A fire broke out Monday night in a prison in northern Colombia leaving at least 9 dead and over 50 injured with severe second and third degree burns, according to local authorities.
Five of those deceased were killed inside of the Barranquilla prison, and four were aids from the city trying to assist in the situation, according to newspaper El Colombiano.
At least 25 people were currently receiving treatment in local northern Colombian hospitals on Tuesday morning.
According to preliminary reports that were released late Monday, the fire started in the central-most section of the jail after a fight began between two rival gangs. One inmate allegedly told prison guards where a stash of contraband drugs was hidden Monday afternoon, angering many different gang members. This prisoner was subsequently stabbed by those who were in charge of the illicit drugs, inciting the ensuing brawl.
As the melee escalated, a few bed sheets caught on fire, which ultimately started a massive inferno that trapped many prisoners and guards. Five fire trucks were called to the scene to douse the flames, and 20 ambulances were tending to the wounded throughout the night.
According to the director of Colombia’s National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC) the situation is now under control, and the police is continuing to do a search for more bodies and a cause of the initial spark.
This prison fire comes amidst the backdrop of Colombia dealing with massive overcrowding in their prisons across the nation. Just last week, in order to respond to overcrowding, Colombia’s Ministry of Justice signed off on a plan to reform the penal code, which might ultimately release 7,000-9,000 prisoners from jails or shorten their sentences.
Elsa Margarita Noguera, mayor of Barranquilla, said on the incident, “It is not right, that we can not keep our prisoners safe, nor guard their lives.”