JAKARTA: A fire tore through an overcrowded Indonesian prison block in the early hours of Wednesday (Sep 8) when most inmates were asleep, killing 41 people and injuring dozens of others, an official said.
The fire in Banten province broke out at 1am to 2am at Tangerang Prison Block C, which housed prisoners jailed on drug charges. It was extinguished at around 3am.
Television footage showed a massive fire raging through the prison block, with thick smoke billowing from the building as firefighters raced to put out the flames.
"Forty died on the scene and one died on his way to the hospital," said Yasonna Laoly, Indonesia's justice minister, adding that eight were seriously injured and 31 sustained minor injuries.
Jakarta police chief Fadil Imran earlier told the media that 72 had minor injuries.
Authorities were still investigating the cause of the incident at Tangerang Penitentiary, just outside the capital Jakarta, but suspected an electrical fault may have been to blame.
"I have checked the scene. Based on early observation, it is suspected (the fire) happened because of a short circuit," Imran said.
Laoly said the prison's electrical system had not been upgraded since it was built over 40 years ago, in 1972.
"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," Laoly added.
The prison in Tangerang, an industrial and manufacturing hub near Jakarta, housed just over 2,000 inmates, far more than its capacity of 600, according to government data as of September.
The block where the fire broke out had a maximum capacity of 40 inmates but housed 120, penitentiary directorate general spokesperson Rika Aprianti told Metro TV.
Two foreign nationals, from South Africa and Portugal, were among those killed, Laoly told a news conference, but did not elaborate on their convictions.
He said he was coordinating with Indonesia's foreign ministry as well as relevant embassies and consulates to organise repatriation or burial.
Among the dead, one was convicted on a terrorism charge, one for murder and multiple others on drug charges.
"I would like to convey deepest condolences to the victims' families, I don't want this to happen again," Laoly said.
He added that the police have started identifying victims but that DNA testing would probably be needed for some of the bodies that were hard to recognise.