(Sacramento) – The California Legislature will pay tribute to the state fire fighting response to the 1999 fire season during a special public ceremony on the West Steps of the State Capitol, Tuesday, January 25 at 11 a.m.
Assemblyman Dick Dickerson introduced an Assembly Concurrent Resolution that will be presented to the California Department of Corrections (CDC) for providing and supervising more than 2,790 Conservation Camp Program inmates. Their efforts helped minimize the devastation to life and property during the “Fire Sieges of 1999” during which more than 750,000 acres burned, 1,500 structures were destroyed and two firefighters – including a CDC inmate – lost their lives.
“Last year was one of the busiest years for CDC’s inmate fire fighters who were part of the state’s efforts to save lives and property,” CDC Director C.A. “Cal” Terhune said. “The inmates worked more than 1.5 million hours on 244 fires during the ‘Fire Sieges of 1999’ alone, carrying out their duties in difficult and dangerous conditions. We commend their hard work, team spirit and fearlessness,” he said.
Other state agencies to be honored are the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Youth Authority, California Conservation Corp, California National Guard, and Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Established in 1946, the Conservation Camps Program provides cooperative agencies with an able-bodied, trained workforce for fire suppression and other emergencies such as floods and earthquakes. There are 38 Conservation Camps in California. CDC jointly manages 33 camps with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and five camps with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. More than 4,000 male and female inmates comprising 182 fire crews participate in the Conservation Camp Program. Fire crews also work on conservation projects on public lands and provide labor for local community service projects.
“In an average year, Conservation Camp Program inmates provide eight million hours for community service projects and two million hours in fire fighting and other emergencies, saving California taxpayers more than $80 million annually,” Terhune said. “During the ‘Fire Sieges of 1999’ alone, the estimated cost avoidance to California taxpayers is approximately $150 million.”
Terhune said that working the difficult job of fighting fires is not without risk. Last year saw the accidental death of Inmate Fire Fighter Martin Stiles on July 18. Stiles, 40, was assigned to a fire crew from the Julius Klein Conservation Camp in Azusa, battling the Piru blaze in Ventura County. Stiles and his crewmates were constructing a containment line in the mountainous terrain of the Los Padres National Forest when he fell to his death 150 feet from a steep hillside. “He was an inmate, but he died a fire fighter,” Terhune said.
Inmates assigned to the Conservation Camp Program are carefully screened and medically cleared. Only minimum custody inmates may participate in the program. To qualify, they must be physically fit and have no history of violent crime including kidnapping, sex offenses, arson or escape. The average sentence for inmates selected for camp is two years and the average time they will spend in camp is eight months. After being selected for camp, inmates undergo a vigorous two-week physical fitness training program and are then schooled for another two weeks in fire safety and suppression techniques.
Inmates receive fire fighting training at the California Correctional Center in Susanville, the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo and the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco. Female inmate fire fighters receive training at the California Institution for Women in Frontera.
Director Terhune will accept the Assembly Concurrent Resolution on behalf of CDC and the nearly 2,800 inmates who were deployed to the “Fire Sieges of 1999.”
“I look forward to joining with the California Legislature on January 25,” Terhune said, “in honoring the achievements of the inmates who worked tirelessly last year during some of the worst fires in our state’s history.”