Private Firefighters Fighting the Woolsey Fire in Malibu (NOT THE FOREST)
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California’s Wildfire Fighters: The Lions, Tigers & Prisoners

As both Northern and Southern California continue to burn from wildfires, there are three groups of men and women risking their lives to contain them.

California is literally under fire… from the North to the South. These two horrific wildfires have already completely burned about 400 square miles and taken 84 lives. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports that at least 64 of the bodies have already been identified.

Hundreds of people are still missing as the deadly California wildfires continue to burn at both ends of the Golden State. But it’s the Northern California’s Butte County’s Camp Fire that’s taken the worst toll on Cali. To date, the Camp Fire has claimed a total of 81 of the 84 lives on its own.

With a death toll of 81, the Camp Fire is officially the most destructive, deadliest wildfire in California’s history.

California Prisoners Fight Wildfires for Slave Wages; But, There Are Benefits

Cali Wildfires: President Trump Finally Comes to Town

Although the deadly wildfires began burning on Thursday, November 8, President Trump didn’t arrive in California until Saturday, November 18. Many Californians are fuming about the fact that it took the President 10 days to come and see for himself the devastation that’s taking place.

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Instead, he spent more than a week tweeting about things Californians not only didn’t agree with, but literally didn’t understand. For one, he insisted that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had received more then enough federal funding to stop these wildfires from happening.

In other words, because these are “forest fires,” the forestry funding should have taken care of preventive measures ahead of time. Trump even went so far as to threaten to deny federal funding AKA FEMA payments to victims of the California wildfires in a tweet where he accuses the state’s forestry department of money mismanagement:


However, people from California, including Cali officials and professional firefighters, insist that these are not forest fires. Even as he stood in the depths of Malibu, CA, an oceanfront, shoreline city, he continued to stumble on his words referring to Paradise, California as Pleasure over and over again, while Governor Jerry Brown stood by looking annoyed.

University of California, Santa Barbara wildfire specialist Max Moritz also insists “these fires aren’t even in forests,” noting:

Rather, the Camp and Woolsey fires, which are ripping through Northern and Southern California, began in areas known as the wildland-urban interface: places where communities are close to undeveloped areas, making it easier for fire to move from forests or grasslands into neighborhoods.

Donald Trump is misleading the country by suggesting that forest management is responsible for the California wildfires. But the bottom line is… these are not forest fires.

Who Are the Brave Men & Women Fighting the California Wildfires in 2018?

So, who are the brave men and women fighting these horrendous, deadly wildfires? There are three groups the state owes its gratitude to for helping contain the fires… the lions, tigers and prisoners:

  1. Professional Firefighters
  2. Private Firefighters
  3. Prison Firefighters

1. The Lions: Professional Firefighters in California

Californians have always had endearing love and respect for the state’s local firefighters. On a state level, citizens count on them to fight these massive fires almost annually. This creates a bond between everyday people and professional firefighters that no other state can understand.

After President Trump sent out the tweet threatening to cut off Cali’s federal aid, California Professional Firefighters President Brian K. Rice issued the following response to the president's threat:

The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is Ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.

At a time when our every effort should be focused on vanquishing the destructive fires and helping the victims, the president has chosen instead to issue an uninformed political threat aimed squarely at the innocent victims of these cataclysmic fires.

At this moment, thousands of our brother and sister firefighters are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of thousands. Some of them are doing so even as their own homes lay in ruins. In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.

The president’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong. Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another one-third under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.

Natural disasters are not “red” or “blue” – they destroy regardless of party. Right now, families are in mourning, thousands have lost homes, and a quarter-million Americans have been forced to flee. At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame."

Cali’s professional firefighters battle these blazes regularly. Any intelligent person would believe they know exactly what they’re talking about when it comes to the state’s wildfires.

We must also note that hundreds of out-of-state firefighters have come through for the Eureka state. They’ve come from all across the US to lend their expertise in battling the blazes.

2. The Tigers: Private Firefighters in California

Private Firefighters Fighting the Woolsey Fire in Malibu (NOT THE FOREST)
Private Firefighters Fighting the Woolsey Fire in Malibu (NOT THE FOREST). Image Source: Business Insider

Much like the state’s prison system, Californians have turned to private wildfire defense contractors to help contain the blazes.

Private firefighters do not work for any government agency. Instead, they are employed by for-profit companies. These businesses are hired by insurance agencies, the well-to-do and celebrities to fight wildfires.

According to TMZ, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian-West hired a crew of private firefighters to save their $60 million California home during the current blazes.

These “firefighters for the rich and famous” have been highly criticized by both professional firefighters and local officials. According to them, these private fire defense contractors interfere with the professional efforts of local and state firefighters.

Could this possibly be the answer the California's trained prison firefighters landing firefighting jobs after prison releases?

3. The Prisoners: Prison Firefighters in California

The Conservation Camp Program (AKA prison fire camp) has about 1,500 prisoners currently fighting wildfires in California. Each prison firefighter, who are all CDCR inmates, makes about $2 per day and $1 per hour for this strenuous, dangerous work.

Why should we care? Well, these aren’t hardened criminals that are general threats to society. Prison firefighters must qualify to participate in the CDCR program. That means they can’t be convicted rapists, sex offenders or, of course, arsonists.

CDCR inmate firefighters join the program on a voluntary basis. Although they do receive some time off their sentences, this work still deserves decent pay… at least the state’s minimum wage.

Of the 1,500 prisoner fighting the 2018 wildfires in Cali, about 250 are women prison firefighters.

California Women Prison Firefighters
California Women Prison Firefighters. Image Source: Business Insider

Prison Firefighters Help Contain Cali Wildfires with No Long-Term Benefits

By Wednesday morning, the Camp Fire was 80% contained, after burning 153,336 acres in Butte County. Thousands of firefighters are working day and night to keep the inferno under control.

On November 8, the Woolsey Fire also ignited in Ventura’s County city of Simi Valley. It quickly traveled south, entering Los Angeles County (forest-free zone). Driven by the California winds, the blaze jumped across the 101 Freeway, hitting the celebrity regions and high-end homes of Calabasas and Malibu.

As of now, the fear is that the Woolsey Fire will make stretch all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The Woolsey Fire has burned down a total of 96,949 acres in both Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. By Tuesday night, this wildfire was 98% contained.

All of the fires are expected to be 100% contained no later than November 30.

California will continue to use prisoners to conquer the blazes, no matter how controversial. Not only are these inmate firefighters on paid $2 per day plus $1 per hour when actively fighting fires, they are still left jobless after prison.

The state’s occupational licensing laws make it impossible for people with criminal convictions to obtain EMT licenses. These licenses are required to become professional California firefighters.

So, although the state doesn’t block felons from becoming professional firefighters in Cali, the occupational licensing policies do. This means in the long-run, the prison firefighters receive no long-term benefits for their dedication and risking their lives.

Video: Prison Inmates In California Fight Wildfires

Of the 10,000 firefighters in the State of California that have been deployed to fight the wildfires, 4,000 of them are prison inmates actively battling on the front lines. Check out the YouTube video below for more details:

Find Work After Prison

It's not just California's prison firefighters that have hard times landing employment after prison releases. Thousands of felons seeking jobs are held back from being hired due to employers being reluctant to hire people with criminal records.

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Kiesha Joseph
Kiesha Joseph is the owner of Content Marketing Geek Corporation. Her company provides white hat, inbound marketing services for small businesses, entrepreneurs, real estate professionals, bloggers and authors. Ms. Joseph enjoys swimming, cooking, eating, dancing, and of course writing. Kiesha is currently the managing content editor for Prison Rideshare Network news for inmates' loved ones.