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Cameroon: fire rips through crowded prison

A fire tore through an overcrowded maximum-security prison in Cameroon’s port city of Douala.

A local fire chief reported that the fire broke out on Thursday, causing the hospitalisation of three prisoners with serious burns.

Firefighters backed up by several police agents were able to contain the blaze, managing to stop it before it spread beyond New Bell jail, which sits in a densely populated neighbourhood of the capital, close to the central market.

New Bell prison in Douala. Image credit JNews

“The operation became more complicated because of the layout and a large number of prisoners,” fire brigade chief Kadrey Abdiel declared.

Several human rights groups denounced the fact that Cameroon’s prisons suffer from chronic overcrowding, poor sanitation conditions and disease, and cases of violence and torture are commonplace.

New Bell prison was built in the 1930s for 800 inmates, but in 2011 it has been estimated that it holds around 2,500 inmates, according to Amnesty International.

Three severely burned prisoners were evacuated, while two firefighters were injured, Abdiel explained.

Smoke rises after the fire tore through an overcrowded New-Bell central prison in the port city of Douala, Cameroon. Image credit Reuters, Josiane Kouagheu

Crowds of observers had gathered outside the prison, where a large cloud of dark smoke rose from the roof.

During the fire, a few inmates had tried to climb over the prison’s walls, but police around the perimeter stopped them from escaping, regional Governor Samuel Ivaha Diboua told journalists.

Yet, it has not been clear what started the fire.

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