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Inmates give back by helping Cal Fire fight Lopez Fire

A vital part of any fire fighting effort is the help enlisted from prison inmates.

The base camp at Biddle Park bustles with activity as firefighters work to fight the Lopez Fire.

Among the firefighters are inmates dressed in orange jumpsuits, working hard too.

“California Department of Forestry uses inmate firefighters that are at the camps, and they help mitigate the fire operations and help fight the fires and save taxpayers a significant cost,” said Cuesta Camp Correctional Lt for CDCR Lt. Trad Eilers.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has 42 conservation camps in California.

“Their main focus is us going out giving back to the community, helping the community, and showing the community that guys can be rehabilitated,” said conservation camp worker Mark Aiken.

Inmates get paid between $2.90 and $5.12 per day based off of skill by CDCR. While assigned to an active emergency, they receive an additional $1 per hour from CAL FIRE.* Time is also shaved off their sentence for each day spent on the fire line.

“It’s a miracle, I just can’t believe I got this privilege to be out here. I never want to blow it, we love being here,” said Aiken.

The inmates hope the training will lead to work after they’re released from prison.

“When I am released into the community I would like to participate as a Cal Fire fuels reduction crew,” said conservation camp worker Serpentor Williams.

Until then workers will continue to give back and make amends.

“It pretty much like redeeming your self,” said Aiken.

“A lot of them feel really good about the work that they are doing. They consider themselves professionals at what they do, and they like to give back,” said Lt. Trad Eilers.

*This article has been updated to correct the wages inmates receive while assigned to an active fire.

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