In this file photo, crews battle the Howe Peak Fire, a human-caused fire that started July 2, 2020, outside of Howe, Idaho. (Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management / National Interagency Fire Center)
WASHINGTON — As wildfires rage in the western United States, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced it is hiking pay for federal wildland firefighters to at least $15 per hour.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the change will boost pay for 3,500 firefighters with the Interior Department and more than 11,300 firefighters at the USDA Forest Service.
“As climate change brings longer fire seasons and more extreme fire behavior, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to wildland fire preparedness and response,” Haaland said in a statement. “The brave women and men on the frontlines deserve fair pay for their work to protect our families, our communities, and our lands from the increasing threat of fire.”
The pay hike comes after President Joe Biden had sharply criticized the low pay rates for federal firefighters, pledging to raise them.
According to a U.S. Forest Service fact sheet about becoming a federal wildland firefighter, salaries vary but range from about $26,150 to $49,765 annually.
The increases will appear in firefighter paychecks on or around Aug. 24, and include back pay starting June 30.
In addition, all temporary frontline firefighters will receive a $1,300 award, and all permanent frontline firefighters up to GS-9 will receive an award equal to 10% of six months of their base pay.
Severe, ongoing drought has sparked extreme wildfire conditions in the West. Nine new large fires were reported just Monday: four in Montana, three in Washington and one in both California and Idaho, according to the National Fire Information Center.
Fire conditions are expected to worsen into the fall, the White House noted in a press release announcing the firefighter pay hike, adding that the longer and more dangerous wildfire season increases risks to firefighter safety and mental health.
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