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Locks malfunction at NC jail. Burke County officers smelled smoke but couldn't get doors open, sheriff says.

Locks malfunction at NC jail. Burke County officers smelled smoke but couldn't get doors open, sheriff says.

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Locks malfunctioned at a western North Carolina jail Wednesday, and staff members weren't able to unlock doors after smelling smoke in the building.

Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant said jail staff noticed a smell of smoke inside the building around 5:40 p.m. Wednesday. Electronic doors started to fail in nine areas shortly afterward, and the manual override keys would not open a door lock leading into one of seven cell blocks, Whisenant said.

The Morganton Department of Public Safety was dispatched Wednesday evening to the jail to help with any fire and smoke — and to breach doors if the need arose, Whisenant said.

Staff also made preparations to evacuate the jail, if needed, and off-duty sheriff’s deputies were called in to work to help with supervising and moving inmates to other jails. Whisenant said jails in Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland and McDowell counties all agreed to accept Burke inmates, if needed, and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety Prison Emergency Response Team was on standby to help.

Inmates had been moved to cells with working locks by 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff said.

A lock technician is expected to arrive at some point Thursday to determine what went wrong and to begin repairs, Whisenant said.

Chrissy Murphy is a staff writer and can be reached at or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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