A huge blaze ripped through an overcrowded prison killing at least 41 people trapped in their cells in Indonesia, it is reported.
Some of the dead were so badly burnt they could not be identified with the fire starting at night while the prisoners slept.
Firefighters battled the flames in the prison block which housed inmates on drug charges after the fire broke out at around 1.45am on Wednesday morning local time.
They were eventually able to free the surviving prisoners, many suffering injuries, but there were dozens who died in the inferno.
At least two of the victims were reportedly foreign nationals from South Africa and Portugal, at Tangerang Penitentiary, near Jakarta.
It is believed that an electrical fault led to the fire with a short circuit.
Indonesia’s justice minister Yasonna Laoly said: “Forty died on the scene and one died on his way to the hospital.”
He added that eight were seriously injured and 31 had minor injuries.
Cells were locked at the time, the minister said, but with the fire raging uncontrollably, “some rooms couldn’t be opened.”
Laoly revealed that the electrics at the prison had not been changed since it was built in 1972.
He continued: “The fire spread quickly and there was no time to open some cells … When the guards found out, the fire had already spread, and that’s where we found the victims.”
On Wednesday morning local TV showed footage of flames engulfing the detention facility, and later, the building’s charred remains as victims were pulled from the scene in orange body bags.
The task of identifying victims has begun but some of the bodies will require DNA testing due to the extent of the burns.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry is now dealing with the cases of the two non-Indonesians and organising repatriation or burial, said Laoly, who also sent his condolences to the families of all the victims.
Many of the dead were on drugs charges while there was one reportedly jailed for terrorism and another for murder.
Overcrowding was a problem at the prison which had more than 2,000 inmates and yet it was built to house less than a third of that number.
The fire broke out in a block holding 122 prisoners which was designed for just 438, admitted Rika Aprianti spokeswoman for the prisons department.
But overcrowding and poor conditions is not unusual in Indonesian prisons that contain around 270,000 inmates.
AFP via Getty Images)
Leopold Sudaryono, a criminologist and PhD candidate at the Australian National University, said that overcrowding also complicated emergency evacuation efforts, given the limited staff working at the prison. “Fire detection efforts and evacuations are difficult,” he said.
There have been several deadly fires in Indonesia in recent years. As well as the 2017 Tangerang fireworks factory blaze that killed 47, a 2019 fire at a matchstick factory in North Sumatra killed 30 people.