Nevada Yuba Placer Fire Crew 1 (NEU Crew 1), made up mostly of first-year firefighters, cuts fire lines on a hillside at the North Fork American River Shaded Fuel Break project during training in late July. (Photos by Fred Greaves)

Photos: Cal Fire Trains New Crews in Auburn

Back Photo gallery Aug 5, 2020 By Tom Couzens

The inmate fire crews used by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have been depleted due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with another dangerous fire season underway, the agency is training new firefighters for its 21 operational units across the state at a cost of roughly $72 million.

Cal Fire relies heavily on the approximately 2,200 certified inmate firefighters from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to be the state’s primary hand crews, whose members often are among the first on the scene of wildfires, cutting fire breaks around homes and neighborhoods using chainsaws and hand tools.

According to Cal Fire, the agency is funded for 192 crews made up of inmates, but only 143 were planned staffed this season and only 94 are available, due to COVID-19 related lockdowns. On July 9, Cal Fire received approval to hire 858 additional seasonal firefighters and the agency has been training the new hires to fill gaps at its stations, including in Auburn.

Nevada Yuba Placer Fire Crew 1, stationed in Auburn, trained in late July at the North Fork American River Shaded Fuel Break, a project that extends from Auburn northeast, parallel to Interstate 80 along the ridges that border the North Fork of the American River. NEU Crew 1 is staffed by two fire captains and 12 firefighters.

Cal Fire Capt. Ryland Arbuckle leads NEU Crew 1 members on a hike to an area to work on cutting fire lines during training in late July.

Members of NEU Crew 1 climb into their crew bus to head out to cut fire lines in late July. The firefighters wear masks on the bus and when they cannot socially distance.

Cal Fire Capt. Ryland Arbuckle briefs NEU Crew 1 firefighters on the plan to cut fire lines at the North Fork American River Shaded Fuel Break project during training in late July.

Cal Fire Capt. Ryland Arbuckle leads the NEU Crew 1 through a series of exercises as part of the required daily physical conditioning required of members.

Two members of NEU Crew 1 cut lines at the North Fork American River Shaded Fuel Break project during training in late July.

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