Biden to announce expanded federal wildfire efforts in meeting with Western governors

Measures aim to expand response and mitigation capabilities, increase firefighter pay

By: - June 30, 2021 4:01 am

A home west of Colo. 125 still burns from open gas lines after the East Troublesome Fire made its way through a community in October 2020. (Thomas Cooper/Special to Colorado Newsline)

President Joe Biden will announce measures to expand the federal government’s wildfire response and mitigation efforts and increase pay for wildland firefighters during a meeting with Western governors and Cabinet officials on Wednesday, a senior administration official said.

Fueled by climate change, extreme heat and drought across much of the West have led to a highly active start to the 2021 wildfire season, with more than 1 million acres already burned across 12 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In Arizona, the Telegraph Fire has burned more than 193,000 acres since igniting on June 4, while officials in northern California on Tuesday issued evacuation orders amid the rapid growth of several fires in the Mount Shasta area.

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Biden will meet virtually on Wednesday with governors from Western states, who are gathering for the annual meeting of the bipartisan Western Governors’ Association, based in Denver. He is expected to announce a series of actions aimed at expanding the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s wildfire response capabilities, as well as “critical new investments” in federal grant programs that help communities mitigate fire risks, a senior administration official said in a call with reporters Tuesday.

Those measures will include additional aerial firefighting resources, the use of satellite technology to improve early-detection efforts, planning for potential impacts to the power grid, and the development of “new apps, maps and resources” to keep the public informed, the official said.

Biden has also announced plans to improve pay for wildland firefighters, part of a broader effort to improve recruitment and retention in the federal firefighting workforce as the government begins to plan for year-round fire seasons. In a White House FEMA briefing last week, Biden cried foul over wages for wildland firefighters, some of whom make as little as $13 an hour.

“That’s gonna end in my administration,” Biden said, according to a pool report. “That’s a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters.”

In order to boost pay for firefighters for the upcoming fire season, the Biden administration will offer bonuses and retention incentives bringing them up to the equivalent of at least $15 per hour, the official said. The administration plans to work with Congress on long-term increases to firefighter compensation.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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