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Inslee to virtually attend meeting with Biden, Western governors on heat, drought, wildfires

UPDATED: Tue., June 29, 2021

Gov. Jay Inslee, on far right, speaks with, right to left, Matthew Graham, his wife Jessica and daughter Claudia in the fire-devastated town of Malden. The Grahams lost their home in the 2020 wildfire.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gov. Jay Inslee, on far right, speaks with, right to left, Matthew Graham, his wife Jessica and daughter Claudia in the fire-devastated town of Malden. The Grahams lost their home in the 2020 wildfire. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

WASHINGTON – Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said Monday he will participate in a meeting President Joe Biden is convening Wednesday at the White House to discuss drought and wildfires with the leaders of Western states, as a record heat wave grips the Northwest.

Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said in an email the Washington Democrat’s staff rearranged his schedule to let him take part in the remote meeting , after Lee told The Spokesman-Review last Friday the governor would be unable to attend because the June 30 gathering coincides with the end of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden would convene the meeting to bring together governors, cabinet officials and private sector representatives “to discuss the devastating intersection of drought, heat, and wildfires in the Western United States and strengthening prevention, preparedness and response efforts for this wildfire season.”

The governors of seven other Western states – Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and California – will also participate in the meeting, which comes as the nation braces for another devastating fire season and more than 90% of the American West is experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Tuesday evening, a senior administration official said all eight governors will attend the meeting virtually, with Biden and other members of his administration speaking with them from the White House by videoconference.

As of Monday, more than 30,000 wildfires had burned nearly 1.4 million acres across the United States – almost entirely in the West – according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Fifty large fires accounted for 667,000 acres, or roughly half the total acreage burned so far this year.

In response to a question in Friday’s White House press briefing, Psaki told The Spokesman-Review the GOP governors of Idaho, Montana and Arizona were not scheduled to attend the Wednesday meeting, though she would not say whether the three Republicans had been invited.

Brooke Stroyke, a spokesperson for Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte confirmed by email the Montana governor was not invited to Wednesday’s meeting at the White House. On Friday, Gianforte shared a previous Spokesman-Review story and wrote that he was “disappointed” Biden “didn’t offer a seat at the table to Montana and other states facing a severe wildfire season.”

Minutes later, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., shared Gianforte’s tweet and accused Biden of “purposefully leav(ing) out” Montana’s governor while the state battles drought and fires.

More than 68% of Montana is under moderate to extreme drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor data, and roughly 89% of Idaho is experiencing moderate to “exceptional” drought – the only category higher than “extreme” on the scale maintained by the federal tracker based at the University of Nebraska.

As of Monday, three active wildfires in Montana had burned more than 38,000 acres and two active blazes in Idaho had burned 327 acres. In Washington, the Koffman Road fire was fully contained after burning 425 acres in Kittitas County.

Correction: The original version of this story implied that Inslee would be the only governor to participate in the White House meeting on drought and wildfires by phone. A senior Biden administration official confirmed Tuesday evening that all eight governors scheduled to participate in the meeting will do so remotely, while Biden and other members of his administration will participate from the same room in the White House.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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