Amid the chaos of an early morning clash between inmates at Santiago’s San Miguel prison, two assailants proceeded to ignite their surroundings with a makeshift flamethrower.
From his cramped cell on the second floor of Tower 5, Nelson Gonzalez could hear his friends scream: ‘I heard shouting coming from the cells upstairs; people were calling for help. At first we thought they were just messing around, but after a while we started to see smoke and realized something terrible was happening…’
Though the flames spread quickly, the prison guards were slow to react, leaving dozens of men trapped in the infernal heat. Hernandez was lucky, escaping unhurt from a tragedy which ultimately cost 81 lives and left 14 inmates suffering from severe burns.
A subsequent inquest found the guards on duty had been drunk on the morning of the fire, and acknowledged that the tragedy (the gravest in Chilean penal history) might have been avert…