Ugandan forces are searching for more than 200 naked inmates, who escaped in a jailbreak on Wednesday.
Many of the 219 escapees stripped off their yellow uniforms to avoid being identified as they fled into the wilderness in Moroto, in northeastern Uganda.
"We saw the prisoners all over the mountain when they were running they were very many so even us we were scared," said eyewitness Kevin Nakiru.
The military said they are "hardcore" criminals who were jailed for offenses relating to cattle theft.
The inmates also took off with several arms.
"These prisoners had actually broken into the armory and took 15 rifles, that is AK-47s," said Deo Akiiki, a spokesman for the Uganda People's Defence Force.
"These rifles are not yet recovered and in that pursuit they were able to shoot towards us and we shot towards them those were exchanging fire," he said.
The military said At least three people, a soldier and two of the escapees, died in the firefight
several others were also reportedly captured.
The site has been put under lockdown as the hunt continues.
But it is doubtful they will be able to survive in the mountains for long.
"We don't think they can survive first of all in those mountains - there is no food and the environment there is very hostile for anyone to be able to stay there for more than two days," Akiiki said.