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How Do Prisoners in California Help Fight Wildfires?

The Camp Fire, which devastated parts of Northern California in November 2018, has become the state’s deadliest wildfire, claiming the lives of at least 85 residents, destroying more than 18,000 structures, and searing more than 153,000 acres. It took firefighters 17 days to fully contain the fire. Among the first responders were non-violent prison inmates who had volunteered to be trained to fight fires on the front lines. The inmate firefighters are paid around $2 USD a day, as well as $1 per hour when they are actively fighting fires. Many are rewarded with sentence reductions. More than 1,500 of the 9,000 firefighters dealing with the spate of California fires this year were prisoners, working as part of the Conservation Camp Program, which has been active since the 1940s.

Serving time on the fire line:

  • Prisoners are provided with “the same entry-level training” that the state gives its seasonal firefighters each year. Using inmates to battle blazes saves California about $100 million USD a year.

  • When inmate firefighters aren't on the fire line, they help maintain parks by clearing out brush and downed trees, according to the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

  • Inmate volunteers also serve as emergency responders during floods, earthquakes, and in search-and-rescue operations.

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More Info: NPR

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