Fire forces prisoners' evacuation Two inmates, firefighter hurt in 'suspicious' blaze


Heavy smoke from a "suspicious" fire forced the temporary evacuation of hundreds of inmates last night at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, authorities said.

Four alarms were sounded, bringing about 60 pieces of equipment and 114 firefighters went to the prison complex from Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's counties, as well as Fort Meade.

Two inmates were treated for smoke inhalation at the prison, while one firefighter was treated at North Arundel General Hospital for minor injuries.

Bob Thomas, chief deputy state fire marshal, said today the fire "started in one cell on the fourth floor in the south wing." Inmates and correctional officers will be interviewed in an attempt to pinpoint how the fire started.

"It was an extremely hot fire that reached upwards of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit," Mr. Thomas said. The heat warped the steel bars in four cells and shattered porcelain plumbing fixtures.

Four cells were rendered uninhabitable, and 36 others received heat and water damage.

"It went to four alarms because of the seriousness associated with the correctional institute," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a state Department of Corrections spokesman. "We didn't want to take any chances."

About 700 of the 1,375 prisoners at the House of Correction were evacuated from their cells, and off-duty state troopers were called to the prison to assist with security.

Corrections Commissioner Richard Lanham said the area damaged was limited to the fourth tier of the south wing, which houses about 400 maximum and minimum security prisoners.

Mr. Lanham said he had no information about inmates assigned to the burned-out cells.

The fire was reported about 7:10 p.m. -- about an hour after the prisoners finished dinner -- when guards responded to smoke coming from cells in the south wing.

"Those officers actually went into cells that were on fire and got those men out of there," Mr. Sipes said. "They did their jobs very well."

Because smoke was so heavy, officials were forced to evacuate -- under heavy security -- some 400 inmates from the south wing into an exercise yard and then later into a dining area, along with some 300 inmates from an adjoining wing, Mr. Lanham said.

The state troopers remained at the prison about two hours, until the fire was declared under control.

No inmate disturbance was reported, and prison officials described the prisoners as "very cooperative."

Even so, "lock-down" security measures limiting prisoner movement remained in effect early today.

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