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FIRE: President Biden Visits National Interagency Fire Center

5: 08 p.m. PDT Sept. 13, 2021

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021.

President Biden visited two locations in the West Monday to gather information about the current wildfire situation. His first stop was in Boise where he became the first US President to visit the National Interagency Fire Center since it was created 50 years ago. The President was pictured holding a pulaski firetool while he toured the NIFC. Later, he sat in front of what appeared to be shelves of parachutes and met with Idaho Governor Brad Little and George Geissler of National Association of State Foresters. Grant Butler is the Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation at BLM. According to the President, Senators Ron Wyden (and Jeff Merkley) had intended to attend but were unable to due to weather conditions.

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021.

Mr. Biden thanked wildland firefighters and reiterated his commitment to increasing their wages. The full text of his public remarks at Boise are below, but here is an excerpt:

The fact is that we’re in a situation where too many memorials are — have been held. And I’ve directed my administration to provide for pay bonuses and incentives to ensure every federal firefighter — because that’s the only authority I have — makes at least $15 an hour. I mean, they should make a hell of a lot — heck of a lot more, but at least $15 an hour. I have also committed to working with Congress to increase the federal wildland firefighters’ pay.

And so, it’s not surprising that there is a huge shortage of firehoses. You all understand it, I’m sure. The idea that we entered this fire season without enough fire hoses was what I heard back from my East and Midwest buddies: they had no fire hoses.

They thought of a thing called “The National Defense Act” a long while ago. And I was able — excuse me, to implement the Defense Production Act.

And I was able to restart production of bringing — bringing a lot of people back to work, delivering 21,920 new feet of fire hose in the frontlines, putting a company back to work that was out of business that stopped — stopped manufacturing.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act helped an Oklahoma City nonprofit called NewView Oklahoma, which provides the bulk of the U.S. Forest Service’s hose, obtain needed supplies to produce and ship 415 miles of fire hose. If that is correct, two zeros should be added to the 21,920 feet mentioned by the President, making it 2,192,000, which is 415 miles.

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021. L to R: Idaho Governor. Brad Little, President Biden, Grant Butler (BLM).

About two hours after Air Force One landed, it departed for Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento. After landing, he visited California’s Office of Emergency Services to receive a briefing about wildfires in California. A large screen displayed a map of Caldor Fire. The plan was for the President to then take an aerial tour of a fire in El Dorado County, the location of the huge 960,000-acre Caldor Fire. The President then made more remarks to the public about wildland fire.

President Biden briefing about the Caldor and other fires in California after flying to Mather AFB, Sept. 13, 2021.
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires in California after flying to Mather AFB, Sept. 13, 2021.

Below is the text of the Presidents public remarks while at NIFC September 13, 2021, provided by the White House:


12: 08 P.M. MDT

MR. BEEBE: Mr. President, on behalf of the wildland fire community, I’m proud to welcome you to the National Interagency Fire Center — or NIFC, for short. We always insist that NIFC is a location, not an organisation.

THE PRESIDENT: (Laughs. )

MR. BEBE: We are very proud of it.

Thank you for visiting. We’re honored you’re the first President to visit in the 50-year history of the Fire Center, and it’s quite an honor.

I’m Grant Beebe. I am the Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation at Bureau of Land Management. For all NIFC partners, thank you for being here. I also want to express my gratitude for your sincere and intense interest in wildland management.

I just want to say that this is a group of partners. Here is a team. There is a National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. We also have the National Association of State Foresters representing each state, FEMA and U.S. Fire Administration.

I think I have them all. Someone will correct me. Oh, and National Weather Service was one of the first partners at NIFC. This was originally a Forest Service, BLM and NOAA operation.

We are so proud of this. We are so happy to have you with us.

NIFC was created 50 years ago, and it is the original and durable model for interagency, intergovernmental coordination. These places are essential because of the devastating, long-lasting and intense fire seasons such as the one we’re currently experiencing.

Through the hard work, ingenuity and persistence of generations upon generations of firefighters, wildfire response across America is coordinated, professional, and cooperative. I will say it again: We all stand on the shoulders giants. This place was ours, and we are trying to preserve it.

In wildland fire there is no single community, agency or Tribal organization with enough resources to handle all the fires. Fires don’t know where they are located, so we ignore them. This will be the topic of one of our speakers.

But the type of fires that we are experiencing right now — the long-lasting, large, destructive fires that have been seen in California, Oregon and Washington in recent years, as well as in Idaho this year [sic], — is teaching us that maybe we need to change how we do business.

At NIFC, as well as at numerous regional and local fire coordination centres, wildland fire managers across the country join forces to direct firefighting resources. This helps protect lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, and natural resources.

In times of crisis, we all depend on our partners. It takes all of the national wildland fire apparatus, including local, rural fire departments, Rangeland Fire Protection Associations, professional state, county and federal firefighters, military partners (thank goodness for our military partners this season) and international assistance to manage fires across our country.

I’ll say people of my age tend to measure fire history in terms of fire seasons, and many of us who are a little longer in the tooth think about the Yellowstone fires of 1988, of course, and what a calamitous fire season that was and we were sure that was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

MR. BEEBE: I’ll just point out that Yellowstone burned about 800,000 acres in the park. The Dixie fire is now approaching a million acres.

California has set records for the biggest fires in history. Colorado has set and reset records for the largest fires in history. We are now entering a new fire environment and starting to consider how to improve our tactics. We’ll discuss that more in a moment.

So, let me conclude by saying that another costly and critically important wildland fire season highlights the need for the country to recommit its resources to fire prevention and preparedness. We are humbled that you are here and have taken this measure as your own.

I’d like to give it to Governor Little right now. I’m sure he would like to meet you or welcome you to Idaho.

GOVERNOR LITTLE : Grant, thank you.

Mr. President, thank-you for being there. Grant was a great help to the entire facility. All these people who work here are the result of years of observing what works in collaboration and what doesn’t. They just keep getting better every year.

I want to briefly talk about the conversation that we had — when you hosted the conference call with the Western governors. It was about two things.

One of them: I want to thank you for asking the men and women involved in firefighting to start the fires earlier, considering the drought in the West. This allowed us to have fires that were not needed.

But second, what can we all do together as federal partners to create a more resilient range.

There has been great work by your agencies, whether it be shared stewardship and good neighbor. We know that about a third are at risk from large, catastrophic fires and there is still much work to be done.

And, in addition to your role as director of the Forest Service/BLM, the Department of Justice also has a role. We’ll often do great work and then get bogged down in court for minor reasons.

If you could help us to do that, so that we don’t endanger firefighters when we send them out because we have forests or rangeland conditions that make it almost impossible to use fuels, that would be greatly appreciated. All Western governors are available to assist you and your administration in this endeavor.

And again, thank-you for coming to Boise.

THE PRINCE: Thank you, Gov. It has been a pleasure working with the Western governors.

I — Folks, you know that I have said this before in another context. But my colleagues used to always joke me when I was in Senate. I am always quoting Irish poets when I felt it was appropriate. They thought I was Irish and that I was doing it to prove it, but it was because they are the best poets. But… (laughter).

All kidding aside, here’s a line taken from a famous poem. Grant, I don’t remember thinking of it until you were just speaking. It goes something like this: “All has changed, changed completely.” “A terrible beauty has been birthed

From the Yellowstone fire up to today, everything has changed in a dramatic, drastic way. Robyn — National Weather Service — knows all about it. It’s changed and it’s not going to back. It isn’t going back. We and Western Governors have discussed this. You know what? I tell all firefighters that God created man, then made some firefighters.

You are all the most amazing people. It’s not hyperbole. I started my career with the firefighters as a 29-year-old kid running for the United States Senate, and we’ve never left one another. And I see the Hotshots there. I don’t want to do any more mass memorial services of the 19 Hotshots that I did back in Arizona.

And the only thing that will keep you all safe, is each other. Firefighters are just as likely to sustain injuries or lose people than police officers. The only thing that matters is whether there are enough firefighters to protect firefighters. This is the real . This is the essence of it all.

I want to let you know that my government supports you — my administration, I should add — as well as all the other government , from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior.

And so. I also want to apologize to Senators Risch, Crapo and others who couldn’t make it. And Senator Wyden [sic] and Markley [] were going — or, excuse, Merkley — to come from Oregon. While we were flying, we received a call: It is too bad for them to make it.

I want to express my gratitude for their incredible work. This is one area where we have overwhelming bipartisan support.

And here at the National Interagency Fire Center (the hub that coordinates the resources to fight wildfires), I’m here for you to share your thoughts and to learn what my administration is doing to help.

You know that time of the year when smoke fills the air and the sky turns an orange. But it’s getting earlier each year. Last week, Boise was awash with smoke from California, Oregon, and other states. And, you know, this year, as you’ve pointed out, Grant, you know, 44,000 wildfires; 5.4 million acres burned. This is more than the entire New Jersey state.

When I say it back East, they are used to storms and floods. It’s unfathomable to me that I would say it back East. They don’t understand the size of the West. However, more acres are burned than New Jersey. This is a large state.

California has 2.2 million acres this calendar year. One million acres of the Dixie fire. The Caldor fire — 200,000 acres, 1,000 structures. It is unknown how many lives were lost or endangered trying to control it.

You know that you have saved many communities, including South Lake Tahoe. People are realizing that you will risk your life to do this. Thank God, we are blessed with you.

But you know, fires, frequency, and ferocity — I have — I am having a lot international meetings with colleagues from around the globe. They are asking. They are asking. Australia is really concerned. Australia (inaudible). But they are trying to find a solution. Canada. You can just look around the globe.

So, folks, let’s face it: Too many memorials have been held. And I’ve directed my administration to provide for pay bonuses and incentives to ensure every federal firefighter — because that’s the only authority I have — makes at least $15 an hour. I mean, they should make a hell of a lot — heck of a lot more, but at least $15 an hour. And I pledge to work with Congress in order to increase the federal wildland firefighters’ pay.

FEMA: 33 fire management assistant grants to help states pay for the cost of firefighting. It’s not enough. You have to bear the enormous costs.

And so, it’s not surprising that there is a huge shortage of firehoses. You all understand it, I’m sure. The idea that we entered this fire season without enough fire hoses was what I heard back from my East and Midwest buddies: they had no fire hoses.

They thought of a thing called “The National Defense Act” a long while ago. I was able, excuse me, to implement the Defense Production Act.

And I was able to restart production of bringing — bringing a lot of people back to work, delivering 21,920 new feet of fire hose in the frontlines, putting a company back to work that was out of business that stopped — stopped manufacturing.

You know this — the major is there; he knows all about it. We were there — the Department of Defense has a commitment to protect home and abroad. This includes the fire service.

We’re now have — we have C-130s for fire suppression, RC-26 aircraft to provide critical fire imagery. They are based in California. They’ve flown over 1,000 missions so far — 250 active-duty troops — and I’ve gotten no pushback from the Department of Defense in this at all — none — to the Dixie fire in California. We also shared satellite imagery to monitor the growth of fires.

I have directed the EPA use this new technology to send smoke, fire and air quality information directly from people’s iPhones. It will be possible very soon. Some areas may already have it.

And — but we must do more than what was done before this happened. So, we have a proposal. And, by the way both my Republican colleagues in the state and the Democratic counterparts from Oregon are going to try and be there, all of us support the bill I put together for infrastructure so that when we rebuild, it can be better than before.

And it — it cre- — literally provides billions of dollars wildfire prepare — wildfire resilience, response and preparedness. What people in East don’t understand is the fact that if we hadn’t made substantial investments in infrastructure, such as the Hoover Dam, to provide water for people all over the country, water would be scarce.

And, you know, we need to — we have $14 billion for disaster needs, including $9 billion for communities hit with wildfire and drought. It’s possible. It was our job to do it. It’s been approved by both houses.

But that’s going — I hope, governor — be of significant assistance to you because states can’t bear it, even smaller states. You’re a large state. However, smaller states can’t bear this , especially if they are small in population.

And so it is — this is a — this — we are — we are one America. Because each country has a different count, we have a federal government.

We need to do more. We’ve asked for $14 billion for disaster needs, including, as I said, that $9 billion for community — this is over a 10-year period — for — hit by wildfires and drought.

We can’t ignore the reality. Barack Obama — I was always joking with President Obama. I used to say that reality had a way of getting in.

And things won’t go back to their previous state. It is not possible to rebuild from scratch. It isn’t going to get better than it is now. It can only get worse, not better. We will have more problems. I believe we can accomplish this.

Scientists have been warning us for years that if we fail to reduce pollution from cars and smokestacks, and other sources, it will have serious consequences.

And I was a U.S. senator in the east when I realized that the water bodies and ponds of major cities, such as New York, were becoming polluted and that the fish were dying. You know where it came from. It wasn’t due to what they were doing upstate New York. It was because of smokestacks at Chicago steel plants. Because it carries pollution — the wind carries it at a height which doesn’t effect the state or Indiana doesn’t impact — but eventually it comes down.

Well, you all know that. The smoke from the California fires is blocking the sky sometimes. People worry about their children’s ability to breathe.

So, for every dollar that we invest in resilience, we save six dollars down the road. This is just part of my message. There’s so much more that I want to hear about. I believe there’s so much more I should be doing. Six dollars can be saved if we invest in resilience and building back better. You all know this number. Studies show extreme weather cost America last year $99 billion. Extreme weather.

It’s more than just fires. I don’t mean that more people were killed — I was there in Louisiana, Mississippi and all the way to the south (inaudible). Guess what? Brooklyn has more people who died than Louisiana. More people. The floodwaters were overwhelming. It was unlike anything else. Because there were tornado warnings, people were being flooded into their homes. Then, all of a sudden the flood surges through their windows and up to the ceiling. Can’t get out. People dying.

People are dying. However, I am also aware of the loss in jobs due to supply chains and other industries being disrupted.

I look forward to this briefing. My message to you: We must build back better. It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a weather thing. It is a fact. It is serious.

We can do it. This is possible, and we can build back jobs. We can create new jobs.

So Grant, I’m going stop here. We appreciate your hospitality. As a former smoker, I know you are crazy. (Laughter. God love you all.

I grew up in Claymont, Delaware. I went to school there. My wife, my deceased wife, and I decided to move to Idaho. We think it’s a beautiful state. I applied for a job at Boise Cascade. In the meantime, there was war. —

But the main point was that Frank used to be my best friend. Claymont was a small steel town in Delaware that I grew up in, after Scranton closed down due to coal mining. Holy Rosary was a Catholic school. And it was on — before I-95, there used to be a thing called the “Philadelphia pike.” And so, my mom would drive me from — we only lived about a mile from school, and the school bus wasn’t around then — and drive me to the parking lot.

And right across from the school was Claymont Fire, a volunteer fire department, but they are really good. So, all those boys who grew up became firefighters, cops, or priests. I was not qualified for any of these, so I’m here. (Laughter. )

But all jokes aside, you guys are amazing. Your talent is amazing. It’s not exaggerated. You know something about me. I know the details of my relationship with firefighters.

I mean it from my heart. We owe more than our gratitude. You owe us everything you need to solve these problems.

I’m sorry for taking so long. We are grateful.

Grant, I’ll return it to you. That’s it. I don’t know — but, who cares?

MR. BEEBE : That would be me. Thank you, Mr. president. You’re correct, I was a smoker because I tried to be a teacher, but that was too hard and scary so I chose something easier. (Laughter. )

THE PRESIDENT: This is why I quit the county council.

MR. BEEBE : Here you go.

The National Association of State Foresters (NASF) is our key partner. George Geissler represents them today. He is a state forester in Washington.

Hello George! You have a few things to say.

MR. Grant, thank you. Thank you Grant.

As Grant stated, safe and effective fire fighting requires cooperation and coordination from all of us, our partners. The primary agencies responsible for wildland fire suppression are state forestry agencies, such as my Washington Department of Natural Resources, Florida Forest Service and California’s Cal Fire. We are also partners with the National Interagency Fire Center, where a fire chief sits on NMAC, helping to determine the national priorities.

All agencies, federal, state, Tribal and local, benefit from this collaboration that moves national air and ground resources to areas most at risk while still supporting all agencies in firefighting efforts.

States are fighting fire on federal lands along with federal agencies. Then, they help us to light our fires. Fire knows no borders, as you stated.

Nationwide, the state forestry agencies are responsible to wildfire protection on approximately 1.5 billion acres. About 1.1 billion acres of that land are state- and privately-owned forests.

And so far, this year, of those 44,000 fires that you’ve heard, states have responded to about 33,000 of those. We routinely are at about 75 percent of the numbers of wildfires that occur in this country.

States contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year to wildland firefighting resources, such as firefighters, heavy equipment, and aircraft. All of this money goes to the national effort with our federal partners.

Federal funding, like the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance, that we receive through the U.S. Forest Service actually helps to increase that capacity and maintain it. All of this is really about helping rural volunteer fire departments across the U.S

THE PRINCE: Yes.

MR.GEISSLER: This partnership and all the cooperation between state- and local governments is not only for wildfire suppression. Through Good Neighbor Authority and shared stewardship, you know that we work with local governments, as well as Tribal partners, to mitigate the effects of critical fuels. We carry out all the necessary forest health treatments. We’re working to increase the resilience of these landscapes, as you mentioned, as we see the effects of climate change.

All of this really helps the communities we are working with. Wildfires can affect entire American communities. These annual events put millions of Americans at high risk. They’re not limited to what you see in the West. They — we have fires — it’s now a “fire year,” and we routinely have fires throughout all 50 states.

But the danger of catastrophic wildfires in America’s wildland/urban interface is something that requires national attention. It must be unified, multifaceted, and it should include prevention, mitigation, response, recovery.

It’s the same as wildland fire suppression being managed in this building. We need that effort to protect wildland-urban interface.

I appreciate your coming to the National Association of State Foresters Wildland Committee to focus on wildland suppression and how we can all work together to address this problem that we all face — whether it’s climate change, landscape resilience, or threats to our communities. We look forward working with you.

12: 35 P.M. MDT

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. View all posts by Bill Gabbert

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