Some of the biggest fires in California history have just passed and there is no doubt the firefighters have played a massive part in fighting these fires. But not all of these firefighters are firefighters by profession; a lot of them are inmates being paid a dollar an hour to help stop the flames. Of course, this is a brilliant idea, but some would say this is dangerous. Of course there are risks to this method, but when willing and able hands are volunteering to help fight a state-wide problem, the ends do justify the means.
Here’s a little background on this type of inmate program: the Mendocino Complex fires burned over 459,000 acres of Northern California and destroyed 157 homes in August of 2018. About 14,000 firefighters fought to keep the fire at bay and of those numbers, 2,000 were inmates. These inmates who volunteered to help with the fires are a part of a volunteer fighter program run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It has been shown that prison is an option for help in these dire situations.
As of Dec. 2, the Camp Fire had burned 153,336 acres, or roughly 239 miles. Of course this looked bleak and there were calls for desperate measures to be taken, yet not everyone is OK with inmates volunteering their lives to help save homes and possibly lives.
And once you really look at why people go to prison, a lot of them aren’t being sent for murders or assault or any other major life threatening crime. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, people go to prison mostly due to drug offenses, and far behind that is weapons possession. Homicide, assault and other forms of physical harm are low on that chart. So if people are scared of “killers” and “murderers” being set loose, that’s not really the case and they are safe to be put to work.
Of course all these events have passed but this method of fighting the fires worked, and yet there are people who still disagree. This situation is about inmates voluntarily putting themselves on the line to save others from an inferno. This isn’t a bad thing, maybe all the inmates aren’t doing this to necessarily save lives, but they’re still putting in hard work to fight a massive problem.
For those who don’t know how large and dangerous these fires were, and why we needed more hands in fighting these fires, 48 people were reported dead as of November 15 and more than 100 were missing a week later. As of Dec. 1, the death toll was at 88 and almost 14,000 single residences were destroyed. We needed all hands on deck to fight what is now California’s most destructive fire in history.
The take away from all this, other than taking precautions for disasters and checking for fire hazards, is that help can come from the strangest place. Of course, prison is not the go-to place for the safest helping hands. But when quite literally a state is on fire, prisons are a good place for volunteers to fight the flames. Everyone may not agree, but this method works.