"What are the rules?" I asked CalFire Captain Robin Bloom. "Do what I say," said Bloom. Take one look at the man, and you will.
One look at the veteran, and yes...you would do what he says. "We're friendly, but not friends," said Bloom of his charges, who consider working for $1 a day preferable to prison cells. Runs a tight ship. #abc7now #sonomafires #fountaingrove pic.twitter.com/AO0a0BCjP2— Wayne Freedman (@WayneFreedman) November 17, 2017
We went high in the hills of upper Fountaingrove, where if the soggy ashes of these homes could talk, they would tell similar, frightening stories of death, destruction, and fast moving flames.
Bloom saw it, first-hand. "It's kind of awe-struck you see it and there is nothing you can do."
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Today, Bloom and his crew returned. He knows every man. "They're all the same. All innocent," he said wryly. They are all inmate firefighters. "We're friendly, but not friends."
Some lines are best not crossed when their alternative to working for $1 an hour, would be a prison cell.
Cal Fire deployed 18 of the crews to clear the fire zones Thursday. They're not high risk inmates, but all convicted of crimes ranging from drugs, to drunk driving, even involuntary manslaughter. That stuff doesn't matter out here. Bloom has been in charge of men like this for 14 years, and seen some of then return to Cal Fire as employees once they get out of prison.
"Some of these men have never had a job in their lives. They might be forty years old, and now they are learning what work is about," Bloom said. And, learning the hard way, but it sure beats hard time.