Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Otay lockups prepare to evacuate

Posted @ 6:46 AM

More than 7,000 inmates in four detention facilities here could smell smoke from the 12,000-acre Harris fire at dusk Monday, but authorities said the flames were at least 10 miles away and would probably not get close enough during the night to force evacuations.

"We can smell smoke, but we can't see the flames," said Kim Seibel, a spokeswoman for Donovan prison. She said the flames would probably not shift direction and cross some 10 miles of land southwest of the fire's front near upper Otay Lake and threaten the prison and three nearby jails.

Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency known as ICE agreed.

"We aren't planning to evacuate, but we are preparing to evacuate in the event that the fire forces us to."

That's because the fire had been moving due west for two days and blacked about 40 miles since it began Sunday just east of Potrero. So far, in addition to blackening 12,000 acres, the blaze has burned at least four homes, killed one man and injured 20 people, including four firefighters.

Lt. Dennis Flynn, a spokesman for two county jails, the George Bailey Detention Facility and the East Mesa Detention Facility, also said an evacuation was unlikely, because of the steady direction of the blaze so far. If needed, he said, the sheriff will use 37 buses to transport 1,600 inmates from Bailey and 400 others from East Mesa to be temporarily housed in three other county jails, in Chula Vista, San Diego and Vista.

More than 100 buses have already been moved near the jails and prison, authorities said, just in case, authorities said.

"The safety of inmates and staff is our No. 1 priority," Seibel said.
Roughly 110 state prison buses would be needed to move Donovan's 4,400 male inmates to other California prisons, Seibel said.

Mack said the private firm, Corrections Corporation of American, is prepared to use up to 20 buses to move 670 male and female inmates from the Otay Detention Facility to several federal detention facilities in the region, if needed.

-- Mark Arner

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