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Latin America Blog

Honduras prison fire kills more than 300, highlights regional problem (+video)

This is the third fatal Honduras prison fire since 2003. The region as a whole lags on fire prevention measures and oversight.

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In Mexico, two tragedies have brought fire safety regulation to the fore. Last August, gunmen set a casino ablaze in the city of Monterrey. More than 50 died, many trapped behind blocked emergency doors, as reported in this guest blog by James Bosworth here. Mr. Bosworth writes:

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Whether by arson, cigarettes, kitchen fire, or lightning strike, fires happen. There is no reason that a casino in a major metropolitan area like Monterrey should go up in flames so quickly while the majority of those inside cannot escape. What sort of materials were used in its construction? Where were the fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems? If this building wasn't up to code, then the question is why was it allowed to be open and who in the government failed in their duty to check on it? If it was up to code, then Monterrey and the federal government need to start revisiting those codes and updating them.

Why couldn't the fire department get to the building on time to rescue those inside? Did they lack equipment? Are they understaffed? Did someone fail in their duty? That investigation needs to happen.

Most importantly, why were the emergency exits blocked? It's not just Mexico. In too many cases around the region, emergency doors are locked or blocked by items that make them impassible. A few years ago, hundreds died in a market fire in Paraguay because emergency doors were locked and trapped people inside a burning death trap.

In June 2009, 49 victims were trapped inside another burning building in Mexico. This time the victims were children aged 3 or younger, attending daycare in the city of Hermosillo in northwest Mexico.

Safety and building code violations were documented as a major cause of the daycare tragedy in a new study led by David G. Greenhalgh, professor and chief of the burn division in the Department of Surgery at the University of California, Davis.

“We feel that all fire disasters need to be documented in some manner. If we do not dissect the causes of these tragedies then they are doomed to be repeated,” Mr. Greenhalgh said in a press release. “Many of the characteristics of this fire disaster have been observed previously. The main issue is that prevention efforts need to be followed.”

“Many of the fire laws that we have in the United States are the result of learning the specifics of previous tragedies. While the public may not understand why there are exit signs, multiple doors opening to the outside and other prevention efforts, laws and regular fire inspections have reduced the number of major burns and deaths tremendously,” Greenhalgh said. “Clearly, these same regulations exist in Mexico but they have not been regularly enforced. We do not wish to criticize the people or government of Mexico but instead, we published our paper to incite changes and prevent such a tragedy from happening again."

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