Fire starts at new jail

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A fire which started after a  test of an emergency generator caused about $50,000 in damage at the new Belknap County Corrections Center Thursday morning. (Roger Amsden/Laconia Daily Sun)

Generator test ignites roof


LACONIA — A fire which started in the aftermath of a generator test damaged the roof and wall of a section of the new Belknap County Community Corrections Center late Wednesday morning.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said that the 11:10 a.m. fire started in the area surrounding the pipe which vents exhaust fumes from the generator and produced a lot of smoke, which led to the evacuation of inmates from that area.
No injuries were reported in the fire. Gray said that the fire will have no impact on the new programs which will be provided at the jail starting next week.
The emergency generator is housed in a mechanical room near the new sallyport at the rear of the jail and had just completed a load test in which it had been operated at a maximum output of 500 amps for an hour.
Adam Downs of Bauen Construction, which is the construction manager for the jail project, said that the generator, which normally would be called on the produce no more than 70 amps of power, had actually passed the test and had been shut down before smoke from the the fire started to appear.
“The exhaust pipe was too hot for the material near it, even though it was installed to the specified clearances,” said Downs.
Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that Laconia, Gilford, and Belmont fire were dispatched to the county jail for a report of smoke coming from the building. Assistant Chief Kirk Beattie arrived first on scene and advised that there was smoke showing from the roof of a large one story mixed use building; he requested a first alarm.
Erickson said that Captain Chris Shipp and his crew from Central Station worked their way into the sallyport and up through through a maze of wires and ductwork, eventually reaching a steel walkway to the area on fire. The sprinkler system was activated; however, the smoke condition was getting worse. Captain Shipp found active fire in the attic truss roof and the ceiling joists. That fire was quickly knocked down. More fire was found in the first floor wall space where an exhaust pipe from the emergency generator was located. Crews spent the next hour opening the wall and roof to complete putting the fire out.
Erickson said that the sprinkler slowed the spread of the flames but due to walls and other obstructions could not extinguish the fire.
The County Sheriff's Department and Corrections Department moved inmates from the area to an adjacent wing. Laconia Police also assisted at the scene.
Damage is estimated at $50,000. Gray said that the county contacted its insurer, Primex, and that they were at the scene yesterday and will return today to further investigate how the fire started.

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Firefighters work to contain the fire at the new jail. (Roger Amsden/Laconia Daily Sun)