County allows jail inmates to serve time in state fire camps

County allows jail inmates to serve time in state fire camps
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob lends her support in allowing low-risk county inmates to help fight wildfires under Cal Fire. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to OK the practice on Aug. 6. Photo by Rachel Stine

REGION — On Aug. 6, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allow county inmates to serve in state fire camps to increase fire protection resources and free space in local jails. 

Previously, only state prison inmates were permitted to serve their sentences providing firefighting services in fire camps run by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

But since the state prison realignment has shifted many the low-level offenders from prison to county jails, San Diego’s fire camps have lacked adequate numbers of inmates to staff their fire crews.

The county jails have also experienced crowding as a result of the prison realignment.

“These camps have been the backbone of fire protection for decades and we can’t lose this,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

San Diego’s four fire camps, located in Rainbow, Warner Springs, McCain Valley and Julian, can hold a maximum of 446 inmates and today only have 339 inmates serving in them, according to Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler.

The inmate firefighters make up about half of the Cal Fire firefighting crews in the county, he said.

Currently, about 50 to 100 inmates serving time in San Diego jails meet the physical, emotional, and lack of arson records requirements to be eligible to serve in the fire camps.

With the Board of Supervisors’ approval, local inmates will start being transferred to fire camps by the end of the year according to Steve Schmidt, Jacob’s communications advisor.

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