About 1,500 prison inmates are among the 9,400 firefighters battling the 240,000-acre wildfires that have already killed more than 65 people and incinerated more than 12,000 structures. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) volunteer firefighting effort is called the Conservation Camp Program. For the inmates, the dangers can prove disastrous—even deadly, reports Time. More than 1,000 inmate firefighters required hospital care between June 2013 and August 2018. Inmates are more than four times as likely, per capita, to incur injuries such as cuts, bruises, dislocations and fractures, compared with professional firefighters working on the same fires. Inmates were more than eight times as likely to be injured after inhaling smoke and particulates compared with other firefighters.
Civilian firefighters had their own predominant risks. They were about nine times as likely to experience burns and about twice as likely to experience heat-related illnesses like dehydration. That is not surprising, given that they are extinguishing the flames, while inmates reduce the likelihood that the fires will spread by clearing thick brush nearby. Three inmate firefighters have died from injuries in the last two years. A boulder crushed one inmate, a 120-foot tall tree crushed another and a third sustained a severe cut to his femoral artery. “The safety and security of all of our inmates is our top priority, and we provide top health care to the inmates in our custody,” said corrections spokeswoman Vicky Waters. “Due to the nature of the work, and exposure to the elements, there are inherent injuries.” Inmate pay is lower than the full-time firefighters they work alongside. Inmates make only $2 per day in the Conservation Camp Program. During an active fire, they make an additional $1 an hour. California’s civilian firefighters make an average of $73,860 per year plus benefits.