CDCR firefighters battle wildfires across California

Firefighters walk along a dirt road while a fire burns on one side.
VTC crews fight fires burning in southern California.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

CDCR’s firefighting personnel joined other agencies to battle wildfires raging across California. Fire camps, institution fire departments and other CDCR staff coordinated efforts with CAL FIRE, California Office of Emergency Services, California State Parks, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, federal agencies, out-of-state fire fighters, municipal fire departments and fire crews from other nations.

As of Aug. 31, there were 108 crews (1,304 incarcerated firefighters) supervised by 153 CDCR staff members deployed to the River, Johnson, LNU Lightning Complex, Moc, SCU Lightning Complex, Deer, Potter, LCA, Five-Five, CZU Lightning Complex, River, BTU Lightning Complex, North Complex, Zurich, Johnson, Slink and Carmel fires.

Highlights from the front lines

SCU Lightning Complex fires

Lighting-strike fires are burning in multiple locations throughout Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced and Stanislaus counties. Ignited Aug. 18, the fires have burned over 390,150 acres. There have been five injuries, 120 structures destroyed and 18 structures damaged.

Fire camps responding:

  • Eel River; 2 crews in Santa Clara County
  • Alder; 1 crew in Santa Clara County
  • Salt Creek; 1 crew in Alameda County
  • Devil’s Garden; 2 crews in Santa Clara County
  • Alder; 2 crews in Santa Clara County
  • Trinity River; 2 crews in Santa Clara County
  • Intermountain; 1 crew
  • Valley View; 1 crew in Alameda County
  • Konocti; 1 crew in Alameda County
  • Total: 14 crews deployed

LNU Lightning Complex fires

When the LNU Lightning Complex fire threatened Vacaville on Aug. 24, firefighters from California Medical Facility, CSP-Solano, and Folsom State Prison assisted with rescue and evacuation. The team included eight incarcerated firefighters.

As of Sept. 1, the fires had burned more than 375,200 acres and was 69% contained.

Inmates housed in tents at CMF were temporarily moved indoors due to the smoke. Inmates and staff were offered N95 masks. Firefighting efforts were successful and institutions were out of harm’s way.

Fire camp response:

  • Miramonte; 1 crew in Napa County
  • Mountain Home; 2 crews in Napa County
  • Baseline; 2 crews in Napa County
  • Gabilan; 1 crew in Calistoga County
  • Fenner Canyon; 2 crews in Sonoma/Napa County
  • Growlersburg; 2 crews in Napa County
  • Ishi; 1 crew in Lake/Napa County
  • Trinity River; 2 crews in Lake/Napa County
  • Konocti; 3 crews in Lake County
  • Washington Ridge; 1 crew in Napa County
  • Delta; 1 crew in Napa County
  • Sugar Pine; 2 crews deployed in Napa County
  • Parlin Fork; 2 crews deployed in Napa County
  • Valley View; 1 crew deployed in Sonoma County
  • Eel River; 1 crew deployed in Napa County
  • Chamberlain Creek; 1 crew deployed
  • Total: 25 crews deployed

Sheep, Claremont and Bear Fires

Collectively known as the North Complex, lightning-sparked fires in and near the Plumas National Forest have burned over 62,000 acres. As of Sept. 1, there are more than 1,500 personnel devoted to the response. Some of those crew members are incarcerated firefighters overseen by CDCR staff.

Ventura Training Center

Ventura Training Center (VTC) crews have been assigned to multiple fires spread across the southern region of the state since June. Two of these crews were on the front lines of the River Fire in Monterey County from Aug. 17-30. The strike team leader commended the crews for doing a great job as they continue to protect California’s residents from wildfire danger.

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.

North state fires char thousands of acres

Dry thunderstorms rolled across Northern California, with lighting strikes igniting dry grasses and brush. Early large fires in July included the Hog Fire near Susanville and the Gold Fire near Adin.

For 23 days, the Gold Fire threatened homes and lives south of Adin, a small town near the Lassen and Modoc County border.  In all, 1,057 personnel were assigned to the 22,600-acre fire. There were four injuries, 13 structures destroyed and five structures damaged. Inmate firefighters from Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp.

More fires in August caused a power outage at High Desert State Prison, but back-up generators kept the institution running. Power has since been restored.

California Correctional Center had 24 crews assigned to the Gold Fire totaling 320 inmates from Konocti, Alder, Washington Ridge, Devil’s Garden, Intermountain, Ben Lomond, Trinity River, Sugar Pine, Parlin Fork, Ishi, and Salt Creek.