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California Prison Inmate Firefighter Dies of Injuries

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) today announced that an inmate firefighter in Humboldt County has died as the result of injuries sustained while working on a fire line in Del Norte County.

The firefighter, Matthew Beck, 26, was leading a crew that was clearing brush to contain a fire in the Hoopa area. He suffered major head, neck and back injuries yesterday when a large, 120-foot tall tree nearby uprooted and fell on him. He died before life-flight crews were able to reach him due to the remoteness of the accident scene.

“We are saddened by the death of Matthew Beck, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “The inmates who year after year help protect our communities from the devastation of fires perform a valuable public service, and it is a tragic event when we lose one of them.”

Beck, who was assigned to the Alder Conservation Camp in Del Norte County, was received from Los Angeles County in May 2014 and was serving a six-year sentence for burglary. He is the fourth inmate firefighter to die on the fire line since the conservation program was created in the 1940s.

Approximately 3,900 inmates, all volunteers, are housed in 43 conservation camps operated by CDCR, in conjunction with CALFIRE, the state of California’s wild land firefighting agency, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Working in crews of 12 or 14, CDCR firefighters often work in rugged back country using hand tools to cut containment lines to stop the spread of wildland fires.

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