benefit from the newfound bond. With his offers of helicopters and troops and federal money, Bush is coming to Schwarzenegger's aid, helping him manage the crisis and looking like a leader with pull in Washington.

Schwarzenegger is coming to Bush's aid as well, by heaping praise on the president — praise that the White House hopes could help Bush shed the legacy of his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

"They both get something out of it," said John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. "Schwarzenegger gets the cash, and Bush gets the praise. But it's like so much in politics. It's a union of convenience, not emotion."