- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia prison officials say about 160 inmates are training to help fight forest fires in the western part of the state.

The partnership with the state Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service uses low-risk, nonviolent offenders to fight wildfires and participate in fire prevention activities.

The program began in 1996 with the U.S. Forest Service at Cold Springs Correctional Unit and Work Center in Greenville. Since then, it has expanded with help from the state forestry department to include offenders from prisons in Ridgeway, Coeburn and Honaker.

Harold Clarke is director of the Department of Corrections. He says the partnership now covers a wide area and has been beneficial in saving forestland as well as public and private property.

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