California Scrambles For More Firefighters Amid Pandemic

09 July 2020

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USA – As California enters wildfire season, the state is scrambling to find sufficient firefighters amid a coronavirus outbreak that has depleted the ranks of inmates who usually handle some of the toughest duties and caused a budget deficit that derailed plans to hire 600 new state firefighters and support personnel.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday said the state has enough money to instead add 172 professional firefighters, but he said he will use his emergency authority to beef up seasonal crews as the state enters another hot, dry summer when fires often rage out of control.

Firefighting hand crews that typically include 15-17 inmates or civilian California Conservation Corps members do what Newsom called “the really hard grunt work.” They use hand tools and chainsaws to cut and scrape road-like clearings through trees and brush in hopes of stopping the spread of wildfires.

The number of such crews is “substantially down from where we’ve been in the past,” Newsom said. Of the prison system’s 192 authorized inmate crews, just 94 are currently available.

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