New Brunswick

Cigarette butts caused fire at non-smoking Shediac jail

A fire that closed the Shediac jail last week and forced the removal of all prisoners has been traced to cigarettes butts near a second-floor terrace that weren't put out.

Public safety minister says department still investigating fire that emptied jail of 162 prisoners

Improperly disposed cigarette butts determined to be cause of fire at the Southeast Regional Correctional Centre. (Chris McCarthy)

A fire that closed the Shediac jail last week and forced the removal of all prisoners has been traced to cigarettes butts near a second-floor terrace that weren't put out.

Calling the fire accidental, the New Brunswick fire marshal said investigators discovered several butts "improperly or accidentally disposed of" at the fire's point of origin near the outside terrace.

The Southeast Regional Correctional Centre is a non-smoking jail that housed more than 160 inmates when the fire broke out last Wednesday afternoon.

"The news that the fire was caused by someone smoking on the premises is extremely disappointing, and we are investigating," Denis Landry, the minister of justice and public safety, said in a statement Monday. 

The investigation showed fire started under a ramp to an access door leading to the roof.

The fire extended into the wall assembly and roof components and caused extensive damage to the five-year-old building. 

Shediac fire Chief Julien Boudreau said the‎ fire had hit two levels of the building with administrative offices and air-handling units, but "not an occupied area of the prison."

"The news that the fire was caused by someone smoking on the premises is extremely disappointing, and we are investigating," Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry said in a statement. 

Praise for staff

In his statement, Landry said sprinkler systems and other features of the jail worked well to slow the spread of the fire, and it's possible some prisoners will be able to return soon.

Denis praised staff at the jail for their quick action to evacuate the building and make sure no one was injured. 

The Shediac inmates — men who are serving sentences of two years less a day or waiting for trial — were moved to jails in Dalhousie, Madawaska, Saint John and Miramichi.

Their whereabouts were not made public after the fire, which provoked complaints to the New Brunswick ombud and caused some disruption in the court system. 

Concern was also expressed that adult men would be housed near youth or women in Miramichi, but Landry said this wasn't happening.

The Shediac jail was extensively damaged by a fire determined to have been caused by the improper or accidental disposal of cigarette butts located in the vicinity of the second floor outside terrace. (Rodrick Bourque)

"It is important to note that any offenders placed in Miramichi are in an area with absolutely no contact with youth or female offenders," he said.

Landry said he understand the aftermath of the fire is disruptive for prisoners and their families, has caused a ripple effect on the court system and disrupted the work schedules of staff, who now travel farther to work their shifts.

"Every effort is being made to return to near-normal routines and we hope to be in a position to return some offenders to sections of the centre not affected by the fire in the coming days. We ask for patience as we work toward these goals."

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