SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – An early morning fire at an overcrowded prison in northern Honduras on Monday consumed a cellblock housing gang members, killing 103, many as they slept, and injuring 25 others.
The 1:30 a.m. fire was sparked by an air conditioner short-circuit in a cellblock occupied by 186 prisoners, Police Commissioner Wilmer Torres said. Some prisoners burned to death while others died from smoke inhalation.
“We woke up with our clothes and our beds in flames,” prisoner Jose Mauricio Lopez told a radio station from his hospital bed.
Another prisoner, identified as Antonio Flores, said he heard an explosion “and then the cell block caught immediately on fire.”
Firefighters brought the blaze under control quickly, but it already consumed a large part of the jail in San Pedro Sula, 110 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, by the time they arrived. There were no reports of any escapes, Torres said.
Officials said 103 prisoners died and 25 others were injured.
It was the second deadly prison fire in Honduras in a little over a year, and Vice President Vicente Williams promised to find funds to improve the overcrowded system.
“Honduras’ jails are a time bomb,” Williams said at the damaged prison in San Pedro Sula, 110 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.
Many gang members started attacking firefighters, prompting guards to fire in the air “to prevent a massive prisoner escape,” said prison spokesman Jose Bustillo.
But one prisoner, Pablo Cardona, said the guards “fired at us repeatedly from outside the cell block to stop us from leaving, despite our cries for help.”
About 60 inmates who survived the fire were living on a basketball court under a giant tent.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.