Honduras Prison Fire Ruled Accident as Govt Creates ‘Special Commission’

A special US investigative team working with Honduran authorities ruled that a Valentine’s Day fire in a Honduras prison in the city of Comayagua that killed over 350 inmates was an accident, the US embassy said in a statement.

“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 embassy’s statement reads. “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 investigation was headed by a special team from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and conducted with local authorities from the National Criminal Investigation Directorate (DNIC).

The Honduras government, meanwhile, announced the creation of a “Special Commission” to study prison living conditions, hiring and training of prison guards, and administrative structure, among other issues related to the country’s collapsing jail system, the America Economia web page reported.

The fire was the second large-scale blaze in a Honduras prison in the last seven years. The first one, in a San Pedro Sula prison in 2004, left 107 dead.

InSight Crime Analysis

As InSight Crime has noted, the fire was the result of a decade of security policy that sought to contain the rising crime and street gang activity within the country’s aged prisons. However, the justice system simply cannot keep up. Overcrowding is the norm. Comayagua was holding more than twice its capacity; the country’s 24 facilities have 5,000 inmates more than capacity.

Even more disturbing, more than half of those in jail are awaiting trial. Many of these are suspected gang members rounded into jails because of their appearance where they wait for the slow-churning wheels of the Honduran justice system.

The “Special Commission” does not inspire a lot of hope. The government has been ignoring this crisis since at least 2004 when the tragic fire took place in San Pedro Sula, illustrating that prison reform is not a priority. To be sure, during a recent review of the country’s prison facilities that identified Honduras’ most ill-equipped jails, Comayagua did not make the list.