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Gov. Brown Credits Prison Inmates In Rocky Fire Fight

LOWER LAKE (KCBS) -- Nearly 1,200 inmate firefighters are helping in the battle against the Rocky Fire, which has now charred nearly 70,000 acres and is 85 percent contained.

Along Highway 20, not far from Clearlake Oaks, a saw team in orange jumpsuits was clearing the fire line recently.

Nathan Navarez, from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Washington Rich Crew Five, explains the process.

"Then the rest of the crew comes behind them and clears out all the stubs, and gets everything down to bare soil so that way the fire has no more fuel to burn."

He's been on the crew for about 18 months.

Navarez' crew is one of many fighting the Rocky Fire, going through intense physical fitness training and then firefighting training to learn about "the fire and what it's going to do and how to work as a crew basically," he says.

Johnny Miller with Cal Fire says they employ many prisoners.

"Very low-level inmates and we put them on the line to strengthen control lines, build control lines, put out hot spots, mop up the fire," he said.

The inmates in camp make a $1.45 per day. Skilled workers earn $2.50 a day while those on the fire line rack in $1.00 an hour.

A fire captain and a correctional officer are always with the crew.

"They'll usually sleep out on the line or they'll go back to base camp," Miller said. "They're never left out of sight."

Governor Brown toured the Rocky Fire last week and he thanked all the firefighters, including the inmates.

"That's one of our problems, lots of people locked up and they're sitting around in many cases doing nothing," Brown said. "So it's very important when we can quantify that manpower, utilize it and hopefully many of them will be going back into the community."

Navarez has found skills and self-respect with the job.

"It's great being out in the environment, plus we're helping people."

And while wildfire is a very competitive field, he's hoping to get hired on by the Forest Service or Cal Fire when he gets out.

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