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Inmate apprehended after walking away from fire camp

An inmate housed at a fire camp in the Antelope Valley was apprehended by authorities after he allegedly walked away from the facility earlier this week.

Matthew Wells, 36, was reported missing from the Acton Conservation Camp in Acton on Monday.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility serves as a fire camp for inmate firefighters to learn and train to become wildland firefighters. Fire crews at the camp respond to hundreds of incidents across the state each year, according to CDCR.

Wells was apprehended on Tuesday in Acton and was transported to the Sierra Conservation Center in Tuolumne County.

He had been living at the facility since November 2021 after he was sentenced to four years in prison on burglary and firearm charges. He will now be ineligible from participating in the fire camp program and could face charges related to his escape.

Inmate firefighters have played a critical role in battling California brush fires for decades. In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that allowed for inmates who fought on the fire lines to have some of their previous convictions expunged to allow them to seek full-time employment.

The effort to hire former convicts into fire departments has been mixed, according to reporting from the Associated Press.

It’s unclear if Wells was working as a firefighter or serving in a support role at the camp.

The Acton camp is one of the busiest inmate fire camps in the state, according to CDCR. In 2021, there were 44 inmates at the camp which had a capacity to hold up to 80 inmates.

The camp is run through a joint effort between the CDCR and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

For a list of inmate fire camps across the state, click here.

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