“Breathing Fire” by Jaime Lowe
The third California inmate to die since 1943 while incarcerated fighting a wildfire was a woman. In the early morning hours on February 25, 2016, while fighting the Mulhollan Fire near Malibu, as part of a hand plow, Shawna Lynn Jones, 22, was struck by a boulder that rolled down a hill. She was flown to UCLA Medical Center, where she was treated for serious head injury. Ms. Jones was taken off the ventilator after her organs were donated, in accordance with her family’s wishes.
This tragedy is one of the stories covered in a book by Jaime Lowe about female firefighters in California, “Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires.”
Here’s an excerpt from a review by Erin Berger in Outside Magazine.
But Lowe makes a clear distinction between professional firefighting in the free world and the deployment of detainees as firefighters through the carceral system. “All the women I spoke to saw the benefits of the firefighting program, but most were outraged at the idea that they had volunteered,” Lowe writes, citing the myriad reasons why a prisoner would have such a dangerous job. more desirable than prison conditions, including sexual assault, neglect of the sick or mentally ill, and malnutrition. “‘Volunteer’ is a relative term for inmates.”