SUNBURY -- Flames and smoke could be seen billowing out of the top of the Northumberland County Prison after a fire broke out around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Sunbury.
As firefighters battled the massive blaze, the staff at the prison worked quickly to remove the 208 inmates who were housed inside.
“Obviously the inmates, we need to make sure they`re secured. Law enforcement did a really good job. We had a lot of law enforcement agencies, state department of corrections, state police,” said Sunbury Fire Chief Ken Kipple.
Under heavy security, those prisoners were first brought to a nearby church to stay warm, then taken by bus to two other prisons, SCI Muncy and SCI Coal Township.
The warden said his employees ensured all inmates were accounted for.
“Honestly, some really quick thinking staff printed out inmate rosters and as we were placing them over here in the church basement, we accounted for them, counted for them when they were leaving, where they were going,” said Warden Bruce Kovach.
Fire crews had to tackle the fire from above once being inside the building became unsafe. The roof of one part of the complex collapsed. The fire chief said it was a tough battle from the start.
“The biggest challenge is it`s a secure facility which makes it a lot harder for us to access areas, but we got the keys and we got access and we got to where we needed to be,” said Kipple.
The female inmates were taken to the state prison in Muncy in Lycoming County; the male inmates were taken to the state prison in Coal Township near Shamokin.
All 208 prisoners got out unharmed.
“I would like to commend the inmate population also because they followed instructions. They actually helped one another and they made the evacuation easy,” said Kovach.
Officials say the prison is a total loss and will no longer be able to house inmates.
There is no word on injuries or the cause of the fire.