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Testing Inmates’ Readiness To Fight Wildfires

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San Andreas, CA — The Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit of Cal Fire will hold crew readiness drills for Baseline and Vallecito Camps in May to make sure all inmates are prepared for the 2018 fire season.

Division Chief Jeff Sanders explained “These drills are essential to gauge the readiness of the Unit Conservation Camp Crews for the upcoming fire season, and will qualify them for fire line assignments.”

The exercises, which are required every year by the state to allow the inmates to fight wildfires, will be held Wednesday, May 2nd and Thursday, May 3rd. Crews will be required to perform five events that include fire line construction, fire engine orientation, dozer and helicopter safety, fire shelter deployment and a crew hike. Sanders elaborates, “It’s a four mile timed hike based on the terrain to be done within an hour. Each crew consists of 15 inmate offenders and they have to cut 20 sq. ft. of fire line per individual so there is an established production rate that they have to do in an hour.” He continues, “As far as cutting and removing brush, there is an 8 ft. cut and a 4 ft. scrape; meaning they cut the brush out to 8 ft. wide and scrape the ground to 4 ft. wide.”

These volunteer inmates do the backbone of the work during a fire by physically cutting the line around the flames among other things, according to Sanders. In return, he relays that they receive a stipend and time off their sentences for being in the program. Sanders adds that these crews are out in the community working everyday doing tree mortality work for Tuolumne County and various projects for area Fire Safe Councils. He indicates that the hard work can pay off for both area communities and inmates. “We see an average of a couple per year that succeed with this program. They move on and become either employees for Cal Fire in a seasonal role or with the forest service.”

The drills begin both days at 8 a.m. and end at 5p.m. in Moccasin at the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power property. Travelers will see fire equipment at the intersection of Highway 120 and 49 on those days.