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KNAU and Arizona News

Biden administration boosts wildland firefighter pay for two years

Firefighter
AP Photo/Noah Berger,File
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In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo Cal Fire Battalion Chief Craig Newell carries a hose while battling the North Complex Fire in Plumas National Forest, Calif.

The Biden administration has signed off on a temporary pay increase for wildland firefighters throughout the U-S. It comes amid a national labor shortage of fire personnel and the growing threat of climate change-fueled wildfires.

The decision increases firefighters’ biweekly pay by up to 50% of their annual base salary or $20,000, whichever is less. The temporary bump also includes back pay beginning from last October and increases access to mental health support and expands career opportunities for firefighters.

The funding for the effort comes from last year’s sweeping Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which also invests billions in wildfire management and recovery.

According to the White House, firefighters were paid $13 an hour until last summer when that increased to $15.

Supporters say the raise, which is only funded for two years, will help maintain proper wildland firefighter staffing levels. A major labor shortage has hampered wildfire response in recent years and firefighter advocates are calling for a permanent pay increase.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said as climate change drives more wildfires, he’ll work with lawmakers to secure long-term funding for firefighter pay hikes.

There are currently almost 5,700 personnel assigned to wildfires in the U.S. They’re battling 45 large blazes in 10 states that’ve so far burned more than 1.8 million acres so far this year.