Staffing levels could worsen if Congress doesn’t pass a permanent pay raise before current bonuses are phased out. …Federal firefighters have long faced the twin stressors of low pay – starting at just $15 an hour for entry-level positions – and a high-pressure environment that takes a heavy mental toll and keeps them away from their families. The issues have pushed scores to leave the service, taking valuable experience and knowledge with them. This fall, those issues are coming to a head. A temporary but vital firefighter pay bump, implemented as part of Joe Biden’s 2021 infrastructure bill, will expire at the end of September. Without it, firefighters say the US risks exacerbating a crisis of burnout and retention at a time when fires are becoming bigger, more dangerous and harder to control. Officials have just weeks to implement a long-term fix. If they fail, federal land management agencies may be left to navigate another mass exodus.