Burundi Vice President Prosper Bazombanza says 38 people were killed and 69 seriously hurt in a massive fire Tuesday at a prison in the capital city, Gitega.
The blaze broke out at about 4:00 am (0200 GMT). The interior ministry said on Twitter it was caused by an electrical short-circuit.
“We started shouting that we were going to be burned alive when we saw the flames rising very high, but the police refused to open the doors of our quarters, saying ‘these are the orders we have received,” one inmate reached by phone told AFP.
“I don’t know how I escaped, but there are prisoners who were burned completely,” he said.
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.
Teams from the Red Cross in Burundi were at the scene to tend to victims, and the flames had now been brought under control, witnesses said.
The nearly 100-year-old facility, the third-largest in Burundi, housed a number of political prisoners in a high-security compound, and there was also a women’s wing.
In all, there were more than 1,500 inmates at the end of November, according to prison authority figures, far higher than its designed capacity of 400.