Between 2018 and 2020, California wildfires burned more than 6 million acres. On the front lines fighting the flames alongside the professional firefighters are prisoners, who live in fire camps and have been trained to be part of the heroics.
"Fireboys" focuses on the incarcerated youth at Pine Grove Conservation Camp in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Drew Dickler and Jake Hochendoner co-wrote and co-directed the film.
"One of the reasons we made 'Fireboys' is to really force people to think closely about who is it that are fighting our wildfires and at what cost, and how do we support them after that work?" said Dickler.
"And we thought, here's a story that can actually start to open up some of the conversation in America about what redemption is and maybe shift the conversation away from the punitive system and more toward a restorative system because who's deserving more of a second chance than somebody who's actually made incredible sacrifices to earn their way out of prison," said Hochendoner.
"To be viewed as a firefighter and not an inmate, that really meant something to them," said Dickler.
"You build somebody up so they're a firefighter, they're serving their community. They're decorated as heroes while incarcerated, you know, mind you," said Hochendoner. "There are communities that they've saved that have thrown them parades."
The firefighting inmates make between $2 and $5 an hour. The filmmakers believe more needs to be done for them after they're released so they can stay on the right path. But for some, based on their crimes, continuing to fight fires as free men may not be possible.
"All of that that, built them up, that formed their identity as firefighters, is completely stripped away and they're left with nothing," said Hochendoner.
"It surprises me how few people in California know that there are incarcerated people on the front lines fighting their wildfires," said Dickler. "And, you know, I really hope you come away from this film wanting to learn more and support those individuals going forward."
"Fireboys" is available Aug. 3 on digital and on demand.