Inmate Firefighter Dies After Tree Falls on Him

Press release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation:

inmate fire fighterCDCR today announced that an inmate firefighter in Humboldt County has died as the result of injuries sustained while working on a fire line in Del Norte County.

The firefighter, Matthew Beck, 26, was leading a crew that was clearing brush to contain a fire in the Hoopa area. He suffered major head, neck and back injuries yesterday when a large, 120-foot tall tree nearby uprooted and fell on him. He died before life-flight crews were able to reach him due to the remoteness of the accident scene.

“We are saddened by the death of Matthew Beck, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “The inmates who year after year help protect our communities from the devastation of fires perform a valuable public service, and it is a tragic event when we lose one of them.”

Beck, who was assigned to the Alder Conservation Camp in Del Norte County, was received from Los Angeles County in May 2014 and was serving a six-year sentence for burglary. He is the fourth inmate firefighter to die on the fire line since the conservation program was created in the 1940s.

Approximately 3,900 inmates, all volunteers, are housed in 43 conservation camps operated by CDCR, in conjunction with CALFIRE, the state of California’s wild land firefighting agency, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.  Working in crews of 12 or 14, CDCR firefighters often work in rugged back country using hand tools to cut containment lines to stop the spread of wildland fires.

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33 comments

  • Kim,
    The accident occurred on Ishi Pishi road, Orleans. The road was blocked by Cal Fire employees.

  • that sucks.

  • Sad, Rest In Peace.

  • Well that’s sad.R.I.P

  • Veterans friend

    Condolences to family. RIP firefighter.

  • This is sad these men bust there assess off on fire lines r i p matt prayers to the family and friends

  • The Apache Warrior

    As a past USFS Firefighter and a 30 year volunteer Fireman for both Rio Dell & Scotia Volunteer Fire Departments, this type of news really hits hard. My thoughts and prayers goes out to his Family at this time. Even though he was here because of a bad turn in his early life, this is still not the way that he should have died. I hope that his Family can have closure in knowing that he was trying to save lives and property in an area that they have probably never heard of. He will be remembered by many here on the North Coast for his efforts to protect all of us. May He Forever Rest In Peace. Matthew, you will not be forgotten. Rest now in the arms of the Man above who forgives us all for our transgressions of the past.

  • A rather nasty way to go out, taken out by a “natural Widow maker”!!! :-C Sorry to read this may peace be with him & especially his loved ones!!!

  • My deepest sympathies to all of Matthew Beck’s family and friends. The inmate fire fighter program offers so much for all of us. I appreciate his work and that of all fire fighters, be safe.

  • I can only hope that the state provides generously to his survivors. This man risked, and lost, his life while serving the public interest. His family deserves insurance compensation at the same rate that every volunteer firefighter earns.

  • Sad to hear. A technical correction on the CDC press release. Inmates aren’t crew leaders. While there is a crew hierarchy where responsibilities are delegated to inmates, crew leaders of inmate crews in this area are CAL Fire Captains.

    So since most fires up there are arson, has this tragic death just become a homicide?

    • It wasn’t on an active fire is what I heard.

      • He was either working a fire or he was not. The press release said he was. That point is a big deal in the long run. I don’t get the impression CDC worked with CAL Fire to clearly craft this release. Hopefully they can clarify tomorrow.

        • You are right. I made a mistake.

          • This happened in Somes Bar and there was no fire. The inmate crew was clearing brush and trees with CALFire along Ishi Pishi Road. This is important work nonetheless we local residents very much appreciate it. I’m sorry for the family’s loss, this is a very tragic accident.

            • That is what I originally heard from a reliable source but… the press release is written so that it sounds as if he were on an active fire rather than cutting fireline and when I read it before posting, I missed the difference.

    • RIP my prayers to his family for comfort..

  • Just My Opinion

    Condolences to the family. Hope he didn’t suffer.

  • Thinking allowed

    I, along with many others, was cornered in a camp ground by a wild fire a number of years ago. The CC cleared a path for us to get out.

    The loss of Mr. Beck in doing similar work is heartbreaking. My sympathy goes out to all of his comrades and family.

  • TOUCHING TO READ COMMENTS, AND AS A FAMILY MEMBER OF MATT, WILL KEEP ARTICLE TOUTING HIM AS THE LEADER OF CREW.

    • Please pass on my respect to the family. My home was in the path of a fire and an inmate firefighter was badly injured fighting it. I think about him and send him mental thanks several times a year. I’ll add Matt to my thank yous.

    • My husband was at camp with Matt, they were close friends. he will be greatly missed.. our condolences to your family in these hard times!

  • May God protect all the firefighters regardless of their background. It is a dangerous job. I thank all of them for their effort to help and and protect the community. This young man will be remembered as a héroe. Blessings of peace to his family and friends.

  • Almost every detail in this story is incorrect. I live close to where this happened. The road was finally reopened yesterday afternoon and we drove by the site which had been cordonedoff/closed while an investigation took place. Ishi Pishi Road extends from Somes Bar to Orleans along the Klamath River. This occurred closer to the Somes Bar end. They were not fighting a fire. No fires in the area. It looked as though they had been cutting down trees. Again, no fire involved. Brushing and cutting trees is vital to the safety of the residents of our community. We greatly value his service. Condolences to his family.

    • It is a press release from the CDCR. It is possible though that some of the details are incorrect. Let me see if I can find out more info on Tuesday (a holiday weekend is difficult to get answers.) Other than the lack of fire, can you tell me what details you believe are wrong?

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