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Inmates Are The Unsung Heroes Of The California Wildfires

California is notorious for severe brush and forest fires. It takes a virtual army in order to contain all of the blazes that scorch across the California ground: thousands of men and women risk their lives in order to protect the lives and property of others.

What you might not have known is that nearly 4000 of those men and women are inmates from the California Department of Corrections.

Mother Jones

Northern California is currently suffering through one of the worst wildfires in memory. Everywhere between Sonoma and Mendocino has been evacuated as the fires threaten to destroy everything in their path. During all of this, inmates who have volunteered for the job have been working shifts up to 72 hours straight. They are essential to the success of combating the fires, and have been so since the 1940s when the program was first initiated. Right now inmates make up to one third of the force fighting wild fires.

The problem is that they are currently running short of inmates able and willing to do the job.

Over the course of the "war on drugs," the prison population in California exploded. It has been a massive burden on the system, as well as the tax-payers, so the state has been court ordered to do whatever they can to help reduce the prison population, which is great for the most part, but it has drastically thinned the number of inmates capable of battling the blazes.


The number of inmates on the fire fighting force has dropped a little over 13% since 2008, and that has fueled controversy on how the state is handing its incarceration policies. With most climate scientists predicting that there will be multitude of blazes in years to come, the debate is not likely going to disappear anytime soon.

How do you feel about inmates putting their lives on the line voluntarily to fight fires?