The inmates are being used to aid suppression efforts and fuel mitigation, FOX10 Phoenix reported Wednesday, noting that 2021’s wildfire season has been extremely active very early.
Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management public affairs officer Tiffany Davila told the station that there had already been two Type 1 incidents and there were 12 hand crews made up of 20 members to help fight them.
Inmates are paid up to $3 an hour for their work, according to AZ Family.
Davila also pointed out that using the inmates helps finance save money and that the price tag for fire suppression can add up to millions of dollars, “especially when we have to use large-scale aircraft like the very large airtanker.”
Although Arizona’s Department of Forestry and Fire Management has worked in tandem with the Department of Corrections to train inmates for decades, in March, Gov. Doug Ducey signed additional legislation to “prevent wildfires by allowing for additional partnerships” on federal lands, including the employment of 700 more state inmates for wildfire mitigation work beginning on July 1.
Ducey’s administration said in an April release that the legislation “aligns with the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative, which builds on proven methods to protect communities while engaging individuals in state correctional facilities to equip them with new skills. “
The Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative is a $24.5 million proposal that Ducey said in a March 9 release “builds on proven methods to protect communities, while engaging individuals in state correctional facilities to equip them with new skills and reduce recidivism.”
“As I shared in my State of the State address, guarding against wildfires is an important issue that requires a new strategy for the state. That new strategy of taking additional steps to reduce wildfire risk to Arizona communities is reflected in the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative,” the governor said in a signing letter.
In preparation for another hot and arid summer, five of Arizona’s six environment announced Stage 1 fire restrictions – limiting smoking and campfire locations – that start on Friday.
Some restrictions in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests took effect earlier this month.
Criteria used to determine when to implement restrictions include weather, fuel moisture, fire activity levels and available firefighting resources, Forest Service officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
FOX10 reported that a few hundred wildfires – some smaller than others – had already been burning.
Those blazes include Gila County’s Copper Canyon Fire and the Tussock Fire near Crown King, both of which have already burned thousands of acres.
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The Associated Press reported that 400 people had been assigned to the Copper Canyon Fire, helicopters had been deployed to help with containment and residents of the Crown King community remained under an evacuation warning.
“All and all, I’d say about five crews have gone out so far over the course of a few days, and of course we really hope to get them out more this summer,” Davila told FOX10. “We’re always appreciative of the fact when we can use them, because some of these men and women are some of the hardest-working firefighters in the industry.”