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.
Past approaches to forest fires have been a misinformed regime of fire suppression: extinguishing all flames quickly. Now California’s forests are overgrown tinderboxes-in-waiting; the approach is changing, but there’s a lot of work to do.
When lightning sparked fires in the 1850s, they were left to burn, naturally clearing out dry fuels. Just a few decades later, officials started shifting toward a strategy of fire suppression.
Across the Capital Region, construction continues as usual on housing, infrastructure and other projects, even as workers in other sectors shelter at home.
The Lincoln Potters play in historic McBean Stadium in downtown Lincoln, and the wood-bat California Collegiate League team averaged almost 1,000 fans per game during the 2019 season. This year, the Potters are just happy to be playing, even if fans aren’t allowed.