USA – The coronavirus pandemic is impacting Cal Fire’s inmate crews, creating staffing shortages.
To make sure Cal Fire is not under-prepared Cal Fire is pulling resources from the California Conservation Corps and the National Guard to make sure it’s covered if a wildfire breaks out.
“We’ll normally have 12 inmate crews, six at Sugar Pine, six at Trinity River,” said Nick Truax, Division Chief with Shasta Trinity unit.
“This year with the early release, we were down to four at each camp, for a total of eight, and both camps are in quarantine so we actually have zero.”
Cal Fire uses inmates to help battle wildfires. The Shasta-Trinity unit inmate crew comes out of Lassen County.
“Our inmates come out of Susanville,” said Truax. “There’s a 2-week training course they go through there.”
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the California Correctional Center suspended inmate transfers. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says no inmates in the conservation camp tested positive for coronavirus.
“Anytime we’re having a shortage of our resources that we’re used to, we may have to change our tactics at times,” said Truax.
Cal Fire relies heavily on its inmate crews to do more than just battle wildfires. The lack of inmate crews also taking a toll on some Cal Fire projects.
“We’re out doing fuel reduction projects and those kinds of things, so not only wildfires but it affected those activities as well,” said Truax.
Governor Gavin Newsom says the state will hire more than 800 additional firefighters through October.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it expects the quarantine to be lifted sometime next week and inmate crews will be able to return wildfire prevention efforts.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of fires yet but we are coming into peak season now, so we’re really hoping to get some of those crews back shortly,” said Truax.