LAKE COUNTY —
During this relentless fire season, Cal Fire has a big tool: Prisoners.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tells FOX40 almost half of the firefighters are inmates.
Inmate firefighters work 24 hour shifts. They serve as extra hand crews working to build containment lines.
“It’s a challenge out there fighting aggressive fires,” said inmate firefighter Tyrell Long.
Long is one of 4,000 California inmate firefighters. They are lower-level felons who have proven they can work as a team.
“It shows you how to work and be a better person and its structure,” Long said.
Roughly 800 inmates are fighting the Jerusalem Fire. On their off time, they go to Camp Konocti to eat, sleep and shower before returning to the firefight.
Prisoners not only add significant manpower, they also save the state a lot of money.
“I’ve seen a number of estimates that say, at a minimum the inmate firefighters are saving California about $100 million a year,” said Bill Sessa, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
With this fire season showing no signs of letting up, there is concern the state will run out of inmate firefighters because thousands of prisoners are getting crimes reduced to misdemeanors under Proposition 47.
The CDCR has a backup plan. It has contracts with county jails to get more inmates to sub in if needed.
“In a sense, it’s the same type of inmate but now we would be getting them from the counties when we need them,” Sessa said.
For the prisoners, the experience is tiring and frightening, but it’s a chance to help and shorten their sentences.
“I like to work hard. I want to get out sooner for my kids,” said inmate firefighter Jeremiah Lindke.
Neither inmate FOX40 spoke to wanted to reveal what crime got them locked up. Instead they say they’re focused on getting out and starting a new life.
“I am planning on doing this when I get out, maybe going to Chico and going to fire school or something,” Lindke said.
The prisoners work in a strike team under 24 hour supervision of a Cal Fire captain.
Inmate firefighters earn a few dollars a day.