Heatwave: Biden and Harris meet western governors as region in emergency

<span>Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters
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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris met with governors from western states today, as a fierce wildfire raged in northern California and the region is battling a historic heatwave that has set record-high temperatures in many cities.

“This is a personal issue for me as a daughter of California,” the vice-president said at the start of the meeting, which included Democratic and Republican governors.

Related: Historic heatwave, extreme drought and wildfires plague North American west

Harris, who previously served as one of California’s senators, recounted the pain of witnessing the devastation that wildfires like the Camp fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise, have had on her state.

Harris also said one of the worst experiences after a wildfire is seeing cars still parked in driveways of homes because it means residents didn’t get out in time. According to the White House, the meeting was meant to focus on the “devastating intersection of drought, heat, and wildfires in the Western United States, and strengthening prevention, preparedness and response efforts for this wildfire season”.

Experts have warned that the devastating heat wave is just a sign of things to come if the world does not curb greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the ramifications of the heatwave are hitting Americans in many ways. At least six people have died in the Pacific north-west since Friday. Cities across the west banned this weekend’s Fourth of July fireworks.

At the virtual meeting with the president, Kate Brown, the Democratic governor of Oregon, expressed dismay about the “unprecedented” heatwave affecting her state and others. Brown noted that some streets in Oregon are literally buckling because of the high temperature, which hit 116F in Portland on Monday.

Meanwhile, Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California, also delivered some criticism of Donald Trump, saying it was a pleasure to work with a president who understands the severity of the climate crisis.

He also delivered this message for those who deny the reality of climate change: “You’ve got to believe your own damn eyes.”

A wildfire in northern California exploded in size on Tuesday, forcing evacuations in the communities of Lake Shastina, Juniper Valley and Mount Shasta Vista. The flames spanned nearly 21 sq miles (54 sq kilometers) on Tuesday.

“All evacuation orders are still in place at this time. We do not know what structures have burned down and the status of many areas,” the Siskiyou sheriff’s office said on social media Tuesday.

Ignited by lightning on 24 June, the Lava fire is burning brush and timber in the Shasta-Trinity national forest north of the town of Weed, about 250 miles (402km) north of San Francisco.

Wildfires have already scorched more than 2,000 sq miles in western states this year, ahead of the pace in 2020, which saw a near-record 15,000 sq miles burned as well as more than 17,000 homes and other structures destroyed.

Biden confirmed that his administration is taking steps to ensure federal firefighters are paid at least $15 an hour, with 10% bonuses available for those on the frontlines. The president said he was shocked to discover last week that some firefighters are paid as little as $13 an hour. “Come on, man. That’s unacceptable,” Biden said.

Biden also noted that fighting wildfires is “no longer a seasonal job” because of the climate crisis, which has caused a longer and more dangerous wildfire season.

States like California remain in emergency as the record temperatures continue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.