Dozens dead after fire tears through overcrowded prison in Burundi
At least 38 people have been killed in a fire that tore through the central prison in Gitega, Burundi's capital, on Tuesday, 7 December 2021. A Police source said the emergency services were late to the scene, with a fire truck arriving only two hours after the start of the blaze. The fire left 69 others injured and destroyed several areas of the facility. Those with the most serious burns were taken to hospital, some ferried in police pick-up trucks, while others with milder cases were treated at the scene. Witnesses said that the fire had completely destroyed entire sections of the prison, which was designed for 400 prisoners but was holding over 1 500. The fire started at around 04h00am while most of the prisoners were sleeping and detainees claimed that the guards refused to open cells.
Teams from the Red Cross in Burundi were at the scene to tend to victims and the flames had been brought under control.
The nearly 100-year-old facility, the third largest in Burundi, housed a number of political prisoners in a high-security compound. Most of the prisoners are men but there is also a separate women’s wing.
The interior ministry said on Twitter that the disaster was caused by an electrical short-circuit at the nearly century-old prison. Many parts of the site were left in charred ruins behind a stone wall showing the date of construction in 1926, when Burundi was a Belgian colony.
The same prison in Gitega was struck by another fire in August, according to the interior ministry, which blamed it on an electrical short-circuit.
"We started screaming that we were going to be burned alive when we saw the flames but the Police refused to open the doors," said one detainee. "I don't know how I escaped but there are prisoners who did not."
Burundi's ministry of interior said that the fire had been started by a short circuit.
Sources: Euro News, Al Jazeera, Associated Press