Fire at Washington Parish Jail

An electrical fire in the air-conditioning system of one housing unit of the Washington Parish Jail late Sunday night forced the partial evacuation of 34 inmates to another jail.

Jail staff noticed smoke coming into the housing unit and immediately evacuated the 34 inmates housed there to a secure outdoor area. As smoke filled that one housing unit and spread to the hallways, threatening other housing units, the jail staff relocated all female inmates and other males in affected areas out of the jail to an outside fenced in area.

Immediately upon noticing the smoke, the jail staff sent out an alarm to the Franklinton Fire Department which responded along with firefighters from District 8 and District 9. All available Washington Parish Sheriff's Office deputies and Franklinton Police Department officers responded to provide security for inmates who were moved from inside the jail to the jail yard. Other agencies which responded were Washington Parish Director of Public Works Ken Wheat and his staff, along with the Louisiana State Fire Marshal, and officers from Rayburn Correctional Center. Northshore EMS was on scene but no inmate required medical attention.

Franklinton firefighters arrived to see smoke coming from the vents in one of the cellblocks. After a lengthy search in different areas of the air conditioning system, the firefighters discovered that the air conditioning blowers had shorted out, catching the duct insulation on fire. Franklinton firefighters were able to extinguish the duct insulation fire and then cleared the smoke from the jail. District 8 and District 9 firefighters remained on the scene on standby until it was verified that the fire was indeed extinguished.

Rayburn Correctional Center dispatched a secure transport bus to the jail and the 34 inmates from the affected area of the jail were transported to the St. Tammany Parish Jail in Covington until their housing area is cleaned and ready for occupancy. All other inmates whose housing areas were not affected by the smoke were returned to the jail.

While there was no structural damage, the cost of repairing the damaged air conditioning unit and related duct and insulation repairs will run about $60,000, based on early estimates, according to Donna Graham, parish director of finance. She noted that the Washington Parish Government is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the jail.

Both Chief Criminal Deputy Mike Haley and Sheriff Randy Seal applauded the actions of the jail staffers who were on duty when the fire was discovered about midnight. Haley said, “They did a great job of evacuating the jail. They knew what had to be done and did it quickly.”

Seal added, "Our alert jail staff went into action immediately and removed inmates from harm's way. Their quick decisive action was a key factor in making certain no inmates were harmed. I am so pleased with the excellent job they did. When I arrived on the scene after midnight, I was somewhat overwhelmed with the response from so many agencies which quickly responded to help out. Our parish firefighters, Washington Parish Sheriff's Office deputies, Franklinton Police officers, Ken Wheat and his staff, the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office, Northshore EMS paramedics and staff from Rayburn Correctional Center swarmed the jail complex and quickly resolved the problem. I am grateful to each of these agencies and their fine staffs. Washington Parish is blessed to have so many dedicated public servants who are willing to respond to any need that arises."