This year, as California dried up in the record-breaking heat, the state was forced to cope with a devastating wildfire season. Thousands were forced to evacuate their homes as the flames crept in. Some watched their town get swallowed whole by the inferno. Just this month, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency when Los Angeles went up in flames—the largest fire in the city’s history.
While wildfires are a natural, healthy process for forest ecosystems, when they encroach on cities and towns that were built in high-risk fire zones, there’s little choice but to fight back the flames. Firefighters descend from helicopters or scramble up hillsides with chainsaws and water pumps in hand. But nearly a third of those charged with putting out the fires are not your traditional heroes—in fact, they’re prison inmates.