OROVILLE ― Erosion and flooding along emergency spillways near the Oroville Dam forced mass evacuations Sunday and 234 inmate firefighters from 19 crews in 10 CDCR/CAL FIRE camps have responded to the crisis.
Evacuation orders were delivered to residents surrounding Lake Oroville at approximately 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The California Department of Water Resources has been monitoring conditions at Lake Oroville’s main and auxiliary spillways around the clock for signs of erosion that could threaten the integrity of the emergency spillway and allow large, uncontrolled flows to the Feather River.
To lower the lake level and thus reduce flows and the potential for erosion at the top of the emergency spillway, DWR increased flows down the main spillway’s damaged, concrete chute to 100,000 cubic feet per second. Current releases remain within the capacity of downstream channels. Oroville Dam, the tallest in the United States, is a separate structure from the emergency spillway and remains sound.
The inmate firefighters cleared debris near the emergency spillway to Oroville Dam and helped local officials as they worked to contain damage from the dam’s primary spillway, which was damaged extensively by record run-off.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued an emergency flash flood warning at 8:28 p.m. Sunday for the potential failure of a portion of the auxiliary spillway of the Oroville Dam. The warning remains in effect until 4:15 p.m. Feb. 13 for South Central Butte County.
Residents should follow evacuation instructions issued by local authorities.
Locations impacted include Oroville, Palermo, Gridley, Thermalito, South Oroville, Oroville Dam, Oroville East and Wyandotte.
NWS officials advice that residents in the warning area move to higher ground now and act quickly to prevent loss of lives. Drivers should turn around when encountering flooded roads, since most flood deaths occur in vehicles.
Inmate firefighters from the Mount Bullion Camp in Mariposa also filled sandbags and helped contain localized flooding in Merced County this weekend, in the aftermath of last week’s rainfall.
There are 43 conservation camps for adult offenders and one camp for juvenile offenders. Three of the adult offender camps house female firefighters. Thirty-nine adult camps and the juvenile offender camp are jointly managed by CDCR and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Five camps are jointly managed with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
In an average year, the Conservation Camp program provides approximately three million person-hours responding to fires and other emergencies and seven million person-hours in community service projects, saving California taxpayers approximately $100 million. Those projects can include clearing fire breaks, restoring historical structures, maintaining parks, sand bagging and flood protection, reforestation and clearing fallen trees and debris.
Inmates considered potential fire crew members are trained in firefighting techniques by CAL FIRE, which includes a week of classroom instruction and a second week of field exercises.