Law puts low-risk Arizona inmates to work on wildfire prevention

Mar 11, 2021, 9:26 AM | Updated: 1:34 pm

(Arizona Department of Forestry Photo)...

(Arizona Department of Forestry Photo)

(Arizona Department of Forestry Photo)

PHOENIX – Arizona is on the verge of another potentially severe wildfire season and will have more boots on the ground to prevent wildfires under a bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Doug Ducey.

It’s a key piece of the $24.5 million Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative approved by the Legislature that will put 700 of the state’s low-risk prison inmates to work clearing forests of debris that is wildfire fuel over the next two years.

The first assignment for the crews is tentatively set for April at Lost Dutchman State Park.

Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman with Arizona Forestry and Fire Management, calls the plan rehabilitation for forests and inmates.

“These crews will be focused strictly on fuels mitigation projects across the state. Once the crews are in place training will begin immediately,” Davila said.

“Part of that training will be proper chainsaw usage following national wildland firefighting guidelines. Currently the Division of Forestry and Fire Management has 12 wildland fire hand crews and a Type 2 IA post release crew that do both fuels work and suppression, so adding more crews to target fuels work strengthens our team and allows us to cast a bigger safety net across the state when it comes to reducing wildfire risk.”

Approximately 980,000 acres burned statewide in 2020, including the fifth-largest fire in Arizona history with the nearly 200,000 acre Bush Fire northeast of Phoenix.

Last year brought the second largest number of acres burned in one year statewide, behind only 2011 when 1.1 million acres burned. That included the largest fire in Arizona history, the Wallow Fire, which burned more than a half million acres.

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Law puts low-risk Arizona inmates to work on wildfire prevention