Conservation (Fire) Camps Program
The primary mission of the Conservation Camp Program is to support state, local and federal government agencies as they respond to emergencies such as fires, floods, and other natural or manmade disasters.
CDCR, in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD), jointly operates 35 conservation camps, commonly known as fire camps, located in 25 counties across California. All camps are minimum-security facilities and all are staffed with correctional staff.
- CAL FIRE Partnership
- Conservation Camp Program Facts
- Forestry Firefighter Training
- AB 2147: Expedited Expungement
- Ventura Training Center
- Consolidation of Fire Camps
CAL FIRE Partnership
CDCR is responsible for the selection, supervision, care and discipline of the camp participants. CAL FIRE maintains the camp, supervises the work of the fire crews, and is responsible for crew member custody while on daily grade projects. CDCR staff often accompany incarcerated fire crews on out-of-county assignments, or on local assignments located near residential areas. Camp participants are directly supervised 24 hours per day while on work projects and while assigned to emergencies. In addition to fires, crews may be assigned to rescue efforts in local parks, and also respond to flood suppression efforts.
Conservation Camp Program Facts
- As of March 2023, there are more than 1,600 incarcerated people housed in conservation camps. In addition to wildland fire crew members, volunteers can work as support staff for the camps and include positions such as cooks, laundry workers, landscapers, and water treatment plant workers.
- Camp participants must volunteer for the program; no one is involuntarily assigned to work in a fire camp. Volunteers must have “minimum custody” status, or the lowest classification for incarcerated people based on their sustained good behavior in prison, their conforming to rules within the prison and participation in rehabilitative programming.
- Some conviction offenses automatically make someone ineligible for conservation camp assignment, even if they have minimum custody status. Those convictions include: sexual offenses, arson and any history of escape with force or violence.
- When not fighting fires, incarcerated firefighters perform conservation and community service projects performing a wide range of duties, such as clearing brush and fallen trees to reduce the chance of fire, maintaining parks, sand bagging, flood protection and reforestation.
Forestry Firefighter Training
All incarcerated firefighters receive a week of classroom instruction and a second week of field exercises.
All incarcerated firefighters receive a week of classroom instruction and a second week of field exercises. Crew members receive Forestry Firefighter Training (FFT) taught by CAL FIRE staff which consists of 29 hours of classroom training. Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) in Jamestown serves as the primary training hub for male crew members. Female incarcerated hand crew members are trained at the California Institution for Women in Corona and youthful offenders are trained at the Pine Grove Conservation Camp in Amador County.
The Conservation Camp Program was initiated by CDCR to provide able-bodied incarcerated people the opportunity to work on meaningful projects throughout the state. The CDCR road camps were established in 1915. During World War II much of the work force that was used by the Division of Forestry (now known as CAL FIRE), was depleted.
CDCR provided the needed work force by having incarcerated people occupy “temporary camps” to augment the regular firefighting forces. There were 41 “interim camps” during WWII, which were the foundation for the network of camps in operation today. In 1946, the Rainbow Conservation Camp was opened as the first permanent male conservation camp. Rainbow made history again when it converted to a female camp in 1983.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department (LAC), in contract with the CDCR, opened five camps in Los Angeles County in the 1980’s.
The Conservation Camp Program can be an important part of an incarcerated person’s rehabilitation. They perform a vital service and give back to the community while they serve their sentences with CDCR. Just as in every CDCR prison, every fire camp offers rehabilitative and educational services.
October 2022: Residents thank fire crews for saving community
April 2022: Camp Cuesta firefighter honors others through art
June 2022: Every 15 Minutes: Incarcerated firefighters discuss DUI dangers
May 2022: Future Fire Academy fosters firefighting careers
April 2022: Two formerly incarcerated firefighters receive leadership award and grant
June 2021: Incarcerated firefighters help protect redwood coastal communities
October 2020: Formerly incarcerated firefighter finds success through training, reentry
November 2019: Firefighter on parole is a role model to his daughter
June 2019: Inmate firefighter interviews with CAL FIRE
AB 2147: Expedited Expungement
In September 2020, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2147, which provides an expedited expungement pathway for formerly incarcerated people who have successfully participated as incarcerated fire crew members in the state’s Conservation Camp Program.
Many former incarcerated hand crew members go on to gain employment with CAL FIRE, the United States Forest Service and interagency hotshot crews, which do not require EMT certifications. CAL FIRE does not require EMT certification to become employed as a firefighter with their department, nor do federal firefighting crews or private municipal fire departments.
Under AB 2147, a person that served as an incarcerated fire-fighting crew member is eligible to apply for an expungement upon release from custody, and if the expungement is approved, they then would be able to seek various career pathways including those that require a state license. Successful participation in an incarcerated hand crew would be determined by CDCR for those who were incarcerated in state prison. For those in county jails, the local county authority would make the determination.
For more information, see the AB-2147 webpage.
Ventura Training Center
To expand employment opportunities for incarcerated persons paroling from fire camps, CDCR, CAL FIRE and the California Conservation Corps partnered to implement a Firefighter Training and Certification Program in Ventura County in October 2018.
The Ventura Training Center (VTC) is an 18-month program that provides advanced firefighter training to eligible former offenders on parole who have recently been part of a trained firefighting workforce housed in fire camps or institutional firehouses operated by CAL FIRE and CDCR. Members of the California Conservation Corps are also eligible to participate.
July 2022: Ventura Training Center hosts open house event
May 2022: Firefighters Graduate from Ventura Training Center Program
October 2020: Ventura Training Center cadets return from 2 months on fire line
February 2020: First young adult DJJ firefighters accepted to Ventura firefighter training program
For more information, visit the VTC webpage.