The nation has been watching Arizona closely with the large wildland fires going on throughout the state and asking for help from neighboring states to provide resources needed to keep the public safe. What has been misplaced from the media and the public so far are the heroic and courageous performances of Arizona prisoners working these fires as they are called within hours to pack up and report to these fire lines. Receiving minimum compensation for such feats, they are often forgotten heroes in this annual fight to keep Arizona deserts and high country safe from brush fires and large wildland fires that occur yearly at a most expensive rate to say the least. Inmate fire crews are an important element of fighting wildland fires as their service and their efforts are performed at a fraction of a cost of regular fire fighters but dollar for dollar their effectiveness and their dedication to respond at a moment’s notice is both admirable and appreciated by the State Forest Service.
In communications with the Arizona prison director, Mr. Charles L. Ryan via email, it was gleaned there are various locations throughout the state where they are currently fighting these fires. Ryan, explaining”eight of the ten state prison complexes with Phoenix and Eyman state prison complexes being the exception” has fire crews. He reports there are a “total of 11 wildland fire crews” in the state. The one complex that leads the state in fire crews is the Winslow Complex that has four fire fighting crews as the others have one crew each. Having personal experience with the Safford fire crew back in 2009, it must be expressed how hard they work to qualify to work such high risk job and how hard they train to accomplish miraculous feats of energy to keep Arizona citizens and municipalities safe. Mr. Ryan also reported that “each crew is comprised of 20 inmates and 3 staff (One Sergeant and 2 Correctional Officers and the current deployment today as of June 8, 2011 is broken down geographically to aid and assist other fire fighters in their overwhelming task to control these raging fires. Each crew is assigned and dispersed according to the State Forester for priorities and logistical reasons.
Prison complexes presently involved fighting these fires are ASPC Douglas fighting fires at the Murphy Fire NW of Nogales with a crew of 23 men: ASPC Perryvile at the Horseshoe II fire N or Douglas with a crew of 22 men; ASPC Tucson at the Murphy Fire NW of Nogales with a crew of 20 men; ASPC Winslow at the Durfee Fire NE of Payson and ASPC Winslow Apache fighting fires at the Horseshoe II with 18 men.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service released new acreage numbers on the Wallow Fire. The fire has now burned 336,187 acres and is recorded as the second largest fire since the Rodeo'”Chediski Fire was a wildfire that burned in east-central Arizona beginning on June 18, 2002, and was not controlled until July 7. It was the worst forest fire in Arizona’s recorded history to date, consuming 468,638 acres. It is likely these inmate fire crews will be in the field for many months to come as Arizona is suffering one of its worst fire seasons thus far and anticipates many more fires to break out as the summer arrives.