TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- A fire started by an inmate tore through an overcrowded prison in Honduras, burning and suffocating screaming men in their locked cells as rescuers desperately searched for keys. Officials confirmed that 358 people were killed in the world's deadliest prison fire in eight decades.

Comayagua Gov. Paola Castro, who was once a prison employee, told reporters yesterday that an inmate called her moments before the blaze broke out and screamed: "I will set this place on fire and we are all going to die!"

Castro said she called the Red Cross and fire brigade immediately. Firefighters said, however, that they were kept outside for half an hour by guards who fired their guns in the air, thinking they had a riot or a breakout on their hands.

Officials have long had little control over conditions inside many Honduran prisons, where inmates have largely unfettered access to cellphones and other contraband.

Survivors told investigators the unidentified inmate yelled "We will all die here!" as he ignited his bedding late Tuesday night in the prison in the central town of Comayagua, north of the capital of Tegucigalpa. The lockup housed people convicted of serious crimes such as homicide and armed robbery.

The blaze spread within minutes, killing about 100 inmates in their cells as firefighters struggled to find officials who had keys, Comayagua fire department spokesman Josue Garcia said.

"We couldn't get them out because we didn't have the keys and couldn't find the guards who had them," Garcia said.

Other prisoners were set free by guards but died from the flames or smoke as they tried to flee into the fields surrounding the facility, where prisoners grew corn and beans on a state-run farm.

Rescuers carried shirtless, semiconscious prisoners from the facility by their arms and legs. One hauled a victim away by piggyback.

Comayagua, home to members of the nation's largest gangs, was built in the 1940s for 400 inmates, but its population had more than doubled to 852, with only 100 guards to maintain order. Unlike U.S. prisons, where locks can be released automatically in an emergency, Honduran prisons are infamous for being old, overcrowded hotbeds of conflict and crime.

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