Inmate Fire Crews Dwindle as Wildfire Season Grows Longer

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Inmate fire crews from Northern California prepare to battle the Silver fire in Riverside County in August 2013. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

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Already plagued by years of drought and a beetle infestation that has reduced millions of trees to kindling, California is facing yet another crisis as it enters the brunt of wildfire season: a dwindling roster of prison inmates who can battle blazes.

The gap is due largely to California’s controversial realignment law, which mandates that inmates convicted of non-serious, nonviolent and non-sexual offenses serve time in county jails rather than in state prisons.

As a result, the pool of eligible firefighting inmates has been shrinking.

“We’ve just had to scramble harder to find inmates we can get,” said Bill Sessa, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “We still have to be selective about the inmates we choose.”

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