Jail fire started by Sonoma Co. inmate sends 21 to hospital

A fire at the Sonoma County Jail Monday was started with toilet paper and sparks from an electrical outlet, authorities said.

The blaze sent five inmates and 16 correctional deputies to the hospital for smoke exposure, but all had been treated and released by afternoon. 

The inmate who allegedly started the fire is identified as Bernabe Martinez Ramirez, 27, of Sonoma.
He has been in the jail since June 2017 in connection with a hit and run, obstruction of an officer, and attempt to remove a firearm from an officer.

In February 2018, he was accused of attempted murder while locked-up. 

"He has a history of violence and the reason he's in administrative segregation is because he stabbed another roommate here at the Sonoma County Jail," Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum told KTVU. 

That cellmate survived, after Ramirez allegedly stabbed him on the face and head with a hairbrush he had sharpened to a point. 

Monday morning, Ramirez had just begun his daily hour of activity time, when an inmate can shower, exercise, watch television or use a phone.   

"He had just gotten out of his cell and into the day room area and he started tying the doors together with a bedsheet," recounted Sgt. Crum," and then he started putting soap all over the floor, the liquid soap, to make it slick and slippery to walk on."

Ramirez was agitated and made it clear that no deputies were to enter.    

"He then broke a pencil sharpener off the wall, and put it in a sock and started flinging it around like a weapon."

Crisis negotiators were called and spent forty minutes talking with Ramirez, through plexiglass and by intercom. 

"They were trying to get him to comply, go back to his room, put down his weapon, trying to ease the problems he was having in his life," said Crum. 

Instead the disturbance escalated.

Ramirez managed to light toilet paper on fire with sparks from an electrical outlet, then added more toilet paper, bed sheets and clothing.  

"Eventually he broke up some wood cabinetry and threw cabinetry on and got a pretty good fire going in there," described Crum, "so that deputies couldn't even see into the unit."  

With sprinklers activated and fire alarms blaring, deputies couldn't see Ramirez through the smoke, when they forced their way in. 

Correctional officers had fire extinguishers but no breathing apparatus. 

Those who suffered smoke inhalation were treated by jail medics, then taken by Sheriff's bus to a hospital for more evaluation. 

The inmates were taken to the hospital by ambulance. 

"Mr. Ramirez was having a bad day, there's some issues going on," acknowledged Sgt. Crum, without detailing what triggered the agitation in the first place. 

Ramirez was checked medically and returned to another segregated cell, but in a different area. 

A dozen inmates had to be moved because of heavy damage to the unit they were in. 

Administrators will look at how the jail might harden security in its day rooms.    

"When you're incarcerated for long periods of time, you have a lot of time to think about how you can do things like this," noted Sgt. Crum.  

Ramirez is expected to face felony arson charges, on top of the crimes he is already jailed for.