A federal prison employe was killed and one inmate injured yesterday morning when a fight broke out among 50 prisoners at a maximum security federal prison in Hopewell, Va., near Petersburg.

The disturbance at the Federal Correctional Institution in Prince George County, Va., began about 9:35 a.m. in the dining room of the complex when two inmates "had words," according to associate warden Charles Montgomery. About 150 inmates were in the dining room at the time, Montgomery said. He said about 50 joined the fight, while the rest of the prisoners stormed the open exit doors trying to get outside into the courtyard. Guards called for help from the administration building on the prison grounds, Montgomery said.

Gregory J. Gunter, 31, the prison's construction and maintenance foreman, responded to the call for help and was stabbed to death by inmates as he tried to make his way into the dining room, Montgomery said.

Gunter was rushed by ambulance to Petersburg General Hospital, but was dead on arrival. Gunter, a native of Talladega, Ala., had been working at the Virginia prison since May, according to prison records.

An inmate whose name has not been released by the prison was also taken to the hospital and treated for multiple stab wounds. He is in satisfactory condition, according to a hospital spokesman. Six other men received minor injuries and were treated at the prison, a spokesman said.

Montgomery said that about 80 prison employes helped to quell the disturbance and that it lasted about 30 minutes. An alarm was sounded and the inmates were ushered back to their quarters, a spokesman said. Local, state and military police from nearby Fort Lee waited outside the prison gates in case they were needed.

The brawl forced prison officials to cancel Christmas activities for the day, including visits, television and a special holiday dinner.

Prison officials said yesterday's incident was not a riot, but a "major disturbance." "A riot is much more planned and harder to quell," Montgomery said. Prison spokesman Jim Rich said the cause of the disturbance is being investigated by the FBI, and no charges have been filed. Rich added that the fight seemed to involve rival groups of inmates.

Rich said that as the fight moved outside of the dining room, he saw a large group of inmates, and these inmates were chasing each other, and others were seeking safety in various areas of the institution.

Prison officials said that some of the men were fighting with broom handles while others grabbed "everything they could get their hands on -- from napkin holders to broken ceramic flower pots."

The prison houses 600 maximum-security prisoners who have been sentenced under the Youth Corrections Act. Their average age is about 25, Montgomery said. The disturbance was confined to one building.

The associate warden said nothing unusual had occurred at the prison before the fight. In fact, he said, "It's been too quiet this whole week prior to Christmas." But Montgomery also said that at this time of year, many of the inmates are disgruntled and homesick.