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.

CalFire bills for fire prevention

California homeowners will soon receive bills in the mail for fire protection. Beginning next week, bills for as much as $150 will be sent; most homeowners’ bills will run $115, with a $35 discount for people who live in fire protection districts and already pay for fire services.

The annual fee is controversial; it was signed into law last year to provide funding for CalFire and has been heavily criticized by rural residents who view it as “double taxation.” Taxpayer advocate groups, according to the Union Democrat, argue that the fee is a tax and should have required a two-thirds vote by the Legislature instead of just a simple majority vote.

Houses and other structures in the 31-million-acre State Responsibility Area (SRA) will be billed at the $150 rate. Daniel Berlant with CalFire told KPBS news that the number of structures in the SRA has grown by about 16 percent in the last decade. “That’s where the residential area starts meeting up into the forest,” said Berlant. “It’s that middle section that we call the wildland-urban interface where we see the most fires that cause impact and damage throughout California,so the rural residents that the state is responsible for protecting are the ones that will be assessed the fee.”

CalFire home safety site

The annual fee is $150 for the first structure and $25 for each additional structure on the property. The Rancho Santa Fe Review reported that the funds pay for prevention activities on SRA lands.

CalFire has a parcel viewer online to view mapped SRA lands.

Property owners who disagree with the fire fee assessed on their properties can petition for a redetermination of the fee calculation. The petition must be based on whether the fee applies to the property for which the petition is filed, and must detail the grounds for redetermination of the fee. Grounds could include proof of whether the structure is actually located in the SRA or the number of habitable structures or pre-existing local fire protection services. The firepreventionfee.org website has more details.