Was it part of an escape plan or inmates just playing with fire? That's the question the Hockley County Sheriff's Department and the State Fire Marshall's Office are trying to figure out.
Hockley County Officials tell us the fire was intentionally set causing the evacuation of all 62 inmates.
The blaze broke out just after 7pm Sunday and now almost 24 hours later, investigators continue to question anyone who may have been involved. "It was right at shift change, they'd fed, fixing to pick up and the smoke alarm went off," said Hockley County Sheriff David Kinney.
Kinney says it was a normal Sunday evening until, "It was really bad smoke." Thick black smoke started filling the back of the jail. "They weren't rioting or anything. We weren't having a problem, wasn't like they were raising cane or anything. They just started a fire," Kinney said.
Inmates started the fire by sticking a piece of metal into an electrical outlet and then used toilet paper and pages from books to feed the sparks, then went from there. "Those mattresses went up and put out a pretty toxic smoke. Deputies quickly got everybody out of that area evacuated them to the front," Kinney said.
But Kinney says another problem was soon discovered - this time on the women's side of the jail. "They had covered the doorway with towels cause of the smoke, and then when we went to get them out the darn thing was jammed. We got them through the safety hatch and get them out of there, if it hadn't been for that we would have lost eight women," Kinney said.
Everyone was evacuated safely and about two dozen were treated for smoke inhalation. And as for the jail itself, "This tank is made of bricks, cinder blocks, cement and steal so the damage that actually burned up was mattresses. It got so hot that the light fixtures melted so all that has to be replaced basically everything else is soot so we got to get cleaned up," Kinney said.
While cleanup continues at the jail, the State Fire Marshall's Office is investigating blaze and interviewing the 16 inmates who were inside that cell when the fire started. "That's our maximum. Those are the worst ones we have. We've got a guy that's been charged with murder and we've got some been charged with robbery and aggravated assaults, that's who's back there," Kinney said.
All of the inmates, except the 16 who were in the cell where the fire started, are back inside the Hockley county jail. Eleven of the 16 are being housed at the Lubbock County Jail, five of them are at the Terry County Jail.
Sheriff Kinney says those involved may be looking at charges of arson as well as attempted murder.
There aren't any cameras inside the cell to help authorities in their investigation. And ironically, the sheriff tells us that he was getting ready to submit a proposal to Hockley County Commissioners to purchase cameras and get rid of electrical outlets inside the cells.
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