In the early hours of February 15, 2012, Honduras experienced the worst prison tragedy in its history. 272 people have been confirmed dead in the town of Comayagua, Honduras with an additional 900 inmates either escaped or missing.
The fire was supposedly started when an inmate yelled, "We will all die here," and set his mattress on fire. With a prison capacity rated at nearly 400 and an actual operating rate over 800 inmates, it was no surprise the fire got out of control so quickly. Witnesses say both inmates and guards were fleeing for their lives after the fire spread so rapidly. Firefighters were able to arrive on scene within 10 minutes but the guards fled without unlocking any cells or leaving the keys behind. This left hundreds of inmates trapped inside their cells to either burn to death or pass out from smoke inhalation. A few lucky inmates were able to break away the ceiling of their cells and jump to safety from the roof.
In more developed countries such as the United States, prison cells can be automatically opened in case of emergencies. It is hard to tell how many lives could have been saved if it were not for such poor planning and overcrowding. One inmate said the prison had 60 inmates to a cell. This would undoubtedly cause mass confusion and panic in the case of any emergency.
Both state and prison officials have remained closed an secretive about the tragedy and about the victims. As a result, family and friend of the victims are outraged and riots are starting to break out. The officials have hesitant to release any identities until the mess is cleaned up and all bodies can be extracted from the wreckage.
With 272 confirmed dead, this is the second worst prison fire ever. The Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio suffered a loss of 322 individuals to a fire on April 21, 1930. The third and fourth worst prison fires were in the Dominican Republic where 136 inmates were killed in 2005 and Venezuela where 108 inmates were killed in 1994.
Honduras currently has 24 prisons with a total prison population of 11,846. All of these prisons have the same overcrowding conditions and lack of technology. It is only a matter of time before another tragedy occurs in the country.