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Unlikely heroes: Inmates serving time fighting fire

Both firefighters and inmate firefighters have been pulling in long hours this season. This crew has worked 16-hour shifts, 11 days straight. Checking for hot spots and mopping up the Aspen Fire is vital to prevent future flare ups.

Firefighters have a busy season battling the blaze from wildfires.

And alongside helping them are inmates.

Through the Conservation Camp Program, the Nevada Division of Forestry in partnership with the Nevada Department of Corrections, 360 inmates are fire trained in Nevada.

There are nine conservation camps throughout the state. The program trains low-risk, non-violent offenders for wildland fire suppression, as well as labor force for conservation projects, community assistance and emergency situations. To qualify, they must also be within two years of their probable release.

When arriving at a fire scene, inmates assist with putting the fire out and/or the mop-up efforts. They are compensated a dollar an hour for their service. Another benefit to the program is earning meritorious credit. This will shorten their sentence.

"They definitely are one of the guys. That's how they should be treated," said Nevada Division of Forestry crew boss Dominic Merlino. "They're out here doing everything that anyone else would do."

Most camps are in rural areas, which serves as another benefit for when it comes to initial attack resources.

"We have more inmates at camps that want to fight fire than Nevada Division of Forestry needs," said Lt. Robert Hartman with the Department of Corrections.

There are currently 15 crews; the program plans to grow next year to 18 crews with 432 inmates.

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