The Glencoe Prison in flames. The mystery fire was later contained. Photo: Northern KZN Courier

Durban - More than 1 000 prisoners have been evacuated after a massive fire engulfed the Glencoe Prison on Monday afternoon.

Glencoe is the major regional prison in northern KwaZulu-Natal, with many of the province’s most dangerous criminals housed there.

According to firefighters on the scene, the fire is believed to have started in a storeroom near the prison’s dining hall, and spread rapidly to the kitchen and the prison’s administrative offices.

Thick clouds of black smoke could be seen billowing from the facility soon after the fire started.

Wardens and other correctional services employees were seen on the roof of the prison, using prison water cannons to douse the flames.

One of the wardens, who identified himself only as “Elpheus”, said the fire and the smoke spread quickly and prisoners were rushed outside for a headcount.

“They were all standing on the lawn holding their possessions and watching the fire burn,” he said. “They were helpless.”

Policemen, wardens and firefighters from the nearby towns of Ladysmith and Newcastle also rushed to the scene to help combat the blaze.

Firefighter Danie de Beer described how they could hear gas tanks exploding as the fire spread through the facility.

“It was a very scary situation,” he said, adding that the fire was eventually contained by late afternoon.

Regional communications spokesman for the department of correctional services Thulani Mdluli confirmed that prisoners had been evacuated and transferred to other correctional facilities around the province. He said the prisoners, while shaken, were in good health.

“At this stage we do not know what the cause of the fire was, but it is under control,” Mdluli said, adding that the extent of the damage to the prison was yet to be assessed.

Firefighters on scene told the Daily News that said the damage was extensive, with some quarters of the prison razed to the ground.

Speculation and conjecture that prisoners set the fire in order to escape spread on social media on Monday afternoon, but police and correctional services confirmed that all the prisoners had been accounted for.

Daily News