Colombia prison riot sparks deadly fire

By Robert Plummer
BBC News

  • Published
Prisoner in a Colombian jailImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Colombia's prisons are notoriously overcrowded

A fire during a prison riot in south-west Colombia has killed 49 inmates and injured at least 30 other people, including prison warders.

The national prison authority said the fire in Tuluá, in Valle del Cauca, was started by prisoners in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

According to officials, the inmates set fire to mattresses in a bid to stop guards breaking up the riot.

They say the blaze has now been controlled, and no prisoners escaped.

The fire broke out at about 01:00 local time (06:00GMT) on Tuesday morning in one of the prison blocks, which normally houses about 180 inmates.

Residents of the city reported seeing smoke and flames inside the jail after the fire got out of control and engulfed the prison block.

Firefighters and ambulance services were alerted, with some of the injured being taken to hospital.

The head of the government's prison agency, Gen Tito Castellanos, said some of the inmates had set their mattresses alight "without considering the consequences of how it was going to affect them".

"It created a cascade effect that spread to virtually the whole block," he added.

"The guards, using fire extinguishers and other items, managed to evacuate the majority of the inmates, but unfortunately the outcome was 49 dead and 30 injured."

President Ivan Duque expressed regret for what had happened.

"I have given instructions for a quick investigation to explain this terrible situation," he said. "My solidarity goes out to the families of the victims."

The Office of the Inspector General, the country's main public authority watchdog, said it was sending a special commission to Tuluá.

As in some other Latin American countries, prisons in Colombia are badly overcrowded.

The country's 132 jails are intended to hold about 80,000 people, but the prison population is more than 112,000.

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