WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration said Wednesday it is hiring more federal firefighters — and immediately raising their pay — as officials ramp up response efforts in the face of a severe drought that is setting the stage for another destructive summer of intense wildfires across the West.
Watch the hearing in the video player above.
President Joe Biden announced the moves during a virtual meeting with governors from Western states and as a huge swath of the Pacific Northwest endures one of the worst heat waves in recent memory. Temperatures in Portland, Oregon, soared to a record 116 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, a fact Biden cited as “a wake-up call to the rest of the public” about the realities of climate change.
“The truth is we’re playing catch-up” on preparing for extreme heat and wildfires, Biden said, calling federal efforts “under-resourced” compared with the deadly threat posed by climate change and extreme drought.
“That’s going to change and we have to do it,″ Biden told the governors. “We can’t cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires or supporting our firefighters. Right now we have to act and act fast.″
Recalling horrific scenes from wildfires in California and other states last year, Biden said, “Orange skies look like end-of-days smoke and ash.″
Biden’s plan would ensure that no one fighting wildland fires is making less than $15 per hour and would add or convert to full-time nearly 1,000 firefighters across a host of agencies.