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Bogota - A fire at a Colombian prison killed at least 10 inmates and injured more than three dozen others, prison officials said on Tuesday.
The blaze broke out late Monday at a prison in the northern city of Barranquilla, authorities said.
Of the 38 injured, 12 were already released from hospital but two remained in critical condition in intensive care, authorities said.
Officials said the blaze apparently started when inmates set fire to mattresses during a fight at the overcrowded facility, which was built for 275 inmates, but housed about 1,044.
Hours before the fire, a search had turned up “large amounts of narcotics, weapons and cell phones,” General Saul Torres, director of Colombia's prison institutes, told Caracol radio.
The search “apparently led to a rift between some of the inmates, and the guards released gas. Prisoners continued with the dispute and set fire to mattresses,” he said.
Ombudsman Jorge Otalora said “this was one of the hypotheses,” and his office would submit a report on what happened.
In a telephone interview with Caracol Radio, one inmate called the incident “a slaughter.”
“There was negligence by guards who didn't open doors to exit the hallway,” the inmate, identified as Rodrigo, said.
This was refuted by Torres, who said prisoners “could not evacuate quickly enough even though the doors were opened.”
“Due to the quantity of people, there was large congestion and some people suffered burns,” he said.
According to prison authorities, Colombia's 142 prisons have the capacity to hold 75 726 prisoners, but currently house some 116 370 inmates.
“In some cases, as in (the northern border region of) La Guajira, overcrowding has reached 400 percent. Unfortunately, the results are serious events such as this,” Otalora told RCN radio.