WA Prisoners Struggle With Wildfire Smoke As Ventilation Upgrades Go Unfunded

"The state’s Department of Corrections has another $4.2 million request for HVAC projects pending ahead of next year’s legislative session."

"When the wildfire smoke arrives, Harry Whitman has nowhere to go.

“When there’s smoke or there’s a fire, they lock you in,” Whitman said.

Whitman, president of the advocacy group Black Prisoners’ Caucus, is incarcerated at Airway Heights Corrections Center. The prison is located less than 10 miles away from Medical Lake, Washington, where Gray Fire burned about 10,000 acres just a month ago. When the fire arrived, Whitman said it looked like “someone had set off an atomic bomb.”

“You can’t see the sky, you can’t see the sun,” Whitman said.

“We knew the fire was coming,” he added. “But what could you do? Of course, DOC isn’t going to buy everyone an oxygen mask. Of course, they’re not going to move everybody to a place where there isn’t any smoke.”

At Airway Heights, Whitman said prisoners are confined to their cells when there’s wildfire smoke — and the ventilation system at the prison isn’t doing much to keep the air clean. Ventilation isn’t just a problem at Airway Heights. At facilities across eastern Washington during wildfire season, the smoke hangs so heavy in the air it looks hazy indoors, incarcerated people say."

Grace Deng reports for the Washington State Standard September 25, 2023.

Source: Washington State Standard, 09/27/2023