At least 51 inmates were killed and 30 others injured on Tuesday in a fire that followed an attempted escape from Tulua prison in southwestern Colombia, authorities said.
The tragedy occurred in a pavilion of the prison of this city when the detainees, apparently handcuffed, tried to escape, explained General Tito Castellanos, director of the Colombian prison administration (Inpec).
“Unfortunately, a mutiny occurred in ward number eight of Tulua prison, where 1,267 prisoners are held, with the unfortunate result of the death of 49 people,” the general told W radio. According to the official , the prisoners died in a fire that they caused themselves.
Thirty other people are “injured and affected by the fire and the smoke”, added the general, without giving any indication of the prisoners who would have fled.
The authorities said they had several hypotheses, ranging from an “attempt to flee” to disturbances caused “to cover up some situation”. The site affected by the flames housed 180 detainees who set fire to their mattresses to prevent the entry of the police.
The latter used fire extinguishers to put out the flames and help the prisoners get out. “Otherwise, the results would have been worse,” said General Castellanos.
Some law enforcement personnel were injured while helping prisoners out of the pavilion, he added.
Outgoing President Ivan Duque confirmed the tragedy, without giving an assessment. “I have given instructions to advance research that will shed light on this terrible situation. My solidarity goes out to the families of the victims,” he said on Twitter.
The prison system in Colombia is currently responsible for 97,426 prisoners, with an overcrowding of 16,251 or 20%, according to Inpec.