California inmate firefighter killed by falling tree

Matthew Beck firefighter
Matthew Beck. Photo credit: CDCR.

(Revised at 1:13 p.m. MDT May 27, 2017)

The California inmate firefighter in Humboldt County was killed May 24 while working on a county roads project in the northwestern part of the state in Del Norte County.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Matthew Beck, 26, was working with a crew in the Hoopa area. He suffered major head, neck and back injuries when a 120-foot tall tree uprooted and fell on him. He died before life-flight crews were able to reach him.

“We are saddened by the death of Matthew Beck, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “The inmates who year after year help protect our communities from the devastation of fires perform a valuable public service, and it is a tragic event when we lose one of them.”

Mr. Beck, who was assigned to the Alder Conservation Camp in Del Norte County, was serving a six-year sentence for burglary and was due to be parolled in October. He is the fourth inmate firefighter to die on a fire since the conservation program was created in the 1940s.

In February of 2016 another California inmate firefighter, Shawna Lynn Jones, 22, died after being struck by a boulder that rolled down a hill on the Mulholland Fire near Malibu.

Our sincere condolences go out to the friends, family, and coworkers of both firefighters.

This article has been edited to rectify incorrect information initially provided by the CDRC. The firefighter was not working on a fire at the time of the accident.

California inmate firefighter dies of injuries suffered on wildfire near Malibu

Shawna Lynn Jones suffered major head injuries after being struck by a rolling boulder.

Injured inmate hoist helicopter
The inmate firefighter was airlifted after being injured near Malibu on Feb. 25, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)
The California inmate firefighter that was injured February 25 on the Mulholland Fire near Malibu has died, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Friday.

In the early hours of Thursday morning while fighting a wildfire as part of a hand crew, Shawna Lynn Jones, 22, was struck by a boulder that rolled down a hill. She was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center where she was treated for major head injuries. Ms. Jones was removed from life support after her organs were donated, in keeping with her family’s wishes.

Ms. Jones was a Los Angeles County jail inmate who had joined CDCR’s firefighting program in August 2015 and was assigned to the Malibu Camp, which is operated jointly with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Malibu is one of three camps that house a total of 195 female firefighters.

According to the CDCR Ms. Jones is the third inmate firefighter to die on a wildfire since the camp program began in 1943. Female inmates were incorporated into the firefighting program in 1983.

The Mulholland Fire burned about 10 acres and was contained Thursday night.

Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and family of Ms. Jones.

Female inmate injured while fighting fire near Malibu

The inmate’s condition was upgraded from critical to serious.

A female inmate was seriously injured Thursday morning while fighting a wildfire near Malibu in southern California. Reportedly she was struck by a rolling rock and was hoisted into a helicopter and transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where her condition was later upgraded from critical to serious.

Injured inmate hoist helicopter
An inmate firefighter was airlifted after being injured in Malibu on Feb. 25, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

The 22-year-old inmate was a member of Fire Camp 13, an all-female facility.

The fire was reported around 3 a.m. in steep terrain about two miles north of the Pacific Coast Highway.

A total of 63 inmates divided into five work crews were battling the fire, according to Bill Sessa, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

From the LA Times:

Of the roughly 4,000 inmates housed in 44 conservation camps across the state, only a couple hundred are women.

The female inmate who was injured Thursday had come from the LA County jail system, and had been with the Malibu conservation camp since August, Sessa said.

The CDCR likes to say that only non-violent prisoners are allowed to work on inmate fire crews, but as was discovered last year, the agency’s definition of “violent” is different from the public’s perception.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Wildfire briefing, December 22, 2014

Recently passed California ballot initiative could deplete firefighting inmate crews

A California ballot initiative recently passed could decrease the number of personnel available to staff firefighting inmate crews. The Colbert Report featured this issue on December 2 in their usual satirical style, but Reuters has a more serious look at the potential effects.

Below is an excerpt from their article:

…That measure will likely diminish the very segment of the inmate population that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, draws upon to fill its wildland firefighting crews.

Housed in 39 minimum-security “conservation camps” run by the state corrections department, the firefighting inmates also do brush clearance, flood control and park maintenance projects.

“It might do some damage to our pipeline,” said corrections Sergeant John Lanthripp, assistant commander of the largest of the camps, Oak Glen, in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains.

The change comes as California firefighting resources are increasingly stretched by more large wildfires, and a longer fire season, attributed to the state’s prolonged drought…

Fire in Cambodia destroys homes

A fire in Phnom Penh, Cambodia burned 26 homes and injured two people Saturday evening.

Forest Service asks visitors to not decorate trees

I didn’t know this was a thing.

Some national forests in Arizona and New Mexico are concerned about a tradition of decorating trees on forest land during the holidays. Over the past several years, the practice along well-traveled roads has become increasingly popular at the expense of the National Forest’s wild land and natural character.

A spokesperson for the Coconino National Forest said that not only are the decorating items distracting and altering the natural visual character and scenic quality, they are also potentially threatening to wildlife. Various wildlife species can ingest them or in some cases get entangled in them.

Decorating trees is a wonderful tradition, the Forest Service said, but it is much more appropriate on private and commercial property than on the National Forest. This season, the Forest Service will be proactively taking steps to prevent tree decorating on the National Forest. Decorations will be promptly removed, and individuals responsible can be issued violation notices under the Code of Federal Regulations CFR 261.11b for “possessing or leaving litter on the National Forest” with a fine of $150 or more. Please report such activities to the Red Rock Ranger District at (928) 282-4119.

Spectacular photos

We can’t publish them here, but check out these excellent photos taken at wildland fires. The first two won awards:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Ken.

Tuesday morning one-liners

FSPRO analysis of the Hathaway Fire
FSPRO analysis of the Hathaway Fire in southern California, if there was no suppression, June 9, 2013

Data sharing leads to powerful tools for fighting fire.

The U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy have been conducting some prescribed fires near Orleans, California.

In California, the weather this month will determine if a new record will be set for the driest year on record.

A former trombone player continues to be in the news about his effort to improve the fire shelter.

The New York Times has an article about inmate fire crews.

After the county Sheriff has repeatedly publicly criticized how the Fire Chief handled the first two hour of the destructive Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs, an independent investigator has been called in.

A man whose body was found during a brush fire in Arvin, California in August was murdered, before the suspect tried covering up the crime with a fire.

Protecting archaeological sites from wildfire and extreme weather using a wireless sensor network.

Vail Colorado maps and rates wildfire hazard for all structures.

Thanks go out to Dick, John, Bean, Ken, and Roy.

California reducing inmate crews

CalFire says the state’s inmate fire crews will be reduced because of the California’s decision to move low-level offenders from state prisons to space in county jails. The state’s inmate crews are often the first crews on initial attack. More than 4,000 in the state are trained in wildfire suppression skills, but the number is expected to be closer to 2,500 this summer.

The shift is one result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment program, which reduces the number of state prisoners and cuts costs by housing more inmates in county jails. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that county inmates could make up the loss, but the state and county sheriffs have not yet agreed on details.

CalFire inmate crew
CalFire inmate crew

Inmate crews stay in 42 conservation camps throughout the state. They can be assigned to wildfires or dispatched out for non-fire emergencies, and the crews provide labor for fuels reduction projects and even park maintenance. Inmates are paid about $1 per day, or $1 per hour when fighting fire. The state has 169 crews, three of which are women-only, with 13 to 17 people on a crew.

An editorial in the Redding Record-Searchlight said the conservation camps need a hero who can save the system from collapse.

Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, the president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said sheriffs and state officials are drafting an agreement that would charge counties $46 per day for keeping county inmates in the camps. Royal said most sheriffs won’t participate, though, because of the cost.