Bogota : At least 51 prisoners were killed and 24, including an unspecified number of guards were injured on Tuesday in a blaze at a prison in the western Colombian city of Tolua, after inmates rioted and set fire to mattresses.
A fire inside an overcrowded Colombian prison broke out amid a chaotic scene inside the penitentiary in the early hours of Tuesday morning, reported CNN. At about 2 am (local time), a fight broke out among prisoners, according to Colombian Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz.
One inmate set a mattress ablaze during the brawl, and flames spread across the prison wing, Ruiz said at a news conference, reported CNN.
"The penitentiary personnel tried to take care of it themselves, but the flames were too strong and we had to wait for the arrival of the firefighters to control the situation," Ruiz said.
The prison is a middle-security penitentiary where inmates serve either minor sentences or finish the last few months of their incarceration, Ruiz said.
Colombian prisons are notoriously overcrowded. On average, most are 20 per cent over capacity, Ruiz said. The penitentiary where the fire broke out in Tolua, however, was 17 per cent over capacity, making it one of the country's least overpopulated prisons, he added.
The incident marks one of the deadliest incidents of its kind in the country's recent history, reported CNN.
Deadly fighting and rioting in prisons are not uncommon in Colombia and neighbouring countries.
In March 2020, 24 inmates died in a riot in the Picota penitentiary in Bogota as they were protesting coronavirus measures within the penitentiary system.
The previous year, more than 50 were killed -- including 16 who were decapitated -- in a Brazilian prison. And scores were killed in a blaze that broke out at a jail in Venezuela in 2018.