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Title: Jail Power Out After Electrical Fire By Susan Voyles RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL

April 17th, 2000

The Washoe County jail was locked down for seven hours Sunday after an electrical panel blew up, initially cutting off all power to the main jail.

Just after 9 p.m., three electricians bypassed the blown panel, restoring power with the help of two backup generators. Assistant sheriff Lee Bergevin said the generators will be used for the next several days until a replacement panel can be found and installed in the 12-year-old electrical system.

The panel is between Sierra Pacific Powers electrical line and two backup generators. The sheriffs office called on the Associated General Contractors auxiliary to help. These volunteer companies had their employees brought in several dozen portable generators that kept the main jail dimly lit. The smallest of two backup generators was brought on line by late afternoon.

While the number of deputies on duty nearly tripled from 32 to 84 Sunday, the dimly lit jail was being run as normal as possible, Assistant Sheriff Lee Bergevin said.

The inmates are being fed. They are locked up in their rooms and they are not complaining.

Outside, it was hardly anything but normal. Police cars were positioned all around the jail complex grounds while deputies were perched on the roof. Two command centers were poised outside the entrance while the Raven helicopter circled the jail from above, taking video.

When our lights go down, when our cameras go down, we are blind, Bergevin said.

About 380 of the 984 inmates Sunday night were without power, meaning no heat, ventilation and only dim lights outside their cells.

If it gets a little chilly, we have extra blankets, Bergevin said.

A new wing of the jail that opened last year has a separate power source and was not affected in the blackout.

While Reno police initially arrived to protect the jail perimeter, other deputies were called back to work, Bergevin said. Reno police also handled county priority calls while the deputies were being assembled.

About 20 Washoe County Search and Rescue also were called to guard the perimeter and the Red Cross came to feed the hungry workers.

Sheriff spokeswoman Bob Towery said every prisoner was accounted for. Even a census count that was scheduled Sunday took place.

Deputy Lisa Harris was working in a housing unit when the lights went out elsewhere in the jail.

Everybody had their duties to do, and everybody was notified of their duties, and everybody stayed calm. Harris said she was assigned to guard inmates working in the kitchen.

By Sunday night, the dimly lit jail was back into a routine with inmates working in the kitchen delivering previously warmed dinners of chicken patties and mashed potatoes. Other inmates were cleaning.

Several years ago, problems with the electric generators prompted another lockdown. Bergevin said the solution will come when the entire electrical system is upgraded during construction of a part of the jail for the drunk tank.

On Sunday, police were sent downtown to Reno Justice Court to book suspects, who were put in a holding cell there. Meanwhile, other inmates who had made bail were being released at the jail.

Inmates scheduled for release Sunday were freed in the morning before the troubles began, Towery said.

Jail workers first detected a burning smell about 8:30 a.m. County building maintenance workers were called in several hours later.


-- (, April 17, 2000

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