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Oregon Department of Forestry

[This year's news cycle was a vicious one, and left little time for reflection. As 2020 nears its end, we're taking the opportunity to look back on the most important Mercury stories written during the past year. This article was originally published on August 21, 2020. We hope you'll consider making a monthly contribution to the Mercury to help continue our work into next year and beyond.—eds.]

Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency yesterday, citing an “imminent threat of wildfire across Oregon” in a press release.

"The wildfire season has escalated in Oregon this summer, and fire crews are working in extreme temperatures to keep homes and resources safe during this pandemic," Brown continued. "Given drought conditions and hotter than usual temperatures, Oregonians should be prepared for an intense wildfire season this summer.”

Among the crews fighting back wildfires in Oregon are state prison inmates. They earn $9.80 a day for their work.

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The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) has provided inmate fire crews to the Oregon Department of Forestry since 1951. Incarcerated people from eight different prisons across the state—all low-level offenders—are deployed to work alongside regional fire crews when needed. Currently, DOC has 345 adults in custody (DOC call them AICs) who could be deployed to fight a fire. So far in 2020, fire crews consisting of nine or 10 incarcerated adults have been deployed 25 times.

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