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Inmate fire crews train for wildfire season in the Northstate

Wildfire season is officially underway, which means fire crews are always preparing for the worst. In Red Bluff, Cal Fire is holding their annual preparedness exercise from May 7 through May 10 for inmate fire crews in the Northstate.

Wildfire season is officially underway, which means fire crews are always preparing for the worst. In Red Bluff, CAL FIRE is holding their annual preparedness exercise from May 7 through May 10 for inmate fire crews in the Northstate.

The annual Ishi Fire Crew Exercises is the largest conservation camp preparedness exercise in California, with 44 fire crews that come from nine conservation camps including Antelope, Deadwood, Devil's Garden, Intermountain, Ishi, Salt Creek, Sugar Pine, Trinity River, and Valley View Conservation Camps.

"Today and this whole week, we're running through the exercise preparedness for all the fire crews. We're running approximately 44 crews through the week with the evaluation on their readiness for fire. And with that, they have to pass some exercises to be typed out as a 'type-one' fire crew before the fire season gets started," said Division Chief Randy Fergoso from Salt Creek Conservation Camp .

He said each fire crew has around 15 inmates and each is assigned a position and tool. The crews are tested on their knowledge, performance and their capability to complete the task and follow directions.

"Most all of the inmates are on a point system. They're on minimal security at the camp program so they are on best behavior when they come out to the camp program; they were chosen through evaluation from the counselors at Susanville," said Fergoso.

Fergoso explained the inmates are not high-profile criminals.

"So, level of crime? They are minimal crime levels. They aren't hard criminals, if you would. We actually work with corrections on their behavior," said Fergoso.

The fire captains that oversee the fire crews are also in charge of supervising the crews when they are out.

"With the camp program, it's actually a privilege to be out with the camp program. The risk of escaping is not really there; just the fact that they know that they have a pretty good program going on with the camps, and they don't want to jeopardize or take a risk of losing that privilege," said Fergoso.

The crew is tested, which includes hiking four miles in less than 70 minutes and line-cutting.

If they pass the test, Fergoso said, "They'll go back to their respected camps and at that point, they're just 'fire ready'... so when they get an assignment, they're typed out to go as that crew and be assigned to a fire."

And for those who fail, they'll go through a reevaluation training session and get prepared for the next testing day.

Fergoso said the inmates who work alongside CAL FIRE and other crews are all there for the same reasons: to battle fires and keep you safe.

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