Minimum-security inmate walks off Acton fire camp

Matthew Wells, May 30, 2022. Photo courtesy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials are searching for a minimum-security inmate who walked away from his fire camp Monday afternoon, according to law enforcement officials.  

Matthew Wells, 36, was said to have disappeared from the Acton Conservation Camp located on the 8800 block of Soledad Canyon Road after he reportedly failed to appear for an afternoon headcount, according to CDCR officials.     

“A search of the camp buildings and grounds was immediately conducted,” said a CDCR news release about the missing inmate. “CDCR’s Office of Correctional Safety, CAL FIRE and local law enforcement agencies have been notified and are assisting in the search.” 

Wells was given a four-year sentence on Nov. 9 in Humboldt County for first-degree burglary and possession of a firearm by a felon or an addict, officials said.  

He is described as being 5 feet and 8 inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, with brown hair, hazel eyes and was last seen wearing a white shirt and gray shorts.  

When directly contacted by The Signal on Tuesday, CDCR officials declined to comment further regarding Wells’ disappearance, citing that the matter remained an ongoing investigation.   

However, in the news release, officials seemed to express confidence that Wells would ultimately be apprehended, highlighting that since 1977 a total of “99% of all offenders who have left an adult institution, camp or community-based program without permission have been apprehended.” 

CDCR officials also noted on Tuesday that Wells’ disappearance is not the first time an inmate worker has walked off the local fire camp.  

Since the 1980s, Acton Conservation Camp No. 11 has been in a cooperative partnership with the L.A. County Fire Department and CDCR, with its inmate fire crews responding to wildland/brush fires and other natural disasters throughout the state, as well as in Oregon.   

Over the last five years, at least three men have reportedly walked away from the Acton fire camp, but all were ultimately apprehended and disqualified from being housed in a conservation camp in the future.  

Camp 11, as of 2021, was staffed by eight CDCR staff and 44 inmates and has historically been one of the busiest fire camps in California, averaging more than 500 fire responses per year, according to the CDCR website.   

Anyone who sees Wells can contact 9-1-1 or Special Service Agent Guillermo Moreno at 951-232-3695. 

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