Book about California’s female inmate firefighters

“Breathing Fire” by Jaime Lowe

Injured inmate hoist helicopter
Firefighter Shawna Lynn Jones was airlifted after being injured in Malibu on Feb. 25, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

The third California state inmate to die since 1943 while incarcerated and fighting a wildland fire was a woman. In the early hours of the morning on February 25, 2016 while fighting the Mulhollan Fire near Malibu 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.

This tragedy is one of the stories covered in a book by Jaime Lowe about California’s female inmate firefighters, “Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires.”

Here is an excerpt from a review by Erin Berger in Outside Magazine.

But Lowe makes a clear distinction between professional firefighting in the free world and the carceral system’s employment of inmates as firefighters. “All the women I spoke with could see the benefits of the firefighting program, but most bristled at the idea that they had volunteered,” Lowe writes, citing the litany of reasons an inmate would consider such a dangerous job more desirable than the conditions in prison, which include sexual assault, neglect for the sick or mentally ill, and poor nutrition. “‘Volunteer’ is a relative term for the incarcerated.”

Breathing Fire

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.