, TEGUCIGALPA, Mar 30 – At least 13 people died on Thursday in a Honduras prison fire, officials said, less than two months after a deadly prison blaze killed more than 350.
“There are 13 bodies. We have not yet been able to identify the circumstances of the incident” at the San Pedro Sula prison in the north of the country, said Marleny Vanegas, of the city prosecutor’s office.
“We will have to await the results of the investigation.”
According to initial reports by the authorities, the detainees themselves put out the fire with buckets of water.
Earlier, police spokesman Walter Amaya had put the death toll at one. Officials said the fire was rapidly brought under control.
“We have regained control of the prison,” Amaya said.
Amaya said rival groups of detainees seemed to have caused the fire, but cautioned he was awaiting the results of the investigation for further details.
Local media reports spoke of as many as 20 killed, and said the fire broke out after inmates attacked and beheaded a prisoner who had been appointed by wardens to impose discipline.
Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said the fire at the facility – which was built for 800 inmates but currently holds 2,250 – had “once again highlighted the critical situation” in the country’s overcrowded prisons.
A horrific fire erupted on February 14 at a prison in Comayagua, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of the capital Tegucigalpa.
The incident, in which 361 people were killed, was one of the world’s deadliest prison blazes ever, and underscored the problem of overcrowding in Latin American jails.
Agents from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) concluded that the Comayagua fire was accidental, but US ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske also said official “negligence” and “legal violations” were to blame, due to overcrowding at the facility.
In May 2004, another fire at the San Pedro Sula prison left 107 people dead.
The country’s prison system is considered a looming disaster by observers, with some 13,000 people held in facilities designed for just 8,000.
Honduras’s second city, San Pedro Sula is considered one of the most violent in the world by the United Nations.
It is frequently the site of armed clashes between rival drug traffickers and their armed units, the ultraviolent “maras” gangs of youths who often bear numerous tattoos.