Like most jails in Venezuela, the one attached to the police station in the northern city of Valencia was packed beyond capacity. Built to house roughly 60 inmates, it contained about 200.
Simmering anger fueled a riot there Wednesday morning: A prison guard, wounded by a knife, was taken hostage. Inmates threatened to kill him with a grenade unless their demands were met. Others set mattresses alight.
The fire turned the jail into an inferno. Emergency workers punched holes in the walls to let the smoke disperse and the inmates escape.