Sonoma County Sheriffs Office

Inmate Allegedly Starts Fire Forcing Jail Evacuation

Jeffrey Schaub
November 05, 2018 - 4:05 pm

An inmate in the Male Special Unit of the Sonoma County Jail set off two fires this morning that sent at least 20 inmates and correctional staff to the hospital. The blaze also forced the evacuation of the unit, which is designed to segregate problem inmates from the rest of the prison population.

Correctional staff noticed inmate Bernabe Martinez Ramirez in a common area behaving in an agitated manner, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. Ramirez was allegedly seen tying bed sheets to door handles to keep officers out, and using a pencil sharpener stuffed into a sock as a weapon.

Ramirez also soaped down the floor to make it slippery for deputies as they entered the room, according to the statement.

When negotiations stalled, the Crisis Negotiations Team was called in and spent around 40 minutes trying to talk Ramirez down, the sheriff's office said. The inmate then apparently used an electrical outlet to spark a fire fueled by toilet paper, bed sheets and clothing, eventually adding wooden cabinetry to the flames, authorities said. 

The smoke set off the fire alarm in the jail, and the building’s sprinkler system extinguished the flames. Approximately 15 to 20 deputies forced their way into the room, but initially had trouble locating Ramirez due to the thick smoke, officials said. Eventually, they took the inmate into custody and used fire extinguishers to help douse the flames.

“It was crazy,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Misti Harris.  “A fire in a jail is a really big deal. Obviously, everybody’s confined, there’s a lot of smoke.”

All inmates of the housing unit were evacuated and transferred to other areas of the jail. Four inmates and 16 correctional staff were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation. All inmates, and all but one employee, have since been released and are expected to recover.

Fire officials and sheriff’s detectives are investigating, which could result in felony arson charges against Ramirez.

This is the latest in a series of violent incidents for Ramirez, who already faces charges for a hit and run incident, attempting to take an officer’s gun, and stabbing another inmate earlier this year.

Written by Jordan Bowen.