California Wildfires Being Put Out By Overworked, Underpaid, Incarcerated Persons

Photo from Color of Change website

*Wait! I thought only trained personnel could do things like fight fires…Legally, that is. The California wildfires continue to burn. As of Sunday night it has damaged 270,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and affected more than 100,000 Californians. An alert sent to CNN says the Thomas fire is still only 45% contained and authorities predict that even with the decreasing winds evident today, it won’t be fully contained until January 7.

So far, no rain in the forecast’s sight.

Many of us remain in absolute awe of the first responder’s and firefighters who have so diligently been working around the clock to contain what has been called the state’s third largest fire in history since reliable record-keeping began in 1932. The 2003 Cedar Fire near San Diego was the largest.

But you’d probably be shocked to learn that a great number of these firefighters are actually from the incarcerated population. It’s more than disturbing to know that not only do we have untrained people being placed in such hazardous conditions; because Firefighters are required to go through rigorous training — take classes in EMT; get a paramedics license, be in good physical condition, be of a certain age range — its even more distressing when you learn these untrained people are working more than 72 hours straight, making less than $1 an hour.

I’ll wait while you look at that again…

No matter how you feel about people in prison, this is downright inhumane.

According to a recent Color of Change Petition, people are being taken from prisons to fight these fires and working under the aforementioned conditions. 

According to the ColorofChange website…

Prisoners are using hoes and chainsaws to manipulate the landscape and redirect fires in their tracks- this is no easy work. Fighting fires is back breaking labor and in the state of California many people who are doing this work have been forced to do so. The state has been exploiting prison labor and giving prisoners little to no options outside of taking on this dangerous work, where they?re making as little as $1/hour.3 That’s why we’re calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to ensure that prisoners in this firefighter program receive the same wage as firefighters who aren’t incarcerated and that a pathway is created for prisoners working as firefighters to have a real job on the outside–phasing this program out for good. 

Prisoners, not protected under any work safety regulations, often return from fighting fires with broken ankles, arms, burns, and suffering from extreme exhaustion. To make matters worst, many of the prisoners doing this work are women, most of whom are mothers. These mothers often choose to take on this dangerous work because they are told that it could accelerate their release date by earning ?good behavior?, usually resulting in a mere two days off your sentence.4 is asking you to read the petition and then take action. They want you to contact California Governor Jerry Brown and demand that he put a stop to exploiting the labor of incarcerated California Firefighters.

See the full petition here.


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