Female inmate firefighters featured in movie

CDC crew

Did anyone see “Firelight”, the TV movie Sunday night on ABC about inmates at an all-female correctional facility who become members of a wildland firefighting hand crew? I missed it, but Cuba Gooding played a counselor who talks a group of incarcerated women into applying for positions on an inmate hand crew. It is a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie and will replayed on the Hallmark channel April 29 at 8 p.m. ET, May 5 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET, and May 6 at 4 p.m. ET.

Here is a 2-minute “behind the scenes” video about the movie:

The movie is based on the fact that there really are female inmate firefighting hand crews in California. The Rainbow Conservation Camp in San Diego County made history in 1983 when it converted from male to female and created female crews. Currently, in addition to Rainbow, the Puerta La Cruz Camp in San Diego County and the Ventura California Youth Authority Camp have women firefighters. There are a total of 197 inmate crews assigned to 41 camps in California.

CDC crew
Male inmate crew training in California

Adult inmates assigned to the firefighter camps are carefully screened and medically cleared. Only minimum custody inmates – both male and female – may participate in the Conservation Camps Program. To be eligible, they must be physically fit and have no history of violent crimes. The average sentence for adult inmates selected for camp is less than two years and the average time they will spend in camp is eight months. After being selected, inmates undergo a vigorous two-week physical fitness training program and are then provided training for another two weeks.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

9 thoughts on “Female inmate firefighters featured in movie”

    1. I was a member of Malibu conservation camp #13 in 2009-2011. Although away from my family & being incarcerated, it was the most rewarding,self esteem building,life changing time of my life.

      Im proud to say that I am a wild land firefighter!

      BTW, I loved the movie.

  1. Bill – I missed this show, but have accumulated a personal collection of some good and some really bad films and made-for-TV flicks about wildfires. My all-time favorite “good flick” is “Red Skies of Montana” made in 1952, and shown last year at the IAWF Safety Summit as a benefit for the WFF. For bad shows, my favorite “worst” is probably “Firestorm” with ex-NFL jock Howie Long.
    Since it’s too early in the year for an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” contest, how about a Favorite/Worst Wildfire flicks contest, just like the Academy Awards? Members of the “Academy” (us wildland firefighters that read your Blog) can nominate films: best/worst movie; best/worst actor and actress; best/worst simulated witldfire technical effects;best/worst airtanker shots, etc. After the nominations are in, we get to vote, and then announce the big winners/losers. Anyone else out there a wildfire movie fan?

    1. I saw a few minutes of “Firelight” last night. As with most any profession and its depiction in the movies the less you know about the profession the better the movie. I don’t plan to watch the whole movie.

      Worst Movie – I gotta go with Firestorm.

  2. The show was more about the inmates and their personal trials than about wildfire. The fire scenes were really hokey and defi nite Hollywood especially with the non-inmate firefighters were fighting wildfire in structure gear! The gear that the inmates used was pretty authentic but tool use, carrying, line construction etc. was not accurate at all. I was hoping for a more accurate representation of the crews. Too bad, this was an excellent opportunity to do a good job.

  3. Enjoyed the movie and story line of the characters but it was misleading as these female inmate firefighters are not housed behind fences or prison bars. They live and work in conservation camps that are fence free. These remarkable women work hard to achieve this position and continue to work hard fighting CA fires and numerous other tasks in the community that they are housed in. This is not an easy occupation and they deserve respect from the communities that they protect.

  4. i was just recently at the Rainbow Conservation Camp and I have to say it was the best experience of my life. My captains taught me alot and because of them I am the strong and ambitious woman i am today.

  5. The program lacks anything toward rehab of these inmates. The CDCR should be ashamed that they put lives in danger and then call it “INMATES ARE EXPENDABLE”. Put some of the powers that be behind bars and see how things will change and how much money is really spent.
    And as far as education goes at these camps, there was never anything at Rainbow until one women, an inmate firefighter with a law degree, forced the CDCR to put the GED program at the camp in 2008. I interviewed this person and I am shocked at the deceiving that goes on to the public about this program and the fair treatment of inmates, both at the camps and behind bars.

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