Honduras: was the fire at Comayagua prison started by a lit cigarette?


The Honduran government says last week’s prison fire — which left 359 people dead and was the world’s deadliest in 100 years — may have been started by a discarded cigarette, according to the Associated Press.

The AP reported later in the day that US investigators had likewise concluded that the fire was an accident, caused by a lit match, cigarette or other flame.

More from GlobalPost: Honduras prison fire: inquiry ordered, prison officials suspended

President Porfirio Lobo last week suspended both the national and the local prison chiefs pending the results of an investigation into the Feb 14 disaster in the city of Comayagua. The AP reported today the he will pardon a prisoner who helped free hundreds of others after a guard with keys disappeared.

According to the AP, witnesses have since told investigators that a prisoner fell asleep as he smoked and dropped a lit cigarette onto a mattress. The news agency said that chief prosecutor Luis Alberto Rubi had claimed today that the accident theory was supported by experts from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In a statement, the US Embassy said a team of BATF investigators were "able to rule out other possible causes of the fire, such as a lightning strike, electrical causes, or the use of a flammable or combustible liquid."

"The fire is believed to have begun in the area of the top two bunk beds in the fourth column along the western side of the prison's module six, which ignited nearby flammable materials," the statement said, according to the AP. "The cause of the fire is believed to have been an open flame (the source of which could include, but is not limited to, a cigarette, a lighter, matches, etc.), although the actual ignition source was not recovered."

The AP said 105 prisoners were crammed into rows of bunks four levels high in the barracks where the fire started and just four survived.

The news agency also said that Rubi had appeared on television and said 277 autopsies had shown no evidence of gunshot wounds and that he also denied suggestions that the fire had been deliberately set with gasoline.

More from GlobalPost: Honduras prison fire kills 350

The AP also reported that hundreds of distraught relatives had stormed a morgue to seize the remains of their loved ones.

The group, largely comprising women, had broken into a refrigerated area and opened at least six body bags, the AP said, citing prosecution spokesman Melvin Duarte.

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