More than 100 million Americans are under Air Quality Index Alerts due to smoke drift from historic wildfire activity throughout Canada, which is facing one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. There are over 425 active wildfires in Canada and nearly 10 million acres have burned, 17 times the 20-year average. Since January 1, 2023, 19,574 wildfires have burned 616,486 acres across the United States. Most current large fire activity in the United States is concentrated in the Southwest.
These latest events are another stark reminder of how the climate crisis is disrupting communities across the country. That’s why from day one President Biden recognized climate change as one of the four crises facing our nation, and why he made historic investments to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen community resilience.
The Biden-Harris Administration Is Helping Communities across America Prepare for and Respond to Wildfires:
Amplifying Public Health Guidance
Provide timely and accurate air quality data to the public and State and local officials to help keep people safe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collects data from hundreds of air quality monitors around the country, along with crowd-sourced data from air quality sensors. This data is the lifeblood of the AirNow.gov website and its app, a user-friendly tool the EPA developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to provide all Americans with real time information about air quality so people can make informed decisions about how to stay safe.
Provide technical assistance to public health officials in impacted communities. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have offered technical assistance to impacted State and local health officials and are sharing existing public health resources via social media and other channels. Recommended personal protection measures include staying indoors, using air purifiers, and wearing masks when necessary. By closely monitoring trends and patterns, the CDC can assist State and local governments in identifying any increases in respiratory symptoms, exacerbations of chronic conditions, or other health effects associated with wildfire smoke exposure. The CDC maintains a wildfire page that includes several resources on wildfire smoke, including Children and Wildfire Smoke, Pregnancy and Wildfire Smoke, and Asthma and Wildfire Smoke. Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ready.gov site includes tips, plans, and resources to help families prepare for wildfires that may threaten their communities.
Supporting Canadian Fire Suppression Actions
Mobilizing Federal assets and coordinating with our Canadian allies to help suppress wildfires. To date, the United States, through the National Interagency Fire Center has deployed more than 600 Federal and State firefighters, support personnel, and significant firefighting assets such as airtankers to help our Canadian allies battle the record number of wildfires they are facing, including additional personnel on the way. This support includes hotshot and smokejumper crews, the most highly trained, skilled, and experienced wildland firefighters who work the most challenging parts of the fire and do initial attack response on remote wildland fires. We have offered Canada additional firefighting personnel and equipment and the President has directed that we provide robust support to our neighbors while maintaining domestic readiness for wildfires.
Strengthening Our Wildfire Response Capacity
Provide robust response through a record 16,700 Federal firefighters and additional surge capacity. Federal firefighters, working alongside their State, Tribal, and local counterparts, support a robust, multi-agency effort to combat wildfires. Since 2021, the USFS and the Department of the Interior (DOI) have increased their capacity to 16,700 Federal firefighters, with the ability to activate an additional 13,000 employees across their agencies to support wildfire response across the Nation. USFS and DOI can surge an additional 11,000 administratively determined personnel, mostly retired agency personnel, from outside of their agencies to support incident management teams and other firefighting functions. DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs also coordinates with Tribes to add an additional 500 Tribal firefighters to support firefighting response as needed.
Mitigating Smoke Impacts to Aviation and Airports
“Smoke from Canada’s wildfires is affecting visibility in our airspace and leading to delays. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is fully prepared to modify operations as needed,” tweeted US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. As necessary, the FAA will take steps to manage the flow of air traffic safely into New York City, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and other airports due to reduced visibility from wildfire smoke. Conditions are rapidly evolving, so please monitor www.fly.faa.gov frequently for the latest and the FAA’s official Twitter account.
Wildland Fire Resilience & Response Is a Priority in the President’s Budget
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act included over $7 billion in funding for the Department of Agriculture, DOI, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enhance our ability to mitigate and respond to wildfires. The Biden-Harris Administration remains intensely focused on limiting the damage of wildfires on communities this fire season — and will use all available resources to protect homes, our economy, and the environment from climate-induced natural hazards. As part of the President’s 2024 budget request, he called on Congress to:
- Permanently increase pay for wildland firefighters — initially supplemented for two years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — and provide them with the health — including mental health — resources that they need to do dangerous jobs. These first responders save lives, protect communities, and serve on the frontlines of our nation’s wildfire crisis;
- Provide housing for wildland fire personnel, who often struggle to find affordable housing options in hard-to-reach locations where they fight fires to protect communities;
- Increase funding for hazardous fuels treatment at the USFS by 28% above 2023 enacted levels; and
- Increase DOI’s wildland fire and hazardous fuels management funding 21% above 2023 enacted levels.