Department of Corrections Deploys Nearly 150 Prisoners to Fight Oregon Wildfires

Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday to expect "the greatest loss of human lives and property" of any Oregon wildfires.

Oregon City, Ore. on Sept. 9, 2020. (Alex Wittwer)

About 150 prisoners have been deployed to combat wildfires that Gov. Kate Brown warned could result in "the greatest loss of human lives and property" from fire in the state's history.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Vanessa Vanderzee confirmed to WW that crews consisting of about 150 inmates from four Oregon prisons have been deployed since Sept. 7 to combat wildfires. Here's how the crews break down:

  • Four crews of 10 from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility who have been fighting fires since Sept. 7
  • 17 crews of 10 from South Fork Forest Camps who have been fighting fires since Sept. 8 (nine crews on Sept. 8 and eight crews on Sept. 9)
  • One crew of 10 from Mill Creek Correctional Facility, which fought  fires for one shift
  • One crew of 10 from Shutter Creek Correctional Institution, which has been fighting fires since Sept. 8

Oregon Department of Corrections says on its website that it has had an established firefighting program for prisoners since 1951 through the Oregon Department of Forestry. The Portland Mercury reported last month that ODOC has 345 adults in custody who could be deployed to fight fires, and that the program has been praised as an opportunity for prisoners to develop skills.

Oregon prisoners fighting fires make between $9 and $9.80 a day, Vanderzee said, depending on how many days a month they work (state statutes exclude prisoners from minimum wage laws).

Vanderzee says adults in custody who are a part of the firefighting program receive an initial 40-hour training to receive their certification for Wildland Fire Fighter 2, and that they continue their training as long as they are part of a crew.

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