Utah prosecutors allege that an Idaho prisoner who was sent to help with cleanup at a wildfire raped a woman who was also working to support firefighters.
Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the woman had rejected several advances from 27-year-old Ruben Hernandez before the alleged Aug. 29 assault. Hernandez is charged on suspicion of felony rape in Utah.
Hernandez was serving a prison sentence in Idaho for a delivery of a controlled substance conviction in Bingham County when he was sent to help support the firefighters as a camp crew member. He had been there with IDOC for nine days before the alleged rape occurred.
Daniels said county authorities weren’t aware inmates were working the fire about 60 miles south of Salt Lake City.
The Idaho Department of Correction’s camp crews attend to janitorial duties around a fire camp, such as emptying garbage cans, tending to swamp coolers and sweeping the incident command center, according to IDOC spokesman Jeff Ray. In some cases, these crews also help prepare and serve meals.
Camp crews are typically comprised of 10 inmates and are supervised by two IDOC correctional officers. Inmates cannot leave the fire camp. To qualify for a camp crew assignment, an inmate must have a minimum custody or community-custody classification.
“The Idaho Department of Correction is doing everything it can to cooperate with the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office as it conducts its investigation,” Ray told the Statesman in an email on Tuesday. “Our camp crews and firefighting crews have returned to their correctional facilities while we work with the Idaho Department of Lands to ensure the way we select, train and deploy inmates to wildfires is sound.”
Last week, IDOC had two 10-inmate camp crews and three 20-inmate fire crews deployed before they were ordered to return to their facilities.
Hernandez would have been eligible for parole in May for the Idaho drug charge.
At his initial sentencing in 2011, Hernandez was originally given probation for the drug charge, but it was revoked after multiple probation violations and he was sent to prison. His sentence would have been complete in 2023.
The Idaho Department of Corrections allows inmates to be released to help at wildfires on a voluntary basis after training.
Prison inmates are also released to fight wildfires in other states, such as California.