Santa Barbara County Jail (April 2012)
Paul Wellman

The Sheriff’s Department is investigating 27 inmates in a Santa Barbara County Jail housing unit where a fire broke out Sunday afternoon. The group of inmates were uncooperative with evacuation orders at the time, according to Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover. The rest of the jail is back to normal operation a day after a complete lockdown.

Custody deputies were alerted to the blaze at around 3:50 p.m., and they found a large trash can on fire. The can had “been filled with items available to inmates including bedding, clothing, and other paper materials,” Hoover said in a statement. The fire was quickly put out, but smoke had already filled the area and forced custody staff to evacuate inmates to other parts of the jail.

But a group of inmates — some of whom are suspected of starting the fire — barricaded themselves in their cells, Hoover said, and didn’t respond to evacuation commands. As the fire rekindled and responding County Fire personnel worked to put it out, inmates allegedly yelled and threw things at the emergency crews.

A Special Operations Response Team was called in to help, Hoover said, and had to “deploy chemical agents to gain compliance from the barricaded inmates.” While they were being evacuated, two separate fights between inmates broke out resulting in minor injuries. One inmate was taken to the hospital for a head injury evaluation, while all inmates affected by the smoke or chemical agents were evaluated by jail staff.

This is at least the second significant incident to occur at the jail since the start of the year. On January 4, a disturbance in the exercise yard of the main jail led to a weekend-long lockdown of the facility. One inmate was taken to the hospital for a non-life-threatening injury, and five more were treated by jail staff. Charges in that case were filed against several inmates.


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