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Mops that burst into flames caused partial evacuation of Westmoreland jail

| Monday, June 19, 2017, 5:45 p.m.

A fire this month in the laundry storage area of Westmoreland County Prison was caused by mops that were soaked with cleaning chemicals and left in a pile that spontaneously burst into flames, officials said Monday.

“It was pretty smoky and we had to evacuate inmates out of the area for security,” said Cory Snyder, the jail's fire safety trainer, told prison board members.

Officials said the cotton mop heads caught fire June 9, causing minor smoke damage to nearby walls. No equipment or other property was damaged and no one was injured, Snyder said.

Only the 16 inmates who were working in the nearby kitchen were taken from the area. No inmates or staff were forced to leave the jail as firefighters extinguished the blaze, according to officials.

“Everything went better than we expected,” Snyder said. “It's something we don't get all the time here.”

To ensure there is no repeat of the circumstances that led to the fire, mops will be hung individually to dry out to avoid the potential for smoldering, Snyder said.

Inmate numbers increase

Meanwhile, the number of inmates continues to grow.

Officials said 642 inmates were lodged there on Monday, the largest population the facility has seen since it averaged about 625 inmates in May 2016.

Its capacity is 706 inmates.

But prison board members said they have no immediate concerns about overcrowding

“The positive news is our recidivism rate is down,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas. “We are going in the right direction.”

Deputy Warden George Lowther said internal jail statistics show that only 27 percent of inmates were repeat offenders in May, down from 33 percent a year ago.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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