At least 51 inmates have died and 24 others are injured as a result of a fire that broke out inside a prison in Tuluá, Colombia, early Tuesday morning, according to government officials.
Tito Castellanos, the director of Colombia’s national prison system, shared an updated death toll and new details about the deadly incident during a press conference on Tuesday. He originally confirmed 49 fatalities linked to the prison fire, but clarified that two additional inmates died after being transported to a nearby medical center, Reuters reported.
Castellanos said the blaze erupted after an argument between inmates led one to set fire to a mattress, igniting the fire in a prison cell block that housed about 180 people. About 1,200 are incarcerated at the Tuluá prison.
Tuluá firefighters were called to the scene because the prison guard on duty was unable to control the flames, he added.
The inmates wounded in Tuesday’s fire were transferred to nearby hospitals. Six are currently being treated in intensive care units, while two more are receiving treatment at a health center in Cali, a much larger city located about 60 miles away. Wilson Ruiz, the minister of justice in Colombia, confirmed that two guards also sustained minor injuries, the Associated Press reported.
Castellanos previously characterized the events leading up to the prison fire in Tuluá as an apparent “riot” and said the national prisons agency did not have more information about conditions for those who were transported to Cali in comments to Caracol Radio, according to Reuters.
“It is a tragic and disastrous event … There was a situation, apparently a riot, the prisoners lit some mattresses and a conflagration occurred,” Castellanos reportedly told the news outlet, adding that most of the inmates killed “died because of smoke inhalation.”