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Cumberland County Without a Jail After Faulty Cord Causes Fire

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FAYETTEVILLE — A faulty extension cord is to blame for a fire that forced 400 inmates out of the Cumberland County jail Friday evening.

About 313 inmates were transferred to other facilities across the state Friday, and will remain in their new facilities until workers can clean up the jail.

"We don't have a place to lock people up that we feel secure as far as their safety," says Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler.

Butler says the cells are not fit for anyone --even criminals-- and it will be the end of next week, at the earliest, before inmates can return.

For Cumberland County Magistrate Howard Miller, it is business as usual, with "just a little glitch in the system."

"(It means) we are having to take more into consideration about setting bonds and taking probable cause -- deciding whether a person should be placed into jail or not," Miller says.

Sending a suspect to jail now means a long trip and a lot of time.

"It's placing a burden on the jail if we do put someone in because (deputies) are having to transport the person to another facility," Miller says.

Butler says the district attorney is reviewing inmate files looking for some of the least serious offenders.

"We got a large number of probation violators that are locked up here," Butler says. He's going to review those cases to see if he can any out."

The two-alarm fire broke out at the Cumberland County Law Enforcement Center on Dick Street in downtown Fayetteville.

The fire left major damage where it started in the third-floor canteen area and where it spread inside the ventilation system.

Several units of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office and the Fayetteville Police Department were able to evacuate more than 400 inmates soon after the fire was reported around 6:45 p.m.

"We started smelling smoke at around 6:45 p.m.," says Catherine Sapp, Cumberland County Sheriff Department employee. "It was a bunch of smoke.

"The scariest part was being in the cell and thinking nobody's going to come and let us out," says Joseph Wright, 17, who was inside his cell when smoke began to fill the entire facility.

More than 100 deputies and officers surrounded the building as more than 400 inmates were taken outside.

"All those inmates were kind of ruthless out there, or whatever, getting kind of antsy outside because I thought maybe they'd try to do something and I'd be involved," Wright recalls.

Authorities say at least four inmates were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

Witnesses reported smoke pouring from the building.

"We were inside getting ready to bond someone out and the next thing I know, they were putting us out saying that there was a fire upstairs," says Robert McQue, a bail bondsman.

Most inmates were relocated to a facility in Stanley County and one in Spruce Pine.

About 37 female inmates were sent to the women's prison in Raleigh.

Other inmates will be housed at the Johnston County jail, the Youth Institute in Morganton and the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Cumberland County broke ground in November for a new jail because of overcrowding. The current jail was built to house 288 inmates. The new jail will be built for 568 inmates with room to expand to 1,000.

The $49 million facility should open in two years.