And Mr. Biden has asked Congress to approve measures that would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. But even if those changes were to become law, the amount of carbon dioxide and other warming gases that has already been released into the atmosphere means the planet will continue to heat up for years.
Much of the action that would go the furthest toward reducing wildfire risk is outside the scope of federal authority, according to Kimiko Barrett, a wildfire policy expert at Headwaters Economics, a consulting group in Montana.
Protecting Americans from fires means reducing home construction in fire-prone areas — decisions historically made at the state and local level, she said.
“We’re developing and building homes in places that are very exposed to wildfires,” Dr. Barrett said. She said communities need to incorporate the risk of fires into how they grow, just as they do with flooding and, increasingly, with sea level rise.
Still, Mr. Biden could use the megaphone of the presidency to encourage state and local officials to be more thoughtful about where and how they build, said Michele Steinberg, wildfire division director for the National Fire Protection Association.
“Folks, there is something called building codes, and land-use ordinances, and they’re really good, and they really work when applied,” Ms. Steinberg offered as the message Mr. Biden could convey. “That would be a huge step in the right direction.”
But even if Mr. Biden wanted to send that message, he would be competing against the deeply held American view that land is something to profit from, rather than to conserve or protect, she said.
“It’s more like, let’s get the value out of this land that we can right now,” Ms. Steinberg said, “and let the next generation worry about it.”