Arson suspected as cause of jailhouse fire

Published 5:45 pm Monday, July 13, 2020

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No serious injuries occurred as a result


An investigation into a fire that started at the Southampton County Jail on Sunday at approximately 8 p.m. might have been caused deliberately. That’s according to new information provided by Maj. Camden Cobb, a spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office.

“Detectives have evidence to indicate the fire was purposefully started inside the cell block using batteries, books, playing cards and some type of fabric. Once the fire was started, the materials were thrown into an open window for the purposes of ventilating and fueling the fire,” stated Cobb, who added that charges are pending.

Asked if the batteries might have been used to spark the fire, he added that was “most likely.”

The officer went on to say that additional deputies had first been at the jail earlier that evening because some inmates had damaged the water lines in their cell block and water was running onto the floor. While the deputies were working to repair the water issue, the inmates reportedly destroyed a camera and then broke all of the lights in the cell block.

Further, said Cobb, “While continuing to address the ongoing issues, deputies began to smell smoke coming from the same block that was causing the other problems. They went back to that cell block and found that there was an active fire. Deputies made a request to dispatch to call for fire and rescue as they ran to get the fire extinguishers and made attempts to put the fire out, but it would not extinguish completely. One deputy put the fire out twice, but it restarted both times. The Courtland Volunteer Fire Department was able to get it out completely once they arrived on scene.”

As previously reported on Sunday by fellow spokesman Det. Justin Boone, there were no serious or life-threatening injuries as the result of the fire. Cobb later added that three of the inmates from that cell block were taken to Southampton Memorial Hospital for difficulty breathing and were released later that night. The jail nurse medically screened and cleared the inmates that were not transported. One deputy got treatment at the hospital for smoke inhalation and also was released later that night.

Also, there was no significant damage to the building itself.

Cobb said several inmates were taken to other facilities while cleanup and repairs took place in the cell block where the fire started. All other inmates remain at the Southampton County Jail as a full evacuation was not needed.

The Courtland Volunteer Fire Department stated on its Facebook page that three units were sent to the scene at 8:26 p.m. Assistance soon came from Courtland Volunteer Rescue, as well as units from Boykins, Capron, Franklin and Hunterdale.

The fire was very soon brought under control, according to the agency’s account, and the crews stayed for about an hour inspecting and and ventilating the building. Main Street had been shut down for a time, but had since reopened.

The report added that multiple patients were attended to, and two patients taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

“We would like to thank all of the responding agencies that assisted with the incident last night,” said Cobb. “We would especially like to thank the men and women of our office that were working when the incident began and also those that stayed late, came in early or came in on their day off to assist with the situation by transporting inmates to the hospital, to other facilities, and coordinating with and assisting the responding agencies. The quick actions and appropriate response of our deputies was significant in getting the situation under control, securing the necessary resources to help put out the fire and provide medical attention to those in need, and to make sure the facility was safe for all of the inmates who are housed there.”

The Tidewater News will report more details as they become available.