The outcome could have been a lot worse after an inmate managed to light the bunk in his cell on fire at the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility on June 11.
Rankin Fire Chief Mark Wyatt said 10 firefighters and four trucks were on scene shortly after the call came in at around 4:15 p.m.
He said the fire was lit in the cell of an inmate who had just come to the facility from Iqaluit to make a court appearance in Rankin.
“Somehow he managed to get something into the cell to light a fire and then managed to get the mattress on his bunk burning pretty darn good,” said Wyatt. “They’d evacuated most of the inmates in that section by the time we arrived, and there was a fair amount of smoke already in the hallway.”
“There was an awful lot of smoke in the cell, and the fire scorched the concrete walls of the cell pretty good.”
Firefighters went in with self-contained breathing apparatuses and put the mattress fire out before ventilating the facility.
The situation could have been a whole lot worse, said Wyatt.
If the fire had not been discovered quickly enough by facility staff, the inmate could certainly have become very sick or even died from smoke inhalation as the cell was a “pretty toxic environment” by the time firefighters arrived at the scene, he said.
“Those mattresses are made of foam. The fumes they’re giving off while burning are very, very unhealthy, so you don’t want to be breathing that stuff in at all,” said Wyatt. “You could die – easily – from that smoke.”
“He’s not going to light the building on fire because it’s concrete, but he caused a lot of damage and I’d venture to guess they’re looking at a cost of about $10,000 to fix it all up, have it power washed and repainted.”
“If that had been a regular structure it could easily have spread to the next cell, but there’s only so much you can burn in what’s, basically, a concrete bunker – but it really surprised me that he was able to get a lighter, or whatever, into his cell because, from what I understand, they’re usually searched quite thoroughly when they come in.”
Department of Justice spokesperson Stephen Shaddock said the department is not prepared to release the name or any personal information on the inmate due to privacy concerns.
Shaddock said the RCMP is investigating the matter and will consider laying charges.
Shaddock would neither confirm nor deny the inmate was the same person who smashed a TV set during a previous stay at the facility.
“The fire appears to have been started using a cigarette lighter and Nunavut Corrections is investigating the matter,” said Shaddock.
“Nunavut Corrections maintains a strict policy prohibiting contraband in facilities, including smoking paraphernalia, as well as directives to allow for searches when contraband may be suspected,” he said.