California closes 8 inmate fire camps due to decrease in prison population

California Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — As California faces a deadly and destructive wildfire season, the state is moving forward with plans to close eight inmate fire camps.

When wildfires rage in the Golden State, prisoners play a key role in fending off the flames.

“For decades now we’ve used low-level inmates and trained them up as fire crews. They help create the containment lines,” said Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant.

Berlant has watched the number of firefighting inmates dwindle as thousands of prisoners are released early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Department of Corrections, fire camps are down to roughly 1,800 inmates. That’s less than half of the prisoners the camps housed in 2016.

Due to the lack of inmates, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is now closing eight of its 43 inmate fire camps across the state.

But Berlant said Cal Fire is working to fill the gaps.

“We definitely don’t want to see a panic in the closures. This has been a trend that we’ve been watching for a number of years and we have been planning for the change-out of inmates to other types of crews,” Berlant explained.

He points to the more than 850 seasonal firefighters Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized earlier in 2020 specifically to replace early releases of inmates.

“We’ve expanded our partnership with the California Conservation Corps and added more CCC crews throughout the state. We’ve worked with CDCR and created crews with parolees,” Berlant said.

Berlant acknowledged that more resources will be necessary to fight the ever-growing threat of wildfires.

“With significant fire activity this year we definitely are continuing that conversation and looking to ensure we have the appropriate amount of resources to respond,” Berlant said.

A spokesperson for the CDCR said all employees and inmates from the closed locations will be transferred to other camps across the state.

The following camps are scheduled to close by the end of the 2020:

Northern Region

Southern Region

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