ASUNCION – A total of six people – five inmates and a prison guard – died in a fire that broke out Friday in Asuncion’s Tacumbu Prison, the largest in Paraguay, officials said.
The first of the confirmed victims of the blaze, which started in the tailoring workshop in one of the cellblocks, was the prison guard, who died of smoke inhalation at the hospital where he was taken after helping to save several inmates.
Hours later, when the flames were under control, members of the Volunteer Firefighters Corps found in one of the cells the bodies of five inmates previously considered missing.
Spokespersons for the Volunteer Firefighters told the media there is danger that some of the prison’s walls might collapse.
For its part, the Attorney General’s Office has asked the victims’ family members to come help identify the bodies.
State Public Prosecutor Javier Diaz Veron announced that a technical team is being organized to visit the jail and investigate what happened.
The blaze was started accidentally, Justice Minister Carla Bacigalupo told reporters, adding that she has ordered a number of the inmates moved to other prisons.
The minister explained that the fire, which sent out huge billows of smoke, could be controlled thanks to the observance of the jail’s fire protocol, but also recalled that prison overcrowding is a big problem at Paraguayan jails.
“We have a terrible degree of overcrowding in Paraguay’s prisons,” Bacigalupo told reporters.
Inmates’ family members gathered in front of the prison waiting to be informed about the situation, and also complained about overcrowding at the detention center.
Tacumbu Prison has a capacity for 1,655 inmates, but is jammed with 3,980, the kind of overcrowding also seen in Paraguay’s other penitentiaries.