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As California Burns, What Resources Is The State Using To Fight The Flames?

Jacob Welsh/PNW2/Pacific Southwest Forest Service
Flickr Creative Commons
A firefighter mops up hotspots on the Northwest Zone of the August Complex


The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is better known as Cal Fire. This year, it has fully extended its resources to deal with an unprecedented fire season. It has also tapped neighboring states and other partners for extra help fighting fires. 


So that got us wondering: what are the big numbers behind the fires? 



Cal Fire has deployed around 18,700 people at the height of this fire season. Those include full time firefighters and volunteers as part of 319 fire crews. 


And there’s another resource in play: incarcerated people. 


Cal Fire trains inmates through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to fight seasonal fires. It’s something that’s been happening since the 1940s


Today, these seasonal crews operate out of 43 fire camps, which are minimum security facilities staffed by correctional officers.


Typically, this Conservation Camp Program employs around 3,100 incarcerated people each year. That’s about a sixth of CalFire’s entire firefighting force in 2020.


But camp figures are down this year. There are only 1,800 inmates taking part. And only two-thirds of those are fire-line qualified: that means they’re allowed to do actual firefighting work like fire line construction and brush clearing. 


Cal Fire says the drop is because many incarcerated firefighters were eligible for early release this year. That was to slow the spread of coronavirus in overpopulated prison facilities.


California’s other firefighting partners include the U.S. Forest Service, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the state’s Native tribes.


Finally, at least a dozen states have sent hundreds of firefighters to help California in 2020. 


And there’s even been international assistance — most recently 10 firefighters from Israel who were assigned to fires in the north.


Liza Ramrayka is a freelance social justice journalist based in San Francisco and originally from England.