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Inmate Firefighters Train For Busy California Fire Season During Drought

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Fire season is almost here, and with California in the fourth year of its drought, it'll likely be bad.

Cal Fire is busy training thousands of firefighters to defend against what's expected to be a hot, dry season, including inmate firefighters.

Wednesday was the final test before the firefighters were put on the fire lines.

"This is a team sport," said Cal Fire Division Chief Roy Evans. "It doesn't matter what color the uniform is; it's a team sport."

The men in yellow are Cal Fire employees. The men in orange are inmates within the California prison system, and they're an important part of Cal Fire's wildland fire control.

"We bring them out every year," Evans said. "We make sure that they know what they're responsible for. And that they can meet those standards set."

They check their tools, take an hour-long hike and cut fire lines. They also practice for a worst-case scenario in which they would have to lay down fire shelters. The thin-material bags are meant to protect them if the flames sweep over. It's not often a crew has to use these, but a crew fighting the King Fire last year was forced to use their shelters in a move that saved their lives.

"Their training, their fire captain, their leadership—all of those play an important part of that crew's survivability on that fire," Evans said.

Cal Fire has nearly 200 inmate crews made up of at least 12 members. The agency says it saves them up to $100 million a year.

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