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Arizona inmate fire crews helped contain Slide, other wildfires

PHOENIX — Firefighting crews made up of prisoners helped contain the Slide Fire near Sedona, Ariz. and other blazes this year.

In total, the Arizona Department of Corrections has 11 fire crews. Doug Nick said those crews spent an equivalent to 273 days on fire lines this season.

“There were periods of time when everyone of our crews was dispatched to some fire or project in the state,” he said. “That’s a pretty big feat of logistics.”

Another crew spent the equivalent of more than 600 days clearing brush and other fuel from woodlands across Arizona.

While the crews were dispatched nationwide, they were very effective saving homes in northern Arizona threatened by the Slide Fire.

“That abatement work — thinning fuel and brush — benefited a little over 1,300 structures that needed protection from excessive fuel in the forests,” Nick said.

This wasn’t the first year the DOC crews helped fight massive Arizona fires or protect communities affected by them. In 2013, the crews were responsible for sandbagging the area near where 19 hotshots were killed battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire. The sandbags were set up to prevent flooding.