St. John, NB Detention Center Fire, June 1977


St. John, New Brunswick (UPI) -- A fire in a detention area of city hall police headquarters in this eastern Canada seaport late Tuesday night killed 20 prisoners, a police spokesman said today.
About a dozen policemen, six firemen and an unidentified number of prisoners were rushed to the hospital in six amublances and a dozen police cruisers. All apparently were treated for smoke inhalation.
A police spokesman said the overnight detention cells, built to hold 25 persons were nearly full at the time.
Police said the cause of the fire was unknown but apparently it started in one of the padded cells of the overnight detention center, located on the second floor of the five-year-old city hall building. The deaths apparently were the result of smoke inhalation, a spokesman said.
Police had trouble opening the doors of the cells and the police information officer said heat had jammed the locks. He described it as a flash fire.
The first alarm was received at 11:28 p.m. ADT
(10:28 EDT) but it was 12:15 before any of the bodies were removed.
"It was a grim scene, a sense of shock," said an observer. "Police were sitting on the curb hacking and coughing, overcome by smoke."
The jail was unusually full because a number of prisoners had been transferred from the St. John County Jail after three fires broke out there last week. All those fires were deliberately set mattress fires but no one has been charged.
"In most cases the cells are just used for lodging overnight," a police spokesman said.
Police said there will be an inquiry by the St. John Police Department, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Provincial Fire Marshal and the local fire department.

Berkshire Eagle Pittsfield Massachusetts 1977-06-22