Oregon Inmates Headed to Battle Wildfire

The fire has spread to more than 6,900 acres, and continues to roar.

June 11--The Oregon Department of Corrections has put 143 prisoners on the fire lines of the Two Bulls wildfire, roaring northwest of Bend, part of a proud history of inmate forestry operations.

The fire grew to 6,906 acres on Wednesday and is expected to put firefighters to work through the weekend.

Inmate firefighters, all minimum-security prisoners, were culled from Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, in Madras; South Fork Forest Camp, in Tillamook; Santiam Correctional Institution, in Salem; and Shutter Creek Correctional Institution, in Coos Bay, the prison system reported.

The prisoners were accompanied by 15 staffers, the Department of Corrections reported. They wore yellow fire-resistant shirts as they hiked into a long, proud history of wild-land firefighting.

The State Board of Forestry inaugurated a program in 1949 to re-seed and replant hundreds of thousands of acres that were scorched by the 1933 forest fires known as the Tillamook Burn, prison officials said.

Two years later, they said, the prison system built the South Fork Forest Camp to provide aid in restoring Oregon's forests.

The first of the camp's primitive tar-paper buildings were built at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. The firefighting program now travels with kitchen crews and mobile showers, prison officials reported.

Last year alone, they said, 829 inmates from nine of the state's 14 prisons logged hundreds of hours at 36 different fires across Oregon.

-- Bryan Denson

Copyright 2014 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.