By Douglas W. Motley
Pilot Rock Conservation Camp, located north of Crestline on the eastern edge of Silverwood Lake, was one of eight fire camps ordered closed on Oct. 9 by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
“This will allow Cal Fire and CDCR to effectively consolidate resources into the remaining 35 conservation camps, so that they can be more efficient and better staffed for response to wildfires, other emergencies and engagement in conservation-related work,” a Department of Corrections statement reads, in part.
The 69 CDCR employees at the eight camps being shut down will be absorbed into vacancies at other camps, while the 362 inmates and 239 inmate firefighters will also be transferred to other camps.
Tim Edwards, a Cal Fire engineer and president of a union that represents firefighters, said the camp program has been dying in recent years due to the early release of lower-risk inmates. According to the CDCR, there were 3,710 inmates housed at the camps in 2016, compared to only 1,780 in 2020. Locally, Pilot Rock’s inmate population – normally 80 inmates – had dwindled to only 39.
Pilot Rock Conservation Camp, which is jointly operated by CDCR and Cal Fire, was constructed in 1959. Its primary mission is to provide inmate fire crews for fire prevention and suppression in and around San Bernardino County.
Recent deployments of the camp’s inmate hand crews include last month’s El Dorado and Bobcat Fires, as well as the Zurich Fire near Thousand Pines Camp. As part of their conservation work, inmates were also seen in recent years cutting down bark beetle-infested trees surrounding Lake Gregory. Many former inmates have reportedly been hired by fire departments, enabling them to become productive, tax-paying members of society.