Tegucigalpa (Honduras): A fire swept through a prison in Honduras, killing at least 272 inmates, many of them burning to death in their cells, authorities said on Wednesday.

Lucy Marder, chief of forensic medicine for the prosecutors' office, gave the death count to reporters in a radio news conference.

The head of the national prison system, Danilo Orellana, said the fire broke out Tuesday night at a prison in the town of Comayagua, 140 kilometres north of the Central American country's capital, Tegucigalpa. The prison held about 800 inmates.

Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia said he saw "hellish" scenes while trying to put out the fire. He said "some 100 prisoners were burned to death or suffocated in their cells."

Garcia said many prisoners were trapped because the guard who had the key to their cells could not be located.

Officials are investigating the cause of the blaze.
   
Orellana said two theories are that it was triggered by rioting prisoners or by an electrical short-circuit. Hector Ivan Mejia, spokesman for the security ministry, said it was feared that many other inmates escaped during the fire. Radio reports from Comayagua said the prison was destroyed by the flames.

(Agencies)