AT LEAST 550 families are now homeless after four fires hit different parts of Mandaue City in just two hours from New Year’s Eve to the first hour of the New Year.

While the City Government has provided help, most of the residents await the assurance that they can go back to the same lots and rebuild there.

The biggest fires hit communities in Barangays Guizo and Maguikay, where residents were still celebrating the New Year when the flames began to spread.

No one died. The fires, however, injured more than 20 persons who suffered burns or were wounded while they tried to save their belongings or as they ran away from the blaze.

The fires broke out just minutes apart, giving the Mandaue Fire Station and the Mandaue City Government a hard time.

On New Year’s Eve, Mandaue’s firefighters and a Bantay Mandaue team rushed to Barangay Banilad, where a truck caught fire past 11 p.m.

The new year had scarcely begun when the same firefighters were summoned to Barangay Looc, where a fire that started at 12:34 a.m. gutted a warehouse on Ouano St.

Two other warehouses were damaged.

While they were trying to put out the flames in Looc, the fire department received another call at 1 a.m. about a fire that struck a residential area in Sitio Sto. Niño, Barangay Guizo, said Senior Insp. Josephus Alburo, Mandaue’s fire marshal.

Just five minutes later, another fire began to destroy houses in Sitio Salvacion, Barangay Maguikay, just beside the Butuanon River.

Hectic start

“We directed our resources from Looc to Guizo and Maguikay,” Alburo said.

Firefighters’ teams from Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, Consolacion, Liloan, Compostela, some barangays in Cebu City and private organizations helped Mandaue’s firefighters put out the rash of fires.

Despite their efforts, at least 90 structures in Guizo and 120 houses in Maguikay were destroyed.

According to Alburo, the combined damage to property in Guizo, Maguikay, and Looc reached P2.6 million.

The 275 affected families in Guizo and 276 other families in Maguikay are temporarily staying in the barangay basketball court and a vacant lot, respectively.

Yesterday, the City Social Welfare and Services (CSWS) Office personnel distributed pails, canned goods, and packed meals, among others, to the affected families.

Vulnerable

In a press conference, City Mayor Gabriel Luis Quisumbing said this is the second time that such a big fire hit the two residential areas.

Sitio Santo Niño in Guizo is the same sitio that a fire hit last March 2016. The same area in Maguikay also suffered from a fire about 10 years ago.

However, the City Government cannot re-block these areas because the land is privately-owned.

Three individuals own the area affected in Maguikay, while 30 lot owners possess the fire site in Guizo.

“As far as the City is concerned, our assumption is makabalik sila (they can go back to the area). But since these are private lands, we have to coordinate with the owners,” Quisumbing said.

The mayor and the barangay officials will meet with the lot owners today or tomorrow.

Immediately after the fires, Quisumbing, Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna, Councilor Olin Seno and Atty. Mae Elaine Bathan, the mayor’s chief of staff, visited the two affected residential areas.

Need help

The City has distributed tents, installed portable toilets, and sent water tankers to the evacuation site to provide water for the families.

Meals were also provided to the affected individuals since Jan. 1.

Maguikay Barangay Captain Francis Tan told reporters there was an initial meeting with the lot owners and the residents’ organization, and that the owners reportedly offered to pay the informal settlers.

In Guizo, however, Barangay Captain Jesus Neri said the families wish to go back to the fire site.

Although his barangay was hit by a big fire last year, Neri said they can still provide financial assistance to the affected families through their calamity fund for 2017.

The barangay councils of Maguikay and Guizo will declare the sitios under a state of calamity.

Quisumbing said that the City will do the same.

Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna explained that the declaration will allow the City to release quickly funds as financial assistance to the two sitios.

Survivors

The Office of the Mayor and the City will wait for the social welfare office’s recommendation.

What caused the fires? Firefighters have yet to confirm, but they suspect that an electrical short circuit was involved in both Guizo and Maguikay.

As for Looc, fire investigators heard from a witness that a type of fireworks, known as a sky lantern, had landed on top of the warehouse’s roof.

Narrow roads in Guizo and Maguikay also complicated the firefighters’ jobs.

In an interview, Dennis Mahilom, 26, said that his family didn’t manage to save much from their house in Guizo. He recalled that they were indoors for the Media Noche, but then stepped outside to greet their neighbors.

He said he just secured his family members and his company identification card.

Although she, too, had not saved any of her belongings, Lina Repollo, 83, said she was still thankful that her family and neighbors survived.

Nalipay kay way kinabuhi nga nawa (I am still happy because no lives were lost),” Repollo said.