Inmates take part in firefighter training

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Washington Department of Natural Resources gave firefighting lessons to inmates on Wednesday, in order to better prepare for the upcoming fire season.

During a normal year, the Spokane area would have already received about seven and a half inches of rain. This year the area has already fallen two and a half inches behind on precipitation, and that's setting the stage for a bad fire season.

There are no hydrants in the back country so if you want to put out a fire you use hoes instead of hoses. Instead of drowning the flames, crews starve them.

inmate firefighter video

"The whole goal is to remove any flammable material and get down to an organic soil, and if you remove the fuel it stops the fire," said inmate firefighter Sean Oie.

Many of the DNR crews you see responding to local fires are made up of inmates.

"I see that the gentlemen offenders at Airway Heights take pride in the work they do," said Andrew Stenbeck, with the DNR. "They do quality line construction for us and it provides a huge benefit to us in organizing our resources in a way that is very efficient."

Inmate fire crews are a bargain for taxpayers. They earn just 62 cents an hour and before offenders can spend that money on themselves they have to pay off their fines and stash some of it in a savings account.

"Because when you're released you're obviously going to need some money to survive and that mandatory savings account is going to be there for them to pay rent, a room to stay in, food, whatever they may need when they do release," said Ron Haynes, Associate Superintendent at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

This might be the summer that cash-strapped inmates have been waiting for.

"Originally we were forecasted to have an average fire season, but currently we're running two to three weeks ahead on our normal fuel models," Stenbeck said. "We would expect to see, if the rain stops, the fire season escalate pretty quickly."