16 inmates die, 24 injured in Salvador prison fire
Victims are mainly young adults who were convicted of street-gang-related crimes as juveniles
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A fire broke out in a prison north of El Salvador's capital Wednesday, killing at least 16 young inmates and injuring 24.
Nine of the injured are listed in serious condition with burns, said Mauricio Ventura, director of the Rosales Hospital in the capital, San Salvador.
The prison in the city of Ilobasco held 93 inmates. Most were men who had served time in facilities for youthful offenders and were transferred to Ilobasco after they turned 18 to serve out any remaining sentences.
Initial reports indicate the fire was accidental and may have been caused by an electrical short circuit, said Red Cross Spokesman Carlos Lopez Mendoza. Police said they were still investigating the cause of the blaze.
"When the fire started, the young men were still in their cells, and some were asleep," Lopez Mendoza said.
Police took charge of guarding the inmates who remained.
In September, a law took effect in El Salvador making membership in a street gang punishable by four to six years in prison and gang leaders face up to 10 years. Gangsters arrested for specific crimes also fill El Salvador's jails.
President Mauricio Funes introduced the law in July, a month after suspected members of the Mara 18 gang opened fire on a bus and set it ablaze, killing 17 people.
An estimated 20,000 Salvadorans belong to street gangs, which deal drugs and extort businesses.