The fire broke out amid a chaotic scene inside the penitentiary in the western Colombian city of Tolua.
At about 2 a.m. local time, a fight broke out among prisoners, according to Colombian Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz. One inmate set a mattress ablaze during the brawl, and flames spread across the prison wing, Ruiz said at a news conference Tuesday.
“The penitentiary personnel tried to take care of it themselves, but the flames were too strong and we had to wait for the arrival of the firefighters to control the situation,” Ruiz said.
Twenty-four people were injured, including an unspecified number of guards.
The prison is a middle-security penitentiary where inmates serve either minor sentences or finish the last few months of their incarceration, Ruiz said.
Colombian prisons are notoriously overcrowded. On average, most are 20% over capacity, Ruiz said. The penitentiary where the fire broke out in Tolua, however, was 17% over capacity, making it one of the country’s least overpopulated prisons, he added.