Inmate Firefighters Battle Wildfires, Their Pasts
KREX News Room
Out on the fire line, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from any other wildland firefighting crew. You wouldn’t know that squad leader James Salazar is still serving a 10-year sentence for vehicular homicide. Or James Windus, another squad leader, is serving four years for aggravated motor vehicle theft.
They’re a part of of Rifle Correctional Center’s S.W.I.F.T. (Statewide Inmate Firefighter) Team. It’s one of three in Colorado.
You’ve probably never heard of them, but you’ve heard of the wildfires they’ve battled. Including last year’s Four Mile Canyon Fire, deemed one of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Windus said. “Seeing all of those people lose their homes. When we were walking down a road, we saw all these signs that said ‘Thank You Firefighters’ and ‘We Love You Firefighters.’ I felt like I was actually doing something.”
Windus, still three years away from release, says he’s already found new meaning in his life.
“I actually have a goal now in my life,” Windus said. “I’ve never really had a goal before.”
Salazar is rounding out the last six months of his sentence. For him, it’s been a chance to give back after taking a life.
“It fills a sense of purpose to give back life,” Salazar said.
It’s also been a chance to cope with guilt.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” Salazar said. “[Firefighting] helps boost my morale so that I don’t have to dwell on it.”
And make a new name for himself. Not the one seen in the headlines.
“I want to have a good name when I pass away,” Salazar said. “This is how I can do it.”