Fire At Low Risk Jail: 1 Injured; Inmates Evacuated
By KENNETH DEAN
More than 100 inmates were evacuated from the Smith County Low Risk Jail Facility on Monday when a small explosion ignited a fire and filled a section of the complex with thick smoke.
Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith said two Smith County Physical Plant employees were working on a water heater in the facility's boiler room when a small gas leak from an overhead pipe ignited.
Smith said the fire traveled up a wall and super-heated a closet containing mattresses, causing them to produce a thick smoke.
"We had a small explosion in the area and one of the workers was slightly injured. I do not know the extent of his injuries, but he did walk out on his own and was transported to a local hospital in a private vehicle," he said.
While firefighters worked to contain the fire and clear the building of smoke, law enforcement officers from multiple agencies surrounded the facility to ensure no one attempted an escape.
"About 140 inmates were immediately evacuated as according to our plans, and everyone made it out of the building," Smith said.
He added he believed the building would take a few hours for the smoke to clear out before the inmates would be allowed to enter the building.
"We won't send them back in until the fire department says everything is OK," he said.
One law enforcement officer his trip to the facility was stalled when a vehicle in front of him flipped over and burst into flames.
"I was on the way here to help with the inmates when a silver car in front of me began fish-tailing and then flipped over," Tommy Goodman, Smith County Precinct 5 deputy constable and environmental officer, said.
Goodman said he stopped and ran to the car, where he reached in a grabbed the driver.
"I was able to get him out of the car and he seemed to be OK when the firefighters arrived on the scene," he said. After making sure the man was safe, Goodman continued to Low Risk where he joined others in securing the area.
Smith said he was pleased at how fast the evacuation plan was followed and how the agencies all worked together. Smith said 24 inmates were transported to the Gregg County Jail while cleanup was underway.