California Inmates Help Fight Building Fire

WASCO, Calif. --

On Sunday, a vacant business caught on fire in the area of Palm Avenue and Hwy 46 in Wasco and inmates were called in to help fight the fire..

By the time Kern County fire crews arrived, the business was nearly engulfed in flames and the Wasco State Prison Fire Crew was called out for backup, said the Kern County Fire Department.

The structure has several hundred thousand dollars in damage but crews were able to stop the fire before it spread anywhere else, saving millions more.

"We did some ventilation and set up hose ways and went up in back of the roof and did more ventilation back there," said inmate firefighter Matthew Winston.

Crews say they are called out about two to three times a month to work alongside the Kern County Fire Department.

"They actually depend on us and when we get to the scene we are used as a secondary resource to them and for them to give us that chance it's a big deal to us," said inmate firefighter Tim Leon.

Inmates have rigorous training 5 days a week for at least 2 hours a day, but perhaps the biggest incentive they have is the opportunity to cut down their sentence by 35 percent.

"If you have a year to do then you'll basically be out in 7 months," said Leon.

The Kern County Fire Department said it uses the inmates not because it is short on staff or because of budget problems, but simply because they are an extra resource that's available.

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