The Lumberjack student newspaper
Humboldt County prison inmates battling California's fires make $1 an hour. | Photo Illustration by Megan Bender

Prison inmates help battle fires for little pay

Humboldt County prison inmates battling California's fires make $1 an hour on top of $2 per day average.

The number of deaths in the Camp Fire have increased to 85 people as of Nov. 26 with 993 people unaccounted for. More than 150,000 acres have burned with 18,804 structures destroyed.

The Woolsey Fire has burned nearly 100,000 acres and destroyed 1,500 structures. The Woolsey fire is now 100 percent contained as of Thanksgiving day.

CAL Fire has stated the Camp Fire is the deadliest fire in California history and Woolsey the eighth most destructive.

Cal Fire firefighters are not the only ones fighting the many fires burning in California. Alexandra Powell, public information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said as of Wednesday November 21, there were 594 inmates and 66 CDCR staff members deployed to assist with wildfires around California.

“All inmates receive the same entry-level training that CAL Fire’s seasonal firefighters receive, which includes both classroom and field training,” Powell said.

There are 43 conservation camps, or fire camps, in 27 counties in California. Powell said these camps are minimum-security facilities that house 3,700 inmates who qualify for the fire camp program. There are three fire camps that are a part of the Humboldt-Del Norte Fire Unit: Eel River and High Rock Conservation Camps in Humboldt County and Alder Conservation Camp in Del Norte County.

“When not fighting fires, inmate firefighters perform conservation and community service projects,” Powell said. “They work Monday through Friday for eight hours a day performing a wide range of duties.

Powell said there are 96 inmates housed at High Rock and 91 at Eel River. The CDCR, or California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, states there are 109 inmates at Alder. California criminal defense attorneys, Greg Hill and Associates, said that every fire camp has at least 85 firefighters ready to fight fires.

High Rock, established in 1954, is one of the oldest conservation camps in California. Eel River has been active in since 1967 and Alder opened in 1961.

According to the CDCR website it is estimated Eel River Conservation Camp provided cost avoidance in excess of $1 million per year to the taxpayers of California.

“Taxpayers spend a yearly average of $81,458 per inmate,” Powell said. “Which covers things such as health and dental care, food, housing, as well as education and other rehabilitative opportunities while serving their time.

Powell said fire camp inmates earn an average of $2 a day, with an additional $1 an hour when fighting an active fire.

According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for a CAL Fire firefighter is $63,174 a year. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee’s second demand during the recent nationwide prison strike was to immediately end prison slavery. They called for all persons imprisoned to be paid prevailing wages for their labor.

“Inmates who volunteer to serve their sentence in a fire camp also receive additional time off their sentence,” Powell said.

The pay for inmates at fire camp is high compared to other prison labor. According to a 2018 CDCR report, depending on skill level an inmate will make $0.08-$.37 and hour. Powell said to be transferred to a fire camp an inmate must volunteer and have a minimum custody status.

This status is based on inmates’ good behavior in prison, conforming to rules within prison, and participation in rehabilitative programming.

High Rock and Alder Camps have college and other education course support and Eel River has music appreciation programs and gardening projects. All three have substance abuse meetings.

“Each volunteer inmate is evaluated individually to ensure that all those selected for the fire camp program are willing to be team members with nonviolent behavior, even if their original conviction was for a violent crime,” Powell said.

Powell said since 1983 there have been six deaths of fire camp inmate firefighters as a result of injuries sustained while actively working on containing a fire. She said the families of inmate firefighters may file a claim for death benefits in the event that the inmate dies from work-related injuries.

According to The Marshall Project, closest relatives are informed of loved ones’ deaths through voicemails, text messages and letters and can take anywhere from days to weeks to be notified, if at all.

“Just as with any job in prison, each inmate firefighter is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injuries sustained during work, and/or if those injuries result in proximate death,” Powell said.

Visit for more information.a

Share This Post

More Stories

Nina G uses comedy to start conversations

During the virtual comedy event held by the SDRC, Nina Ghiselli tells her story and emphasizes the importance of student disability resources within schools.

It’s not just the Capitol Police

As the world watched from their televisions on January 6, we witnessed scenes unfold before our eyes that were, to many, unimaginable: supporters of President Trump swarmed the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, then proceeded to break in and

The San Jose State University Football Team Comes to Humboldt

On a day’s notice from administration, the SJSU football team spends a week and a half in Humboldt practicing because their county did not allow it. Students react to their presence on campus in the midst of a pandemic. Directed

Homelessness in Humboldt, CA

This is the first trailer of a homeless documentary created by HSU students. We have spent months filming and will continue to film throughout the next year. Follow the heartbreaking stories of the homeless community around Humboldt county and the

Thrifty Arcata

Taking a tour of the local thrift shops in Arcata during the COVID-19 pandemic. Directed and produced by Skylar Gaven.

House Plants Generate Peace and Meaning During the Pandemic

Three different people with the same love for plants! House plants have become quite popular these days especially since we’re all basically stuck inside during the pandemic. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but these beautiful green oxygen-makers provide more

Prop 22 represents political favoritism of money over workers’ rights

California’s passing of proposition 22 on Nov. 5 represents a frustrating history of workers’ rights being trampled by the overwhelming influence of greed in politics.  This proposition forces app-based workers to be classified as independent contractors, rather than employees. This

Remembering Evelyn Andrews 10 months after her passing

By Katelyn Dendas It has been 10 months since my friend, teammate and freshman year dorm mate, Evelyn Andrews, passed away. I don’t remember what the grief counselor said or what transpired after that Monday, but I do remember arriving

Protestors seek to defund HSUPD

Two local, activist organizations work together to stage a sit-in against Humboldt State’s police department.

Getting stuck on the Trump train

Writer Anthony Aragon details his experience of accidentally joining a pro-Trump car rally.

Justin Turner exposes the World Series to COVID-19

Justin Turner didn’t need to be the story in the wake of the Dodgers’ first World Series victory in 32 years. Instead here we are, wondering what sort of, if any, punishment Major League Baseball will decide to hand down

Four more years of fear

News Editor Carlos Holguin explains why he is worried about the next four years.

Dismal democracy

The Lumberjack editorial staff comments on America’s flawed electoral system As the world watches the United States 2020 election results, waiting for our pseudodemocratic process to churn out a new president, historically unprecedented voting methods misrepresents the reported Election Day

The Mario triple pack invokes a nostalgia attack

When I was a child, the first video game system I owned was a Nintendo 64. Among the games I played was Super Mario 64. I played it all the time and when I wasn’t playing it, I was lying

Women’s lacrosse drops their competitive season

Greta Roberts, president and player of Humboldt State University’s women’s lacrosse team, made the decision with her coach and teammates to cancel the upcoming spring season. The team decided that not being able to recruit in the fall would be

Dobby’s proposition opinions

Haven’t voted yet? Well, you’re running out of time. Here’s a quick rundown of California’s propositions on the ballot this year

Corporations buy out propositions

In a series of general and misleading advertisements, corporate backers of Propositions 22 and 23 show their grubby hands

CDOR continues virtually

The Campus and Community Dialogue On Race returns covering global justice for Black Lives.

Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Local food management practices of the Tolowa Dee-ni, Yurok and other indigenous peoples.

Humboldt State Admin attempts to discredit the Lumberjack

***A Lumberjack editorial represents both the majority opinion of the student newspaper’s editorial board, nine editors, as well as the overwhelming majority of Humboldt State University’s student body. Collectively, an editorial echos, embodies and advocates for community beliefs.*** Insensitive communications

Music of the Moment 6

21 Savage and Metro Boomin drop a classic with “Savage Mode II”

Spartans arrive at HSU despite campus concerns

***Editor’s note: SJSU football program was tested in congruence with Mountain West conference guidelines*** The Spartans have arrived and this time they’re not carrying spears or shields. Instead the San Jose State football team stepped onto the Humboldt State campus

Music of the Moment 5

After shooting Megan Thee Stallion, Tory Lanez cancels himself

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

Comparisons between episodes of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone and our own dismal reality

Music of the Moment 4

YoungBoy Never Broke Again dodges the sophomore slump with his new album “Top.”

Self-Care Cuts

Changing your hair to change your life

HSU Seaweed Farm sets sail

The first commercially-approved seaweed farm in California will be on the map.

Music of the Moment 3

For better or worse, Big Sean is likely gone for good.

More Layers, More Protection?

Humboldt State demands double masking on campus, does more layers equal more protection?

The Ethnic Studies Bill is a Blessing

Ethnic Studies will thankfully become mandatory for all California State University students – as it should be.

The Complex Interface of Humans and Wildfires

How fire suppression is a mixed bag in Humboldt County Every fire season, blankets of smoke roll over Humboldt County. Here on the coast, that’s as close to wildfires as some of us get. But our practice of fire suppression

Defund HSU’s Police Department

Incidents of racism from the former UPD Chief, past examples of excessive force from current officers and a shrinking university budget.

How Not To Be Bitten By A Kitten

Please prepare to be prey Congratulations, a baby feline has recently come into your life. If they’re anywhere from 2-18 months, they bite. They see you as prey. Because you are prey. You always have been. You always will be.

Graduating Into Uncharted Waters

HSU graduates attempt to navigate a world turned upside-down by COVID-19 In May, Humboldt State University graduated hundreds of students, as it does every year. Unlike past years, graduates didn’t get to shake hands with their respective dean and receive

HSU Cultural Center Budget Slashed

Associated Students leaves student body devastated after significant reductions in cultural center’s budget.

All aboard the plague ship

Unprecedented times are met with normalized behavior, HSU puts students and community members at higher risk after reopening campus and student housing.

Music of the Moment

The hip-hop community rallies behind the Black Lives Matter Movement

Inside the Immune System

How the body uses multiple levels of defense against foreign intruders

Catcalling Can’t Continue

Verbal harassment toward women is about control and the assertion of gender discrimination