Cebu City fire kills girl, leaves 91 homeless

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

CEBU CITY -- A fire tore through two boarding houses in Barangay Parian, in this city at Saturday dawn, killing a four-year-old girl and wounding six others, including a fireman.

It was the fourth blaze to hit Cebu in five days and came on the heels of a fire that wiped out 40 houses in Barangay Umapad, Mandaue City last Friday.

Senior Fire Officer 1 Lowel Opolentisima, an investigator of the Cebu City Fire Department, said they are looking at the rotational brownouts as one possible cause of the string of fires.

“When the electricity is restored, there is a power surge. It may go over limit and could damage wires or appliances. That’s why it pays to take precautions by unplugging all electronics (when the power supply is cut),” he told Sun.Star Cebu.

Authorities said that Maria Alexa Mutoc, 4, was found in the rubble.

Her brother Ren-Ren, 3, and the family’s helper Bernardo Ortiz, 53, also suffered minor burn injuries. They were released from the Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) Saturday after receiving treatment.

Their neighbors Ednalyn Calisin, 28; Mary Irene Simbajon, 6; and Matthew Justine Simbajon, 2, were severely wounded. They remained confined at CCMC.

91 homeless

The latest fire displaced at least 18 families or 91 individuals who were mostly boarders or tenants, according to a report from the Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) of the Cebu City Government.

Firefighters received the report at 4:30 a.m. and declared a third alarm, which meant that all fire trucks in Cebu City had to respond.

The fire was controlled after 19 minutes and completely put out at 9:16 a.m. By then, however, about P400,000 worth of properties were destroyed. (A fire is “controlled” when it can no longer spread to adjoining properties.)

Initial investigation showed the fire may have started on the second floor of the two-storey boarding house owned by Jose Castro at the corner of Bonifacio and D. Jakosalem Sts.

Roberto Wong, 80, who serves as the caretaker, recalled he was stirred from his sleep when he heard loud voices outside.

“Nagkagubot lang ug kalit. Nag-paka-paka na ang kuryente (There was a sudden commotion and I heard the electrical supply popping),” he said. Smoke and flames enveloped the boarding house, where he occupied a room on the ground floor.

Happened swiftly

Wong said he and the tenants ran outside. But Maria Alexa apparently got left behind.

“Paspas kaayo ang panghitabo tanan (Everything happened so fast),” Wong added.

Maria Alexa, her brother and Ortiz had been sleeping on the second floor when the fire broke out. Ortiz awakened the little girl, while he carried Ren-Ren.

“Nagtuo ang nagbantay nga nisunod ang bata pero wala diay ‘to (He thought the other child was following him),” Opolentisima said. The siblings’ mother, Flordeliza, was at work at that time.

The fire then spread to an adjacent three-storey boarding house on Simoun St.

Fire investigators, however, have yet to confirm what caused the blaze.

Maria Alexa was brought to the Sure Life Funeral Homes.

Rebecca Saducas, 60, said she wished she had taken the girl to her house on Saturday.

Maria Alexa had asked to go with Saducas, whom she considered like a grandmother.

5 dogs gone, too

“Dili pa ta to siya mamatay (Perhaps she wouldn’t have died),” Saducas said as tears trickled down her face. She recalled taking care of Maria Alexa when the latter was an infant, while the mother went out to work.

“Buotan kaayo ‘tong bataa. Masugo na unya di gyud magpabadlong (She was such a good child who obeyed orders and never made a nuisance of herself),” Saduca said. The family plans to bury Maria Alexa today, Sunday.

The fire department reported Maria Alexa as aged 6, but her death certificate showed her birthday was September 24, 2009.

Wong, the house caretaker, said he used to give candies to Maria Alexa and her brother. He said he has been living in the boarding house for 50 years and always checked the electrical wires to prevent a fire. The boarding house has 10 rooms.

Five dogs that Wong has been taking care of also died in the fire. There was no time to let them out of their cages. Wong said their names were Rose, a poodle; Sophie, a shih tzu; and mongrels Princess, Jackass and Gwen.

“Mura ra sad ko ug nawagtangan ug anak kay palangga kay nako to sila (I loved those dogs so much that it feels like I’ve also lost children),” Wong said. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 15, 2013.

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