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As fires rage throughout California, between 1,500 and 3,000 California Department of Corrections (CDC) inmate firefighters are out on fire lines, fighting side-by-side with firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CDF) and Los Angeles County Fire Department. They are currently fighting fires in El Dorado, Yolo, Lassen, Lake, Nevada, Mariposa, Calaveras, Amador, Santa Cruz and Kern Counties—but that list grows daily as the month wears on.

“As they pay their debt to society, camp inmates provide a real economic benefit to the local communities and to the state,” said Camps Liaison Capt. John Peck. “In a typical year, they will work two million hours on firefighting and fire prevention. They will also spend about six million hours on conservation projects and community service activities.”

More than 4,000 men and women inmates live and work in conservation camps located in some of the state’s most secluded wilderness areas. They provide a large force of trained crews for wild land fire fighting, resource conservation, and emergency assignments.

CDC operates 38 conservation camps jointly with CDF or with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Assignment to a conservation camp is a hard-won privilege. Inmates are screened carefully using a sophisticated system to identify and weigh personal aspects of their background to determine potential for camp placement. To qualify, they must be minimum security risks, physically fit, and have no history of violent crime. The average sentence for inmates selected for camp is two years, and the average time they spend in camp is eight months.

After being accepted 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.

“When fires ravaged southern California last year, CDC inmate firefighters were out there in force, saving lives, homes and other property,” said Peck. “They provide a strong, organized work force while developing or improving social habits and work ethics. They will continue to be a valuable part of California’s firefighting efforts, as they have for nearly 60 years.”