Biden Pledges More Federal Help for Western States to Battle Wildfires

By Steve Herman for VOA News

Western U.S. states vulnerable to wildfires and suffering from drought amid extreme heat are to receive more help from the federal government, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday during a virtual meeting with governors.

"Climate change is driving the dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought. We're seeing wildfires of greater intensity that move with more speed," Biden said in the White House South Auditorium, with other top officials of his administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris and five members of the Cabinet, in attendance.

Biden said federal firefighters would get a boost in their minimum wage and be kept on the job as long as needed beyond the traditional wildfire season.

The National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates the mobilization of resources to battle wildfires in the United States, has warned that many Western states are facing a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildfires will occur in the next few months.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that wide areas of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah are experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.

"This year of drought in the western U.S. is unusually extensive with unusually high temperatures, likely worsened by climate warming. The high temperatures worsen the drought by evaporating more precipitation before it can reach rivers and aquifers," said Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California-Davis.

The climate of the western United States has more variable precipitation than most of the country, and that has helped cities and farmers prepare for drier years. But in this unusually dry year, "farms in much of the state are having more difficulty and are fallowing some less profitable crops. Hydropower production is reduced," said Lund, who is co-director of the university's Center for Watershed Sciences.

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