Fire Crew History
CAL FIRE, formally known as CDF, first implemented fire crews in 1949, using adult male inmates when a tent camp operation was established at the Minewawa Camp in southern San Diego County . Within a few years, approximately 12 such CDF-CDC camps existed throughout California.
Incident commanders or “fire bosses” as they were then called, soon realized how valuable fire crews could be to the total wildland fire suppression chore. Today, there are 33 partner camps with CDC, three of them are within Riverside County.
In the early seventies, Governor Ronald Reagan instituted the California Ecology Corps. The Corps were an alternative for young men who were conscientious objectors. The CDF-Ecology Corps program lasted from 1973 through 1977. Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. eliminated the Ecology Corps replacing it with the CCC, California ’s new version of the earlier federal Civilian Conservation Corps. CCC Corpsmember Firefighters are free, non-incarcerated members. At its peak in the seventies, there were eight CDF-CCC Fire Centers. Today, there are two fire centers, Butte and La Cima.
CDF reached a peak of 245 fire crews during the late eighties. Budget cuts reduced the number of crews to today’s total of 197 crews assigned to 41 camps. During serious fire sieges, 170 to 175 fire crews are committed to major fires leaving only about 20 crews available for new incidents.
The late eighties saw the assignment of women inmates and wards to fire crews. Currently, the Puerta La Cruz and Rainbow Camps in San Diego County and the Ventura Camp (CYA) have women crew firefighters. Women fire crew firefighters have proven their effectiveness in working equally well with male crews.