Western governors to meet with Biden about wildfires amid historic heat wave

President Joe Biden on Wednesday will meet with governors from Western states about the threat of wildfires and announce new wildfire response initiatives amid a record-breaking heat wave in the region, a senior administration official said.

During a call with reporters Tuesday night, the official said the threat is fueled by climate change and spurred on by “the devastating intersection of severe drought and extreme heat that is impacting western communities.” Just this week, Portland, Oregon, set an all-time, record-high temperature three days in a row, topping out at 116 degrees on Monday. Seattle hit 108 degrees, besting the all-time record it set just a day earlier.
This wildfire season, the official added, is already outpacing last season in terms of the number of large fires.
    Democratic governors from Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada will attend the meeting, along with the Republican governors of Wyoming and Utah, the White House previously announced. Administration officials confirmed Tuesday that the meeting will be virtual.
      “The President will ask participants what additional resources they need and what actions can be taken immediately to protect communities, improve emergency preparedness and address the growing wildfire threat facing our community,” the official said.
        The President is set to announce a number of initiatives, including retention incentives for firefighting personnel and “raising firefighter pay to ensure no firefighter makes less than $ 15 an hour.”
        The official clarified that while it will be in effect a pay raise for firefighters, it will come in the form of bonuses while the administration works “with Congress to get a better deal long term, because firefighters must be fairly paid for the grueling and risky work that they’re willing to take on.” That official declined to say where the money would come from, but said more details would come early Wednesday.
          Other response initiatives will include extending seasonal hiring, adding “surge capacity” by training and equipping additional personnel, and adding fire detection resources.
          “We’ll also be leveraging the latest science and new and emerging technologies including satellites to improve early detection efforts so we know in real time when wildfires begin,” the official said. “We’ll use new tools to improve our wildfire mitigation activities, enhance our wildfire response capabilities, and protect our firefighters and residents from smoke, dangerous air, and fire risks.”
            As for fire mitigation efforts, the official acknowledged that it is too late this season for “predisaster mitigation” to make a big difference, “as we are living it already.” But, the official said, one grant will be announced Wednesday in response to an application from a Western state.
            Last year marked the worst wildfire season in California state history, which scientists and California authorities blamed on the climate crisis. Other Western states have also struggled, including Arizona, which along with California, has already seen evacuations due to wildfires this year.

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