250 fire camp inmates respond to Oroville Dam crisis
About 250 fire camp inmates rushed to respond to the recent Oroville Dam crisis. They cleared loose material before the debris could wash into the waterway below, KQED reported.
Inmates trained to work on fire lines have vital skills and experience needed at Oroville, such as clearing out dead tree leaves and brush. Fire camp crews receive training to work outside prison walls, and each inmate is paid $2 per day while in camp, and $1 per hour while on the fire line
“Even though they do predominantly firefighting duty in the summer months, most of the time these are crews out doing conservation work at other times of the year. They respond whenever Cal Fire or, in this case, the Department of Water Resources, ask for our help,” stated Bill Sessa, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Several days after the initial surge of emergency responses, 24 inmates in two work crews continued their cleanup efforts.
“We go day by day, based on whether or not Cal Fire asks for help,” Sessa added. “If we’re asked for help, we do, and if they do not need us, the crews go off and work on other projects.”
A crater opening forced dam managers to shut down the main spillway for assessment on Feb. 7. Heavy rains and rising water levels soon called for the damaged concrete chute to be put back in limited use to relieve the rapidly rising Lake Oroville.
At its worst the lake’s level reached more than a foot above a never-before-used emergency spillway. Unprecedented erosion on the hillside below prompted an emergency evacuation of thousands of residents downstream.
The dam managers chose to increase flows down the damaged spillway. This strategy proved successful, resulting in the lake’s level lowering to 42 feet below the emergency spillway.