WASHINGTON — California Gov. Gavin Newsom pleaded with President Joe Biden for more federal support in combating forest fires Friday during a virtual White House meeting with Western governors.
Following the governors of Montana and Washington, Newsom offered some of the most pointed criticism of the federal government’s handling of the issue during the public portion of the meeting.
“We just simply need, No. 1, more boots on the ground. We can’t do it without you guys,” Newsom told Biden, saying that the state’s resources are already stretched thin months before the peak of wildfire season.
“We’re not in fire season. Fire season in California is late September, October, into November. We’re in July, we already have 7,400 personnel actively working to suppress fires,” the California Democrat said.
“Last year, the federal government asked us for over 5,000 mutual aid support that we could not provide. That gives you a sense of what the federal government wanted from California last year to send to other states. That gives you a sense of how far behind we are with federal support.”
Newsom also said that the U.S. Forest Service has a culture that “too often is wait and see,” blaming the agency’s slow response for the spread of a fire from California into Nevada last weekend.
“We need your help to change the culture in terms of the suppression strategies in this climate literally and figuratively to be more aggressive on these federal fires,” Newsom told Biden.
Biden repeatedly promised greater cooperation on the issue and asked the governors to identify what else the government could be doing to assist them.
“We’re in for a long fight yet this year. And the only way we’re going to meet those challenges is by working together,” Biden said at the outset of the meeting. “Wildfires are a problem for all of us, and we have to stay closely coordinated and doing everything we can for our people.”
The governors weren’t shy about sharing their frustrations with the federal response to the issue over multiple administrations.