Nearly 2,000 inmate firefighters from the California Department of Corrections have joined the battle lines against raging wildfires that threaten communities and open lands in counties from the Oregon border to Central California.
Orange-suited inmates from 28 of the state’s 38 conservation camps from as far south as San Diego have been pulled in to help other fire crews contain the blazes caused by thousands of lighting strikes last Sunday and Monday. The 1,731 inmates and 160 staff from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) will remain on the fire lines until they are fully contained and then will be deployed to help contain other blazes. Currently, there are 114 CDC crews on the fire lines at nine major locations that together encompass approximately 250 separate fires. No inmate fire deaths or serious injuries have been reported to date.
Inmates assigned to minimum level security conservation camps are those typically convicted of non-violent offenses. They must pass a highly selective screening process and a rigorous training regime that includes 64 hours of classroom and hands-on fire fighting training. The average camp inmate is serving a two year sentence and will spend nine months in camp before being paroled.
Nearly 4,000 inmates are housed in the series of camps that are jointly operated by CDC and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). CDC oversees camp security and operations while CDF provides the fire fighting training and supervision of inmate firefighters on duty.
Conservation camp inmates provide over two million hours of firefighting response and prevention services during an average fire season. They are paid $1.00 per hour on the fire lines and from $1.45 to $3.90 a day for non-emergency work. It is estimated that their work saves more than $70 million in costs to state and local governments.
When not fighting fires, inmates provide from six to eight million hours of conservation and project work annually, including such emergency and non-emergency tasks as earthquake response, flood control, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal.
Note: CDC Information Specialist Lt. Mack Reynolds is currently available at the Butte Complex Incident Command Post at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico to assist media interested in covering the inmates’ firefighting efforts. He can be reached at (530) 345-3892.