Dozens dead in overcrowded prison fire in Burundi

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A huge fire ravaged an overcrowded prison in Burundi before dawn on Tuesday, killing dozens of inmates and seriously injuring many more, the country’s vice president said.

Many detainees were still sleeping when the fire destroyed parts of the facility in Burundi’s political capital, Gitega, witnesses said.

Vice President Prosper Bazombanza, who visited the scene of the blaze with several senior ministers, said 38 people were killed and 69 seriously injured.

The fire started around 4 a.m. local time. The Home Office said on Twitter that it was an electrical short circuit.

One inmate said: “We started screaming that we were going to be burned alive when we saw the flames go up very high, but the police refused to open the doors to our quarters saying ‘these are the orders we have. received ‘.

“I don’t know how I escaped, but there are prisoners who were burnt to the ground,” he said.

The most severely burned people were taken to hospital, some transported in police vans, while others were treated on the spot, witnesses said.

Burundi Red Cross teams were on hand to treat the victims, and the flames have now been brought under control, witnesses said.

The nearly 100-year-old facility, Burundi’s third largest, housed a number of political prisoners in a high-security compound, and there was also a women’s wing.

In total, there were more than 1,500 inmates at the end of November, according to prison officials’ figures, far more than its planned capacity of 400.

A large contingent of police and soldiers surrounded the site and prevented journalists from approaching or taking pictures, witnesses said.

A police source said emergency services arrived late at the scene, with a fire engine not arriving until two hours after the fire started.

There was a fire in the same prison in August, according to the Home Office, which blamed it on an electrical short circuit.

No casualties were reported as a result of this incident.

Chronic overcrowding is a problem in prisons in Burundi, where there were a total of around 12,400 inmates living in accommodations designed for 4,200, according to October figures, despite a presidential amnesty in June under which 5,000 prisoners have been released.


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