Honduras Church Demands 'Thorough' Inquiry Into Deadly Prison Fire

The Christian Lutheran Church of Honduras (ICHL) has demanded a "thorough investigation" into the fire at Comayagua's central prison earlier this month that killed nearly half of the jail's inmates.

A total of 359 out of Comayagua's 852 prisoners were killed in the February 14 blaze, including the wife of one inmate who was visiting her husband at the time.

The high number of deaths in the incident, which is the world's worst prison fire in nearly a century, has been attributed to overcrowding in the prison and a lack of safety protocols and precautions such as an evacuation plan.

"Once again, the prisons of Honduras have become the scene of a tragedy; we are horrified by this hellish prison catastrophe; we are overcome by a feeling of panic and indignation to learn of the unsafe conditions in which our country's prison populations lives," said Rev. José Martin Girón, president of the ICHL, in a communiqué following the tragedy.

"As a church, we lift our voices in defense of the justice that is so cruelly lacking in our beloved, suffering Honduras," he added.

Other Lutherans in the area, including the Salvadoran Lutheran Church have also echoed the ICHL's call for an exhaustive investigation and emphasized the need for justice.

We regret that "such a fatality has to occur to make us react to problems such as this that are enormous time bombs," the Salvadoran church said in a statement.

Current investigations into the fire have revealed that the blaze was started accidentally, most likely from an inmate's discarded cigarette, according to chief prosecutor Luis Alberto Rubi. Previous media reports had attributed the fire to a riot or an electrical fault.

Rubi's findings have been supported by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), who conducted an investigation two days after the incident. While the specific source of the fire has yet to be recovered, the ATF has ruled out, "other possible causes of the fire, such as a lightning strike, electrical causes, or the use of a flammable or combustible liquid," according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Honduras.

Meanwhile, the Honduran government is seeking to avoid international litigation over the incident and is planning instead to negotiate settlements with victims' survivors, many of whom have been restless throughout the ordeal.

Last week, reports that victims would be buried en masse led a group of mostly women to break into a morgue in Tegucigalpga in search of their loved ones.

So far only 18 of the victim's bodies have been returned to their families, while the rest are burned so badly that they need to be identified through DNA testing, according to prosecutors.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has promised that the ongoing investigation will be "full and transparent" and that the country's prison system will be reformed.

Some 13,000 inmates are currently being held in Honduras' prison system, which is designed to hold only 8,000. At the time of the fire, the jail at Comayagua was overcrowded by nearly 350 prisoners.

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