Inmates play important role in firefighting efforts

Trail, Ore. — August is typically the busiest month for fire crews, and this year is no exception. 4 days in and agencies are already seeing an increase in calls. That means as the season continues to pick up, crews can be working around the clock. But a unique partnership, is helping to offer some relief.

A 10 man crew from South Fork Forest Camp is combing through what’s left of the Burnt Peak Fire.

“The final thing is the mop up,” ODF inmate crew coordinator, Will Jones says.

“Making sure that we didn’t leave any heat behind,” ODF inmate crew coordinator, Bill Huserik adds, “picking up any loose hardware or hose that might have been left there.”

A crew of inmates from Tillamook have been on the fire since Sunday; surveying, digging, and lifting, everything, again and again.

“The guys have probably been over the same piece of ground 70 times or something,” Jones explains, “today will make it like 77.”

The partnership between corrections and Oregon Department of Forestry is imperative.

“It not only makes sure that we don’t have any potential for flare ups,” ODF Public Information Officer, Melissa Cano says, “but it also allows our initial attack resources some time to recuperate.”

And the help goes both ways. Coordinators say for these men who are nearing the end of their sentences, it’s setting them up for success when they’re released.

“Inmates that come to South Fork, generally have a less probability of coming back to prison from things they’ve learned  here,” Huserik says.

This program is the only one in the U.S., where the forestry department oversees the inmates instead of corrections.

At last check, the Burnt Peak Fire is 95% contained. The cause is still under investigation.

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