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Biden to tackle wildfire danger on California trip

President Biden is due to land here Monday afternoon to tour the damage caused by the wildfires that have worn firefighters out and challenged his administration’s efforts to keep pace with the fallout from climate change.

It is expected to fly over the destruction caused by the Caldor fire, which spanned more than 200,000 acres and destroyed at least 700 homes since it ignited a month ago. Although firefighters stopped the blaze before it could damage South Lake Tahoe, runoff of toxic waste and sediment from the blaze threatens the watershed, and the nearby town of Grizzly Flats has been wiped out. Biden approved a federal declaration of disaster for the region on Sunday.

The president will likely be greeted on his arrival by Governor Gavin Newsom, the Democratic head of state who faces a recall election on Tuesday. Biden is expected to campaign with Newsom Monday night in Long Beach.

Before arriving in Sacramento, Biden stopped in Boise, Idaho, where he became the first president to visit the National Interagency Fire Center since its founding five decades ago. Biden’s trip to the west reflects not only political imperatives – Democrats across the country have rushed to help Newsom push back the recall – but also his administration’s growing attention to the wildfires.

“You know the time of year when the air fills with smoke and the sky turns a little orange,” he told Boise. “But this time of year is getting earlier and earlier every year.”

There have been about 44,000 wildfires this year, with 5.4 million acres burned across the country. Biden said East Coast residents find it difficult to understand the scale of the destruction, which rivals the size of New Jersey.

“It’s just unfathomable,” he said. “They don’t really understand how big the West is.”

Biden said climate change will continue to exacerbate wildfires and other natural disasters.

“We can’t keep trying to ignore reality,” Biden said. “The reality is that we have a problem with global warming. “

He added: “It’s not going to get any better than it is today. It can only get worse.

More than 2 million acres have burned in California so far this year, putting the state on track to match last year’s worst fire season on record.

Dry vegetation, hot temperatures and the potential for high winds have raised fears that fall will bring even more devastating fires to California. The state budget allocates $ 1.5 billion for forest fire prevention work, including brush clearing and forest management.

In a meeting with Biden and other governors in late July, Newsom said the state needed more federal support to increase the number of firefighters and improve its aircraft fleet. The governor implored Biden to order the US Forest Service to more aggressively suppress the fires on federal lands.

“The US Forest Service is spectacular,” Newsom said in July. “We have deep admiration, respect, but there is a culture that is too often ‘wait and see’. We can no longer afford it.

Biden and his administration have taken action to support firefighters who have struggled with low wages, high attrition and inadequate resources.

Last month, around 15,000 firefighters working for the US Forest Service and the Home Office saw their wages increase to at least $ 15 an hour. Some made as little as $ 13.

The Pentagon has also expanded a program that allows firefighters to access military satellite data, which helps officials track conflagrations and decide where to deploy resources. The program, known as FireGuard, was due to expire later this month.

“We owe you more than our thanks,” Biden told Boise. “We owe you what you need to face these problems.”