Biden warns US must 'act fast' to face wildfire threats

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – US President Joe Biden said Wednesday the nation is "late in the game” and needs to "act, and act fast" to combat the growing threat posed by wildfires as western states face an historic heatwave.

"The threat of western wildfires this year is as severe as it's ever been," Biden warned during a meeting of state governors, private sector leaders and Cabinet officials. "The truth is we're playing catchup. This is an area that's been under resourced, but that's going to change."

A White House wildfires meeting, which Biden said will be an annual event, comes as the western US is in the midst of a sweltering heatwave that has sent the normally temperate Pacific Northwest into triple digits in recent days.

Major cities such as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington have been setting heat records one day only to shatter them the next. Portland temperatures reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.7 Celsius) on Monday as the mercury hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42.2 Celsius) in Seattle.

The highly unusual heatwave so early in the summer has prompted widespread concern about the gravity of this year's forest fire season with about 36 already tearing through parts of the states of California, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona.

"With 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 and last well beyond the traditional months of the fire season," said Biden.

The president launched several federal initiatives to help combat the wildfire threat, including bolstering federal firefighter pay and benefits to ensure no one receives less than $15 an hour, and changing positions from seasonal to full-time to accommodate the increasingly long fire season.

The White House said Biden's infrastructure plan includes nearly $50 billion to bolster the fire response efforts.