This year, wildfires roared across the US state of Oregon. It was the state’s earliest fire season in 40 years, with some of the largest fires in state history. Wind carried smoke into Tara Withrow’s cell at Snake River Correctional Institution in eastern Oregon, as the prison sweltered from a heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest.
The cloth masks provided by the prison gave no relief from the smoke, Withrow told Al Jazeera, “It was like you smoked a pack of cigarettes.”
This was not the first time that wildfires had threatened the state’s prisoners. Withrow, 52, was among more than 20 incarcerated people who were allegedly assaulted by other inmates when wildfires forced Oregon prisons to evacuate in September 2020. Inmates were moved into other prisons that were already full.