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Cal Fire recruits and trains North Coast inmates to help fight wildfires

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Cal Fire is training inmates from prisons throughout Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino Counties to help combat wildfires.

The agency said it expects the upcoming fire season to be just as deadly and destructive as last year's, which is why Cal Fire is using every resource they can. They are training 20 different crews that consist of inmates all throughout the week.

"They'll be doing approximately six to seven hours of training," Cal Fire Public Information Officer Suzanne Van Meter said. "It started this morning at 8 o'clock when they rolled in."

Prisoners who show good behavior can sign up for the base training for wildfire fighting. Then, they are assigned to a crew to learn about fire behavior and how to combat it.

"They get tested on how their conduct in base camp is, then they're going to go out to a fire line," Van Meter said. "They'll go out to a piece of property where they'll actually put boots on the ground and tools into the soil and clear a fire lane."

The crews are inspected yearly to prepare them for the fire season. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Paul Duncan oversees those inspections.

"It's a head-to-toe inspection, so we're ensuring all their safety gear is in place, all the equipment gear with the buses is in place, all their tools are there," Duncan said. "We make sure tools are sharp, bus is in good shape, and the crew has all their safety briefings. They're ready to go engage a fire."

Once training is completed, these crews are ready to answer the call for duty wherever they are needed.

"These are available statewide. So these crews can go anywhere in the state within about an hour's notice," Duncan said. "They could be in southern California this evening fighting fires down there, because we are a statewide organization."

Look out for the second part of this report coming soon, as North Coast News details how Cal Fire trains these inmate crews after their training is complete.

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