California Leans Heavily on Thousands of Inmate Firefighters | KQED
The Bully Fire, which has burned more than 12,600 acres in Shasta County, is nearly contained. In the two weeks since it ignited, about 2,000 firefighters have battled the blaze. Nearly half of them — 900 — are inmates with the California Department of Corrections. These “low-level offenders” making just $2 a day are a crucial component in how the state battles wildfires.
“First day we was out here it was like 111 or 115 and that’s not including the fire,” says Emir Dunn. His orange fire suit swamps his slender body, but don’t be fooled by his size. Like most inmate firefighters he lugs more than 100 pounds of gear with him: an axe, food, water, fuel for the chainsaw.
The air tastes like a charcoal briquette. The wind picks up, and a mix of dirt and ash swirl from the ground. Dunn scours the scorched area looking for embers that could reignite. He sees smoke billowing from the ground. He readies the hose and he and a crewmate blast the smoking mound with water.
Dunn and 15 others will stay here for a 24-hour shift. They might catch some sleep, but very little. They hiked up here and they’ll hike back to the pick-up point, a slog that’s likely to be several miles.
Each crew has one professional firefighter, a captain, and the rest are men convicted of crimes including drug offenses and armed robbery.
(Read Full Text) (Photo Credit: Adam Grossberg/KQED)