Prisoner Arsonists and Prison Fire Outbreaks

Prison Fire - Prisoner Arsonists and Prison Fire Outbreaks

There is much more to the job as a Correctional Officer than maintaining order inside the penitentiary and keeping violent prison offenders confined in cells for the sake of public safety. Correctional Officers often find themselves fighting fire in prison started by offender arsonists. Correctional Officers work to maintain a safe prison environment by practicing state and federal prison fire prevention plans so that the chances of a deadly prison fire or jail fire are decreased. Fire in prison often start because of a combination of three things: Prison fire arsonists, Inmate hoarding violators, and Correctional Officer negligence.

Disruptive prison offenders have always thought of ways to manipulate Correctional Officers into getting their way. Offenders who intentionally start fire in prison do so with planned criminal intent. A prisoner arsonists plan is to instill fear in Correctional Officers and staff. Most prison units now ban smoking in part because of offenders who's weapon of choice is start fire in prison. Offender arsonists have now discovered an alternative method of setting a prison on fire.

Since the ban of tobacco and cigarette lighters and matches, offenders with intentions of starting a prison on fire now practice an old and simple offender technique known in prison as "Popping-The-Socket". Offender arsonists begin their acts of terror by first removing the lead pigment core off of a standard wooden writing pencil.

Prisoner arsonists then break the pencil lead into three pieces of about an inch. Two pieces of pencil lead are then inserted into an electrical outlet and the third piece of lead is held by a non conductive material to prevent electricution (See Photo Exhibit for further detail). When direct contact is made by all three individual lead sticks a spark powerful enough to ignite tissue paper is created and a fire is born. Prison fire offenders collect and ignite newspapers, books, clothing and other flammable items and "spike" it with oil based products such as Baby Oil or Petroleum Jelly commonly sold in many prison commissaries intended for basic human necessity. This crude yet deadly prison fire concoction often puts the lives of Correctional Officers and other inmates at grave risk. Iron, wall paint, plexiglass and even concrete designed to resist flames will ignite due to extreme heat thus forming an inferno of smoke and lethal toxins. Offender arsonists often under estimate the lethal danger of their own fires and realize to their horror that their trapped in a cell they've unintentionally converted to an oven.

Offenders who horde books, magazines, clothing, trash and other flammable materials inside their cells are only a spark away from causing their own death and the death of others around them. Offender arsonists may plan a prison fire or jail fire and collect flammable materials weeks or even months before a fire is set. Correctional Officers are required to conduct frequent cell searches and confiscate contraband such as unauthorized industrial solvents, chemicals, extra bed sheets, excessive clothing, foot wear, electrical appliances, trash, out-dated magazines and newspapers.


If a deadly prison fire erupts and an offender or Officer is hurt or killed, fire investigators will determine how, when and with what the prison fire was ignited with. If it is discovered that an offender arsonist used hordes of flammable contraband to set the prison on fire, Correctional Officers who's duty is to confiscate these flammable materials will be held responsible.


On April 21, 1930 322 prisoners are killed at a Ohio penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio, after a prison fire starts. The fire is set by prisoner arsonists and flames convert the concrete and steel prison into an "inferno like hell". Many are burned to death while most die of smoke inhalation. This is one of the deadliest prison fires in U.S. history.


On July 3, 1968 inmate Michael Lewis Hughes is horrorably burned by prison arsonists while serving time in the San Diego County Jail. Prison arsonists set Hughes mattress on fire while Hughes was asleep. (Hughes v. County of San Diego, 35 Cal. App. 3d 349)

On August 19, 1973 prisoner arsonist Milton Bell, 22 starts his mattress on fire at an Toledo, Ohio institution. Bell is rushed to the hospital due too smoke inhalation. (Toledo, Ohio The Blade Newspaper)


On June 6, 1983 a prisoner arsonist starts a prison fire at the House of Correction prison institution in Milwaukee. Five inmates and six Correctional Officers are rushed to the hospital with serious burns and lung damage. (By Lee Bergquist and David Doege of the Milwaukee Sentinel)

On August 9, 2009 rioting prison gangs start a deadly prison fire at the Reception Center West at the California Institution for Men in Chino, CA. Officers are over come by toxic smoke while gangmembers beat and stab eachother for 11 full hours. (The New York Times)


On June 22, 2011 a prisoner arsonist locked up at the Fayette County Detention Center ignites his cell mattress using toilet paper, books, magazines and other materials. The Lexington Fire Department are called to put out the out of control blaze. (AP)

On October 4, 2011 prisoner arsonist Tiffany L. Davis, 20, of Natchez Mississippi starts a prison fire using a lighter she smuggled inside. (Associated Press)


November 25, 2011 - A prisoner arsonist starts a huge prison fire after igniting a mattress in his cell. Eight Long Bay Correctional Officers were rushed to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. AAP - The Sydney Morning Herald

On December 19, 2011 offender arsonist Anthony Escamilla uses toilet paper and pencil lead to start a prison fire at a Lincoln, NE facility. Two prison inmates suffered severe smoke inhalation. Correctional Officers put out the deadly fire. (Associated Press)


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