The raging fires have negatively impacted residents throughout California, however those in state prisons in Northern California are disproportionately affected!
California Medical Facility (CMF) and Solano State Prisons are dangerously close to the fire lines in Vacaville in the USA.
There was an evacuation order for the area due to the wildfires, but CDCR has so far refused to evacuate people incarcerated in those prisons!
Even homes literally across the street from these prisons had been evacuated. The evacuation order for the area containing CMF and Solano was lifted in the middle of the night on August 20th, but an evacuation order remains in effect for nearby neighborhoods. Our loved ones in CMF and Solano are in serious danger, as the fire line is still dangerously close to both prisons. All that CDCR has done is hand out N95 masks to people housed at CMF and Solano, even as embers fell on the prison yard and people are having serious trouble breathing.
N95 masks are not enough when a wildfire is approaching!
We need to demand that CDCR evacuate everyone housed at CMF or Solano! Contact Governor Newsom of California and CDCR Secretary Diaz to demand that CDCR immediately evacuate these prisons! CDCR must take all feasible measures to ensure that nothing like this occurs again.
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What is/was it like for people at CMF and Solano when fires were nearby and approaching?
During the fires in Vacaville, people in CMF and Solano said that embers were falling onto the prison yard on August 19. People are still reporting that smoke is filling the prison, because the windows won’t close and there is poor ventilation. There were also reports that the smoke was so strong that people were having serious trouble breathing and their eyes were burning.
People were issued N95 masks as the fires approached, but CMF is a medical facility for medically vulnerable populations. For people with respiratory illnesses, a mask is insufficient when the fire is a few hundred yards away.
Once the evacuation order was called off, some people, including CDCR, acted as though the danger was gone. This is incorrect. Though the risk of the prisons being consumed by fires may have been reduced, the dangerous air quality made these prisons toxic places to be. Being forced to breathe in noxious air is not acceptable. Further, @SolanoFire tweeted around 11am on 8/20 (when evacuation orders were not in place) that there was a “vegetation fire...on the prison grounds of CMF” and that “CMF fire [was] on the scene requesting aid.” This shows that with fires in the area, there is always a serious risk.
Is CDCR communicating with families at all? How are families and loved ones coping?
Loved ones are panicking, with little to no information coming from CDCR, as far as we are aware. CDCR did not post until the evening of August 20 about the situation, and even then only gave basic information saying they were monitoring the situation and had issued N95 masks.
If and when this situation happens again, CDCR must provide up-to-the-minute reports that loved ones can easily find online about what they are doing about the situation. It is not acceptable to leave loved ones in the dark about such an urgent and dangerous situation.
What is the long-term solution here so we avoid this kind of catastrophe with fires and prisons in the future?
System-wide, CDCR and the state should make plans to reduce the prison population by well over half to allow for proper COVID distancing and easy evacuation as fires approach. As part of these decarceration efforts, the state should close prisons in the areas with the greatest wildfire danger. With the realities of climate change and wildfires in the state, we must assume this will be an ongoing problem each year.
CDCR and other relevant state agencies must create and implement detailed evacuation plans for prisons, with specific plans for those prisons in the most-fire prone areas. The evacuation plans should be activated immediately when a fire of the magnitude we saw in Vacaville is approaching. People should be on buses
as soon as
the evacuation orders for residences in the area are issued. Considering that local officials may close roads as fires expand, waiting is not acceptable for activating evacuation plans for prisons.
These are some specific points the plans must take into account:
--How people with serious medical conditions and/or disabilities will be evacuated (e.g., how to transport necessary medical or assistive devices)
--Ensuring that there is no or minimal lapse in medications for those who need them
--Having contingency plans and multiple possible evacuation points based on the extent of fire (that is, don’t plan to evacuate people to a site that might itself be facing a fire). Or plan to have evacuation sites in areas with virtually no fire risk
--Providing up-to-the-minute updates that families and loved ones can readily find on the internet. This should include information about what measures the prison is taking, when evacuation plans have been activated, and where people are being taken to. (CDCR may cite “security concerns” about saying where people are being taken to, so information about where people have been taken should be given no later than once they are at the site.)
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