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Biden’s Plan to Address Wildfire Season Includes Pay Increases for Firefighters

More wildfires were detected this past month than in any other June over the past decade.

Firefighters turn to shield themselves from the ember wash as they battle the Bond Fire on December 3, 2020, in Silverado, California.

President Joe Biden will be meeting with governors from western states to address the needs of the states ahead of what will likely become a very difficult and brutal wildfire season in the U.S.

The meeting, which will include members of Biden’s cabinet as well as relevant players from the private sector, will look at what immediate resources can be given by the federal government to states in preparation for this summer’s wildfires. The administration is also likely to announce a number of policies it already has in mind, including hiring more federal firefighters and increasing their base rate of pay.

Earlier this month, while speaking at a meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Biden lamented over the low pay that some federal firefighters have been receiving.

“I didn’t realize this, I have to admit, that federal firefighters get paid $13 an hour. That’s going to end in my administration,” Biden said last week. “That’s a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters.”

Until a permanent solution can be figured out, in the short term, the administration plans to address the issue of low pay for firefighters by giving out bonuses that would boost their overall compensation to $15 an hour.

In addition to addressing the hiring and salaries of firefighters, the administration is also planning to offer other ideas on how to tackle the wildfire season this year. These will include training other federal employees to work as “surge capacity” helpers when the need arises, improving early detection methods, and developing new maps and apps to help people check wildfires near them.

This year’s wildfire season is already under way, and if current trends continue, could be one of the worst seen in several years. Through June 21, there have been around 29,000 wildfires recorded already in the U.S., about 4,000 more than is typical and the highest number recorded for the month of June in the past 10 years. That is troubling, considering that July and August are usually the more destructive months for wildfires.

The potential for a tough wildfire season in the U.S. is higher than normal due to long heat waves and record-setting increases in temperatures seen this year in the west. Around 90 percent of the region is experiencing drought conditions as well.

While wildfires are naturally occurring phenomena, climate change has likely played a role in increasing their intensity. One study from 2016 found that climate change caused by humans was responsible for 55 percent of the increase in dryness that fueled wildfires. As a result, the amount of land that has burned across the western U.S. has more than doubled over the past three decades.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Biden’s meeting with governors set for Wednesday would address the topic of climate change.