US President Joe Biden (L) holds a briefing on forest fires with cabinet members, government officials and governors of several western states in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, ahead of the forest fire season.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden hosted a virtual meeting with Western governors on Wednesday to discuss the drought and heat waves in the US that are worsening with climate change and how the country can better prepare for a potentially record-breaking wildfire season.

The meeting comes as a devastating heat wave hits the Pacific Northwest, leaving thousands of people without electricity, and while most of the western United States are grappling with the worst drought in two decades. The conditions sparked wildfires in California, Nevada, and Washington as early as the start of the season.

“The threat from forest fires in the west is greater than ever this year,” Biden said during the meeting. “Right now we have to act and act quickly.”

“The truth is that we are catching up,” said the president. “This is an area that is underserved.”

Attendees included Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as Democratic governors from Oregon, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, and Colorado, and Republican governors from Utah and Wyoming. Cabinet members and business leaders also attended.

California – struggling with depleted reservoirs and snow cover – will have its largest fire department in history on site during the main fire season. The state has urged residents to limit electricity usage to avoid power outages in anticipation of fires after experiencing the worst season on record last year.

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The president said the government will allocate $ 37 million to forest fire containment projects in Sonoma County.

Biden also said he was raising wages for federal firefighters to $ 15 an hour, adding that the increase was “still not enough”. The wage increase follows the president’s meeting last week with the chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on government disaster risk reduction.

Actions come as climate change fuels more frequent and severe weather disasters, and scientists call for immediate action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming.

The President announced in May that FEMA would double available funds to help cities and states prepare for extreme weather disasters, from $ 500 million last year to $ 1 billion this year.

Still, Biden’s recent bipartisan infrastructure deal left out measures to combat climate change, increase spending to cope with worsening disasters, and move the country to a clean energy economy. The democratic legislature must now take up these measures through a separate law of reconciliation.