This summer, only 90 of 192 state prison fire teams are available to help clear brush and other important firefighting tasks, according to Cal Fire.
While a number of detained firefighters have been infected, other crews are under quarantine orders. Some firefighters have also been released from jail in recent weeks to reduce overcrowding in prisons and fire camps.
In all, four of the six prisons that train incarcerated firefighters have experienced coronavirus outbreaks of more than 200 cases each, including the California Institution for Women in Corona, which trains female firefighters. This prison had 417 cases.
The shortage has forced the state to enlist National Guard members and hire civilian replacements for inmate crews, officials said.
Members of inmate teams – who can earn up to just over $ 5 a day, plus $ 1 an hour fighting fires – have been strained for several weeks, Michelle Garcia said, program coordinator at an inmate fire training center in Ventura County.
“We are neglected and neglected,” she said.
Ms Garcia said crew members drank from the same tap of water and that hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks were afterthought.
“Once the call to fire hits, it’s fire first,” she said. “The fire doesn’t care about Covid.”
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Kellen Browning, Maria Cramer, Fontaine Henry, Thomas Fuller, Rebecca Griesbach, Ivan Penn, Lucy Tompkins, Maura Turcotte and Alan Yuhas.