DOC Deploys 232 Offenders to Help Fight Wildfires in Central, Eastern Washington

DOC Deploys 232 Offenders to Help Fight Wildfires in Central, Eastern Washington

OLYMPIA — In the past week, the Department of Corrections has deployed 21 offender fire crews from four minimum–security prisons to help fight wildfires burning in eastern and central parts of Washington State, including the 380–square–mile Carlton Complex fire in north–central Washington. The crews include a total of 232 offenders (plus 24 supervising staff) who are trained by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to assist in managing wildfires.

Olympic Corrections Center, located near Forks, sent six crews totaling 55 offenders and four staff to the Carlton Complex fire; in addition, Larch Corrections Center, located near Vancouver, Wash., sent four 10–offender crews and seven staff, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center, located south of Olympia, sent three 10–offender crews and three staff. Among those sent to the Carlton Complex fire are a 10–offender kitchen crew from Larch and a six–offender kitchen crew from Olympic who provide meals for firefighters on site.

Larch Corrections Center also sent 20 offenders and three staff to the Chiwaukum Complex fire. Cedar Creek Corrections Center sent 21 offenders and four staff to the Mills Canyon fire, and Airway Heights Corrections Center, located near Spokane, sent 36 offenders and four staff to the Watermelon Hill fire.

For more than 50 years this partnership between DOC and DNR has existed, where offender fire crews are trained by DNR to establish fire lines, clear trails for firefighters and assist with logistics. Kitchen crews provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to help refuel the firefighters, who burn 8,000–12,000 calories a day while battling the blazes. The staff includes correctional officers.

Only offenders in minimum–security units who are within four years of completing their prison sentence are eligible to join fire crews. Offenders earn their way on to the crews through their good behavior and work performance. The effort offenders make — working side by side with hot shot crews, gaining skill and knowledge in fire suppression, saving homes, mitigating damage and potentially saving lives — positively impacts local communities and provides a measure of competence and self–respect that helps offenders transition back to the community when they have completed their prison sentence.


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