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By DAMON LAWRENCE
The Kingston Fire Department responded to a fire at the Roane County Jail Saturday night. The fire, which started sometime around 10 p.m., was sparked by inmates in one of the cell areas, according to officials.
“Some inmates were showing their rear end,” Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said. “They started lighting a bunch of Styrofoam cups that they had accumulated in the back and putting toilet paper in them.”
Stockton said he believed the inmates were able to light the cups with contraband that had been smuggled into the jail.
The Kingston Fire Department is just up the street from the jail. Fire Chief Willie Gordon said firefighters were on the scene within a minute.
“It took longer to evacuate the inmates than it did to put the fire out,” Gordon said. “The fire was basically out. What we had to do was setup our fans to extract the smoke.”
No injuries were reported by Stockton or Gordon.
“It caused a whole big bunch of smoke,” Stockton said. “There were flames, but it was more smoke than anything.”
Stockton said it took about two hours to get everything back to normal. Inmates were evacuated to a yard out back and to holding cells at the courthouse. Stockton said five other inmates that were causing trouble were transferred to other facilities.
Stockton said the inmates responsible for starting the fire will face charges. Officials plan to review video before deciding which ones to bring charges against.
“We got video there in the back to kind of sort out what happened,” Stockton said.
State officials have come down hard on the county jail in recent years. The Tennessee Corrections Institute decertified the facility last December. The main reason was overcrowding. The facility is certified to only hold 57 inmates. Stockton said the population was over 100 at the time of the fire.
“Sometimes when you get overcrowded like that, it’s just one of those things,” Stockton said. “Too many people in too small a space.”
The county is set to move into a new $10 million jail next year. Stockton said Saturday’s incident underscores the need for proper staffing. There were just four jail employees - three full time and one part time - on duty when the fire broke out, the sheriff said.
“That’s why it’s so important we have the right number of staff to control our new facility,” Stockton said. “Remember me saying what I said about it being burned to the ground if you’re not careful. With not enough staff that’s exactly what will happen at the new facility if you try to operate it without enough people.”
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