New Mexico

Inmates who helped fight 'Stateline Fire' are ready for wildfire season

CLAYTON, N.M. (KRQE) - Many are warning of a bad fire season in New Mexico. That means a group of people who recently helped put out a fire in northeast New Mexico, may be be called on again.

When they are not on the fire lines, these firefighters are behind bars.

"It was moving pretty rapidly through the grass and some parts of the juniper," said Michael Gonzales. 

For weeks crews from New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma, fought the flames of the Stateline Fire, which burned more than 28,000 acres. 

"Our main objective when we got there was to kind of stop it coming from the southeast side," said Gonzales. 

Michael Gonzales was on the ground, fighting the fire that started on private property in New Mexico. He was supervising inmates from the Los lunas Correctional Facility who were also helping. 

"We actually had 32 inmates out there, as well as four of us crew supervisors, and we also take correctional officers with us," said Gonzales. 

He is the supervisor for minimum security inmates in the Work Camp Program, who had little to no experience in fighting fires before joining the program. 

"A lot of these guys are new guys, but we do a lot of training throughout the year," he said. 

That training proved successful. 

"They were a big part of that operation," said Jim O'Bryant.

He's with Union County Wildland Fire and said he was impressed by the the inmates, and their work ethic. 

"Them being organized and very together where they were able to communicate with the rest of us. Between them and us, we worked really well together," said O'Bryant. 

Gonzales said that's their goal, and a way to get inmates ready to be back in society.

"Just to see the pride and joy in their faces is just... you know... you can actually see that they accomplished something and they're happy about it," said Gonzales.


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