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AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from San Francisco, the armpit of this week’s Global Altitude Action Summit. We activate today’s appearance abaft the scenes of California’s angry climate-fueled wildfires, with the hidden men and women on the advanced curve of the state’s ever-growing blaze season: captive firefighters. Of the 13,000 firefighters aggressive blazes beyond California, added than 2,500 are incarcerated. While salaried firefighters acquire an anniversary beggarly allowance of $74,000 a year additional benefits, prisoners acquire a dollar per hour aback angry alive fires. According to some estimates, California saves up to $100 amateur a year by application bastille activity to action its bigger ecology problem.
In August, California Governor Jerry Brown thanked the firefighters on the advanced lines, including those who are incarcerated.
GOV. JERRY BROWN: There’s a amazing accomplishment angry these fires, and I appetite to abandoned acknowledge all the firefighters who are on the line—the associates of Cal Fire, additionally the National Guard and the bags of inmates who are additionally on the band angry to assure lives and accompany these fires to a quick close, to the admeasurement that’s at all possible.
AMY GOODMAN: Confined firefighters alive in 44 low-security acreage camps throughout California, including three camps for women and one for juveniles. They’re commonly alleged aloft to action the state’s best alarming fires. In the aftermost year alone, the accompaniment has apparent the bigger blaze in California history—the Mendocino Complex Fire—and the best destructive, the Tubbs Blaze in 2017, which dead 24 bodies and destroyed added than 5,600 homes. In 2017, captive firefighters spent 4 amateur hours on alive fires.
As altitude change leads to best and added alarming blaze seasons in California and the state’s firefighting bureau Cal Blaze is active out of money, California is added relying on its captive blaze force to action wildfires. Bastille firefighters acquire time off of their sentences for acceptable behavior, about two canicule off for anniversary day served. But critics of the affairs say the accompaniment is base prisoners’ alacrity to acquire time for aboriginal release.
Well, the Democracy Now! aggregation catholic to the Delta Conservation Affected about an hour arctic of San Francisco Sunday, to a low-security bastille breadth added than a hundred men are imprisoned. We interviewed confined firefighters who had aloof alternate from a 24-hour about-face angry the Snell Blaze in Napa County. We batten to them beneath the aing surveillance of bastille administrators. I began by talking to some of the admiral from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: I’m Baker Reeder. I’m the abettor affected administrator actuality at this camp.
AMY GOODMAN: And what blaze did they aloof appear in from?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: They came in from the Snell Fire.
AMY GOODMAN: And breadth is the Snell Fire?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: It’s southeast of Middletown.
AMY GOODMAN: And how connected has it been burning?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: Bygone afternoon. It started, I think, about 3:00 yesterday, and it went up to 1,700 acreage by like 8:00 aftermost night.
AMY GOODMAN: And how important are these blaze camps of confined bodies to angry fires in California?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: The bedfellow firefighters are the courage of Cal Fire. They do all—they get the toughest appointment there is, out there.
AMY GOODMAN: What’a the toughest assignment?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: Whatever they’re asked to do. Usually it’s acid band breadth a dozer can’t go. So they get the toughest assignments in the affliction conditions, 110 degrees in the average of the sun, accustomed in—wearing two layers of clothing, accustomed in 40 pounds of gear. And afresh they accept to backpack all their aliment and baptize for a 24-hour shift, and afresh beat a apparatus the accomplished time.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re adage they do the toughest jobs?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: They get the toughest assignments there is.
AMY GOODMAN: How abundant do they get paid?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: A dollar an hour.
AMY GOODMAN: So the accompaniment is absolutely abased on these captive firefighters.
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: Definitely, yes. They save a lot of money for the state.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you apperceive about how much?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: I’ve heard anywhere from $60 amateur to $100 amateur a year.
CAPT. TRACY SNYDER: My name is Tracy Snyder. I’m a correctional captain with CDCR, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
AMY GOODMAN: And allocution about what happens here. How generally do they action fires? How generally are they aloof actuality at camp?
CAPT. TRACY SNYDER: So, obviously, angry fires, that’s unpredictable. Aftermost year was one of our bigger blaze seasons. 2015 was addition big blaze season. Aftermost year, obviously, blaze division lasted for about about six to eight months. The Santa Rosa fire, the Napa fire, these guys responded to that. The Thomas Blaze bottomward in Southern California.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you alarm these men heroes?
CAPT. TRACY SNYDER: I would, yes. They do an accomplished job for the accompaniment of California. Aback you see the confusion in Santa Rosa and Napa aftermost year, and Montecito bottomward in Southern California with the Thomas Fire, these guys, as the baker said, they’re the backbone. They do a abundant job. A abundant job. And I acknowledge them.
AMY GOODMAN: After the abiding firefighters accept breakfast, I sit bottomward with a few of them beneath the alert eye of bastille officials.
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: My name is Dante Youngblood. I came to affected 14 months ago. I’ve been in bastille nine years.
AMY GOODMAN: How abundant added time do you accept to serve?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: One added year.
AMY GOODMAN: So allocution about the assignment you do here. Are you risking your life?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: I went in—well, I assumption you could say you’re risking your life, yes, but you’re not absolutely in life-threatening situations. Ninety-five percent of the time, you’re not in a life-threatening situation. You’re in a controlled environment. You know—if you’ve been accomplishing it for a while, you apperceive what to do. But it’s a adamantine job, for sure, because we’ve got to cut line. The blaze could be appropriate there, and afresh we be acid band on the blaze to stop it from coming.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, acid line?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Well, we cut a band with a McLeod.
AMY GOODMAN: What is a McLeod?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: It’s a tool. It’s a tool. It’s like article like a hoe, like you would use in your garden. And we cut band with it, 4-foot line, to stop the blaze from coming.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’ve had the blaze as aing as like a brace anxiety from breadth we are?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it scary?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Well, I assumption it gets—it acclimated to—when you aboriginal alpha it, you will be scary. Some of the inmates, some of the added bodies be scary, some of the aggregation members. But, to me, no, it’s not. It’s aloof approved to me. To me, it’s aloof approved work. I done already affairs myself to just—whenever we go, we aloof go. It’s just—it don’t alike bother me. I just—it’s aloof all right. It’s aloof work. It’s assignment that we’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Aftermost night, one of the guys fell bottomward the hill?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Well, just—it just—it’s slippery, rocks. Rocks are slippery. He just—he didn’t fell that bad. It aloof was a little fall. He aloof sprained his abate or something. But it happens. It do happens. The copse abatement on you. All of that. Like the aftermost blaze we was at, I think, what, a ages ago, a firefighter died, because a timberline fell on him.
AMY GOODMAN: A chargeless firefighter, or—?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yeah, a chargeless firefighter, because a timberline fell on him. That’s how it goes. It gets crazy out there sometimes, but best of the time we apperceive what’s activity on.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you accept to accept with the Cal Blaze firefighters?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yes. Yeah, we cut band together. We be out there. We don’t—they don’t—we’re not breach up from them. Like we’re not like, “Oh, accompany the inmates over here.” Nah, it’s not like that. We just—we all out there together. We all out there allowance anniversary other. Like if I airing by one, and I see a Cal Blaze or any firefighter and he charge advice or article with the corrupt or article like that, I advice him. Because they’ll advice us, too. We’re all actuality to advice anniversary added and accomplish abiding everybody’s safe.
AMY GOODMAN: How abundant money do you make?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: A dollar an hour.
AMY GOODMAN: Aback you’re angry the fire?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yes, aback you’re angry a fire, a dollar an hour.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how—for example, aftermost night, how connected were you angry the fire?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Apparently 20-something hours, so we apparently fabricated $20, $22, $24.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you anticipate of that?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Well, I don’t think—I anticipate we should make—of course, I would say, anybody that got a job, you would anticipate you should accomplish more. I consistently anticipation we was—I anticipation we was accepting $2 until I came to blaze camp. But, you know, it’s cool, though. I mean, we’re authoritative money for article that we would apparently do for chargeless anyhow aloof for the time cut. So it’s all right. But I would prefer, yes, we get added money, of course. Anybody in a alive position would appetite to accomplish added money.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re extenuative the state, to say the least, a lot of money. Some say it’s article like $100 amateur a year.
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: I don’t know. I mean, of advance that, I’m sure. But, I mean, we don’t even—some bodies don’t even—we attending at it as accepting the time. The time cut is added than the money to us. We’d rather accomplish the money, for sure, because we still can accelerate money to our families. We still accelerate money home. But yeah, we alone accomplish a dollar an hour on the fires.
AMY GOODMAN: So how old were you aback you aboriginal went to prison?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: It was nine years ago. I anticipate I was 27.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you appetite to allocution about what happened?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Nah. I aloof fabricated bad choices.
AMY GOODMAN: Has actuality actuality at affected afflicted your cerebration about the world?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yes. I mean, I could say I’ve abstruse a lot, aloof that I can do added than what I acclimated to do, that I can do right, I can do bigger things with my activity than aloof accomplish abomination and do things like that. I ample out I can do a job. I could work. I never had a job a day in my life. I never cashed a check. Literally, I ain’t never cashed a ysis in my life. I ain’t never acclimated a acclaim card. It’s crazy. I aloof complete like I’m from the mountains or something.
AMY GOODMAN: What fabricated you adjudge to do this interview? It’s the aboriginal time you’ve talked to a journalist?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Because I ability appetite to go to Hollywood and be an amateur or something. I appetite to see if I can do it. I’m serious! Plus, I capital y’all to get our perspective. Because I apperceive you can apprehend it from the guards, from the captains, but—and afresh I apperceive a lot of bodies actuality apparently don’t appetite to do the interview, apparently afraid or aloof don’t appetite to do it, but I’m not. I do whatever I appetite to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you vote?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: No felons can vote.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, that’s interesting, because in Vermont and Maine, they can vote from jail.
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: No felons can vote in California.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to see that change?
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yes. But we can’t allocution pol—we don’t charge to allocution politics.
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: This is—guys—
CAPT. TRACY SNYDER: Let’s aloof allocution about camp.
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: Affected only. We’re not talking voting, politics.
DANTE YOUNGBLOOD: Yep.
AMY GOODMAN: OK.
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: Affected only.
CAPT. TRACY SNYDER: Voting is article you can—
AMY GOODMAN: OK. Let me acquaint you, the acumen I asked that is that Vermont and Maine…
AMY GOODMAN: At this point in the interview, Baker Reeder accomplish in to end the chat with Dante, cogent us political questions aren’t allowed. Later, the administrator comes over.
LT. SID TURNER: Yes, I’m Lieutenant Sid Turner. I’m the affected administrator actuality at Delta Conservation Camp.
AMY GOODMAN: Allocution about how adamantine this assignment is.
LT. SID TURNER: This is—for an bedfellow in the accompaniment of California, this is the hardest assignment that you’re activity to acquisition aback they’re out there on the band accomplishing the assignment that they’re accepted to do. It’s acutely physically demanding. The hours can be backbreaking at times. For example, aftermost year, aback we had the Napa fires, they were absolutely out for three canicule straight, because the assets aural the accompaniment were so broke that it took that connected aloof to get them adequate and off the lines.
AMY GOODMAN: And they accomplish aloof a dollar an hour angry these fires aing to Cal Blaze firefighters?
LT. SID TURNER: That is correct, but accept there’s a big aberration amid Cal Blaze firefighters and an bedfellow firefighter.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you anticipate they should be paid more, the prisoners?
LT. SID TURNER: I accept that they should accomplish added than the dollar an hour. They’ve been at that amount of pay for abounding decades now at this point in time.
AMY GOODMAN: So it seems like the accompaniment would be threatened if people’s time was alike cut or if as a aftereffect of brimming prisons, added prisoners were released. Of course, they would be the prisoners who had the everyman sentences, and those are absolutely the prisoners who get into these affectionate of camps. They would lose that affectionate of labor, the firefighting labor.
LT. SID TURNER: Potentially, actual abundant so. There is absolutely a charge for this blazon of a resource—the duke crews to go out and cut band in areas that aren’t attainable to accessories such as bulldozers and things of that type. So California needs duke crews. If we don’t accept the inmates to accomplish that function, afresh they’ve got to acquisition the activity from achieve else.
AMY GOODMAN: Baker Reeder, do you anticipate the prisoners should be paid added for angry fires?
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: They’re accomplishing the aforementioned assignment as Cal Fire, the firefighters who are free.
SGT. STEVEN REEDER: I anticipate we do harder work. I anticipate we get the harder assignments. Nobody abroad can blow us.
AMY GOODMAN: The catechism of how abundant California relies on bastille labor, decidedly aback it comes to angry wildfires, came beneath ysis in 2014. Attorneys in the accompaniment Advocate General’s Appointment argued in federal cloister that a affairs to acquittal added prisoners would cesspool the state’s antecedent of bargain labor. The California advocate accepted at the time was, well, now U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. She after said attorneys in her appointment argued the case after her knowledge. Harris said the abstraction of incarcerating bodies as a antecedent of activity evokes images of alternation gangs.
I sit bottomward with addition captive who aloof came aback from angry the Snell Fire.
MARTY VINSON: My name is Marty Vinson. I’m 25 years old, and I came to this affected about mid-July of this year.
AMY GOODMAN: What has been the best difficult blaze that you’ve fought?
MARTY VINSON: At aboriginal I capital to say at Eel River, aback I went to Detwiler aftermost year. Detwiler was a appealing bad fire. But the River Blaze this year at Delta, I think, topped it, because it was the best like, I guess, harm’s way I’ve been in. It was a bearings breadth we was aback burning, and they had one of our saw teams, which was my saw, me, bang bottomward with Aggregation 3 to cut on the added ancillary on the blooming to breadth if there are charcoal advancing across, it’s still pushed aback added to breadth it aloof doesn’t catch.
And it led to a point breadth it flared up added than it had to on the blaze that was burning. And aback it did that, it jumped the line. So aback it jumped the line, apperception you, the puller—I larboard out we backpack a gallon of gas on our back. So, aback that happened, we appealing abundant anon accept to run bottomward the mountain. And as we ran bottomward the mountain, we ran into the highway. As we ran into the highway, one of the captains escorted us bottomward the street. But as we was activity bottomward the street, now the blaze jumped from breadth it was afire at, breadth it was declared to bake at, to the blooming beyond the road.
And aural seconds, the accomplished artery went from a nice ablaze day to aloof aphotic smoke and blaze everywhere. So we had to run as far appealing abundant bottomward that artery until it was blooming again. And afresh as it connected to bake and the atramentous was there and it was safe to go back, we absolutely had to airing aback in there. So, aloof actuality put in a bad asperity like that to breadth that adrenaline is absolutely pumping and you try to amount out the best affair to do because possibly your activity is on the line, I would appetite to say the River Blaze this year was the affliction one for me.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you anticipate of yourself as a hero?
MARTY VINSON: I like to attending at myself as somebody that I appetite to be actuality for whoever—like, whoever needs me, I appetite to be there for them. Aloof aftermost night on this fire, we had somebody who came aback not too connected ago breadth the breadth of breadth we was aggressive up, acid line, there were aloof too abounding apart boulders. And, you know, we consistently try to do what we accept to do, but still accommodate assurance while accomplishing it. And it’s aloof one of those situations breadth it’s no one’s fault, but it happens. And while they was acid line, a bedrock absolutely fell and hit him. And he popped article in his knee, and it aloof swelled up.
And it came to a point breadth we didn’t absolutely accept no acknowledgment to what are we activity to do, how are we activity to get him out of here. It’s night. They don’t do no airlifts at night. They don’t appetite annihilation in the air at night. So it led to the achievability of us aloof bedding bottomward at the basal of this brook and delay until like morning. And it was aloof article where—it’s a accustomed affair about me: I appetite to be there for people. So I aloof volunteered and said, “Well, look, me, personally, I don’t feel like it’s accordant for us to break bottomward here.” So I aloof volunteered to booty my backpack off and backpack him up the mountain.
AMY GOODMAN: So you agitated him up from below, a the creek?
MARTY VINSON: Yes. The aboriginal allotment was maybe the affliction part. It was absolute steep. A lot of bodies didn’t anticipate it would absolutely appear like that, but it was article that I aloof pushed myself to say I’m activity to do, and I got it done. We went activity beeline acclivous to accepting to go sidehill, which that was addition alert area, because the alley was apparently like two anxiety wide. So it was something—it took its time. It went from 2:00 in the morning to like about 5:00 in the morning, but we got him up there, and now he’s aback here.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re risking your activity here.
MARTY VINSON: It’s absolutely what’s activity on. Everything we do, you know, no one’s absolutely promised to appear back.
AMY GOODMAN: And how abundant do you make?
MARTY VINSON: A dollar an hour.
AMY GOODMAN: Aback you’re angry a fire.
MARTY VINSON: Aback you’re angry a fire, a dollar an hour. Aback you’re on archetypal grade, you accomplish $1.45 a day.
AMY GOODMAN: Some accept alleged it bondservant labor. What do you anticipate of that?
MARTY VINSON: I don’t absolutely appetite to alarm the assignment bondservant work, but I feel like it’s their accomplished mentality and what they’re cerebration about at the end of the day. No amount whether we’re confined or we’re free, we’re accepting paid a dollar an hour.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Marty Vinson, an confined firefighter at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Delta Conservation Camp, low-security bastille affected in Fairfield, California, breadth added than 100 confined firefighters are housed. They acquire a dollar an hour for angry California wildfires, extenuative the accompaniment $100 amateur per year.
Special acknowledgment to Democracy Now!’s Libby Rainey, John Hamilton, Carla Wills, Ariel Boone and Mike Burke for that report.
When we appear back, we’ll be aing by Amika Mota. She, too, fought fires aback she was incarcerated. Break with us.
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