California firefighter dies after suffering chain saw injury

Frank Anaya
Frank Anaya

A California firefighter died July 11 in a hospital from injuries he suffered July 5 while fighting a wildfire near Lakeside in Southern California.

The inmate firefighter with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation based at the La Cima Conservation Camp was throwing cut brush during line construction operations when he lost his balance and fell into a running chainsaw. He suffered a severe cut to his upper right leg behind his chaps.

The 22-year old firefighter underwent multiple surgeries, but succumbed to his injuries July 11, 2017, according to the CDCR.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Anaya’s friends, family, and coworkers.

Other California inmate firefighter fatalities that we are aware of in the last six years:

  • January 4, 2012. Crisanto Leo Lionell. Heart attack near the conclusion of a 20-minute, .66 mile exercise hike.
  • August 19, 2012. Jimmy Randolph. Anoxic encephalopathy combined with complications of heat stroke while assigned to the Buck Fire.
  • February 25, 2016. Shawna Lynn Jones. Struck by rolling boulder while working on the Mulholland Fire  .
  • May 24, 2017. Matthew Beck. Struck by falling tree while doing project work with his crew.

Edited July 14, 2017 to reflect new information in the Green Sheet. The victim was not running the chainsaw, but was swamping for it (throwing the cut brush).

More details released about the May 24 inmate fatality in California

Above: The top of the tree that struck Matthew Beck on May 24, 2017. CAL FIRE photo.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has released a few more details about the accident that killed a California inmate firefighter in Humboldt County on May 24. As disclosed earlier, Matthew Beck died after being struck by a falling tree.

Now we know that the tree had been previously identified as being hazardous but it was thought to be outside the work area.

Alder Crew #4 was working on Ishi Pishi Road towards Somes Bar picking up piles of limbs and brush from the previous two days of work to feed into a chipper. The machine was running at full throttle when the crew supervisor saw the tree falling and yelled a warning, which was not heard by the entire crew due to the noise from the chipper.

The supervisor attempted to call the Fortuna Emergency Communications Center on his hand held radio but could not make contact. He got in the crew carrier truck and drove about 400 yards to a location from which he could talk to the ECC with the vehicle’s mobile radio.

Mr. Beck received a fatal blow from the tree causing blunt force trauma to the head, neck, and torso.

The tree was a 105-year-old, 146-foot Douglas-fir, with a 21.5-inch diameter (DBH). It weighed approximately 3,000 pounds and had a downhill lean of about 46 degrees. Mr. Beck was hit by a portion of the tree that was about 18 feet from the tree top.

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

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.

Female inmate crew feeds firefighters in Nevada

Smith Ranch Fire
Smith Ranch Fire as seen from the Jiggs Highway (SR 228) shortly after igniting from a lightning strike July 19, 2013. InciWeb photo.

A female inmate crew from a Conservation Camp in Las Vegas prepared meals for the firefighters working on the Smith Ranch Fire 10 miles north of Jiggs, Nevada. Rae Brooks, an Information Officer at the fire, wrote the article and took the photos below. In case you’re wondering, it is against the rules to take photos of the inmates’ faces.

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inmates prepare steaks for dinner
Female inmate kitchen crew prepares New York steaks for firefighters’ dinner

“ELKO, Nev. — The task: prepare a hot breakfast, hearty bag lunches and a three-course dinner for 250 firefighters in a cow pasture with no running water. The pay: a dollar an hour — and a day knocked off their sentences for every eight hours worked.

A kitchen crew of 14 female inmates from the Jean Conservation Camp in Las Vegas have been providing meals for firefighters this week on the Smith Ranch Fire, about 25 miles southeast of Elko.

Ranging in age from 21 to 48, the women are all minimum-security prisoners who are being rewarded with the privilege of working outside the conservation camp fence after making it through a rigorous screening process, passing a physical-fitness test and undergoing a comprehensive training program.

Another reward: What one crew member called “big old smiles” from the firefighters working on the 2,777-acre blaze. After a long hot day building line — and a few days subsisting on Meals-Ready-to-Eat — the firefighters are not hesitant to let the kitchen crew know how much they appreciate tucking into a real meal.

“A lot of us never had that appreciation before,” said the crew member. “So to have it is great.”

The meal on tap this particular evening: 8-oz. New York steaks, black bean chili, cheesy mashed potatoes and three different types of salad, followed by freshly baked apple pie.

Pies at Smith Ranch Fire
Eighteen apple pies baked in a transportable oven for firefighters’ dinner at Smith Ranch Fire

The Nevada Division of Forestry and the Nevada Department of Corrections jointly run nine minimum-security conservation camps throughout the state where inmates serve sentences, while doing project work and serving on emergency-response crews for wildland fire suppression, flood control, search and rescue, and ice and snow removal.

Although much of the work the inmate crews perform is unpaid, they generate about $1.4 million annually for the state’s general fund.

Only the Jean location houses female inmates. During the past two years, Jean crews have worked more than 12,000 hours on 28 emergency incidents.

When they arrive at a fire, the crew can have their kitchen up and running within an hour. Their normal workday begins at 3 a.m., and except for a few hours’ rest in the mid-day heat, ends an hour short of midnight.

dining tables at Smith Ranch fire
Outdoor dining tables await firefighters at Smith Ranch Fire

Wearing hairnets and disposable gloves, the women prepare and cook meals on a portable outdoor two-sided range, then serve the food in a cafeteria-style line. After each meal, they do clean up. They are also responsible each day for making sandwiches and stuffing multiple lunch items into a legion of paper sacks.

At night, they bed down in tents, watched over by a female correctional officer. She takes roll call, escorts them on any night-time Porta Potty visits, counts them hourly throughout the night, and wakes them up when it’s time to go back to work.

Working on the kitchen crew teaches the women a trade, which they can use to earn a living after their release. Many of the younger women had never learned to cook.

The kitchen crews are “a good local resource” for fires that aren’t big enough to warrant a national caterer, said Jean camp supervisor Jon Shogren. The state also has two male inmate kitchen crews.

Crew boss Bruce Travis said the inmates really appreciate the opportunity to work on the crews, and the experience can bring out the best in them.

“If you get people out of that negative environment, you can see there’s more to them,” said Travis.

Another inmate said she was grateful for all the skills she has learned, including food preparation, cooking, food safety, cleanliness and presentation. Being outdoors was also a bonus.

‘Especially at night-time when it’s dark, and you see all the stars,” she said. “It’s just all-round rewarding.’ ”

Removing pies from oven
Jean Conservation Camp supervisor Jon Shogren removes apple pies from transportable ovens at Smith Ranch Fire.