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Huntsville prison fire update: 400 inmates to be transferred to other facilities, officials say

It’s unknown when the inmates can come back to the units that were affected.

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — More than 600 inmates had to be evacuated after a fire erupted at the Huntsville state prison early Friday, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Once the damage to the building was assessed, it was determined that 400 of those inmates needed to be transferred to other facilities across the state that have bed space, said Amanda Hernandez, director of communications for TDCJ.

The fire started around 2:30 a.m. at the historic prison near downtown Huntsville on 12th Street in Walker County. The 174-year-old facility houses about 1,600 inmates.

Huntsville Fire Chief Greg Mathis said fire crews responded quickly and found heavy smoke coming from a cell block in the Walls Unit. Hernandez later said that the fire was in the attic of the West Building. 

"What we believe is that the attic of the West Building and the attic and third floor of the administration building to be impacted," she said.

Thousands of inmates have walked the halls within Walls Unit. Executions of death row inmates are still held at the prison, and it was the home to ‘Old Sparky’, the electric chair that was used for executions back in the day.

“The Huntsville unit is an icon, it’s the best way to describe it,” said Texas Prison Museum director David Stacks.

He was never assigned to work in the Walls Unit, but he says he helped with the prison’s primary job: executing death row inmates. That’s why he said the news of the fire was “sickening."

“Having spent 30 years with the prison system, it affects you," Stacks said. "It’s like one of your friends is getting attacked or having a serious injury."

Stacks was relieved to hear nobody was hurt in the fire.

The remaining 200-plus inmates that weren't transferred Friday will be moved at a later time to other facilities, Bryan Collier, TDCJ executive director said.

It’s unknown when the inmates can come back to the units that were affected.

“There will be some inmates that will be upset they got displaced because that is their home and it would be no different than you or I losing our home by fire and having to relocate,” Stacks said.

The state fire marshal is investigating the cause of the fire and where it started. According to Collier, engineers will also be on sight to identify the repairs needed for this historic prison.

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