Recent Budget Request By CAL FIRE Indicates An End To The Surplus Of Hand Crews To Fight Fires For CAL FIRE

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A recent closing of a prison is moving forward. The prison is "one of two primary training centers for inmate firefighters in the state." Since 1963, the prison's Training Center has provided inmate firefighters. [i]

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Firefighters are fighting a wildfire.toa555/Adobe Stock

Among western states, 'conservation camps' bring several hundred incarcerated individuals to work on behalf of the state's natural resource departments on tasks such as wildland fire suppression, vegetation management, and hazardous fuel reduction projects. [ii]

According to a 'Fiscal Year 2022-2023 Budget Change Proposal' from CAL FIRE, "CAL Fire has historically operated 208 Type 1 hand crews." Of those, "192 hand crews [are] with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Department of Juvenile Justice." [iii]

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On July 27, 2021, the Shell Fire burned nearly 2,000 acres in Kern County, Southern California.Russ Allison Loar/Wikimedia Commons

Further, the proposal states that,

Over the last decade, the CAL FIRE Conservation Camp program has experienced a decline of inmates available to fully staff all its inmate hand crews, which has resulted in the operation of fewer crews to support CAL FIRE's fire protection operations and complete hazardous fuel reduction projects." [iv]

It describes the declining inmate population due to "sentencing reform, including credits for good behavior," starting "even before the COVID-19 pandemic." Initially, 40 inmate hand crews were permanently downsized, reducing the total inmate hand crew count from 192 to 152. [v]

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The 2020 Dome Fire burned in Mojave National Preserve and killed many Joshua Trees.Jacob Sohr/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The following year, only 61 of those 152 inmate hand crews were staffed. By March 2022, only 37 of the 152 inmate hand crews were staffed. The proposal mentions that by closing the Susanville prison, the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown will need to provide double the "trained inmate firefighters to CAL FIRE's Conservation Camps." [vi]

Emergency funding and temporary staff have been provided to CAL FIRE in response to the loss of manpower from inmate hand crews. The proposal points out that 2021 saw the second-largest wildfire in California, the year when inmate hand crew staffing was at its most recent lowest. [vii]

Additionally, although 192 of the 208 hand crews were crewed by inmates, California residents are welcomed to join the California Conservation Corps. The requirements are shown below.

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Screenshot from California Conservation Corps website.Charnell Gilchrist

Interested individuals can view the Frequently Asked Questions, before Applying Online!

References

[i] State of California CAL FIRE, Budget Change Proposal CAL FIRE Staffing to Support California Conservation Corps and California Military Department Fire Crews, (May 13, 2022)

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

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