FIRE could either be one’s friend or a foe. It is the source of warmth and heat, it could cook meals and even give light but fire could also burn and destroy, harm, and even kill.

Home is a family’s safe haven. It is a place of comfort, a place where one can strip away all the facades brought about by the outside. It’s where a family can lounge around and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a place that brings good memories and bad, a place filled with knick-knacks collected from years’ worth of living.

Put these two together and you could get something good or something bad.

It was in the early hours of January 18 when a fire razed the homes of 43 families in St. John, Bucana village. All in all, 23 houses were burned to the ground, along with all of the residents' belongings. In the initial investigation, the cause of the fire was said to be electrical short-circuit.

The fire caused the death of two children, three-year-old Angelie Gales and one-year-old Rodel Gales Jr. They belonged to a family of five with mother Angelyn Magbutong, father Rodel Gales, and older sister Angel Mae, 5.

Angelyn can only hang on to the memory of how her two children would rush to her every time she arrives home with some food. They wouldn't mind what kind of food she's bringing home, it's the joy of having food brought home.

They were playful kids, she said, they were always playing games with their older sister. “Pangarap pa unta nako sila mapaeskwela (My dream was to send them to school),” Angelyn said.

Both parents worked as security guards, taking turns in taking care of their children even with the tight schedule.

Angelyn, 20, was working the night shift at a net café. The night before the fire, she called her husband asking him to bring her food. The children were left under the care of Myslie Tagaan who left the children on their own at the Gales home because she had a fight with her live-in partner, hours before the fire.

The minute Angelyn heard the news of a fire breaking out in St. John, she called her husband to rush back home. She also left her watch and dashed home. The place was in havoc when she arrived. The firemen came but had a hard time putting out the flames because the streets were very narrow.

The truck couldn’t pass through and so fire hoses were just passed on from home to home. The fire was finally put out at 5 a.m., almost two hours later.

What Angelyn saw was a skeleton of what once was their home, gone with all of her memories and treasured possessions. That was when she found out her children were dead. She lost not only the lives of her two children but also everything she could cling on to remember them by. Not even a toy or a piece of clothing. All she had now are but the few photos in her wallet.

“Masaya pa man sana kami, bago lang kami nag celebrate ng 5th birthday ng eldest ko, kumpleto pa kami nun, di ko inakala 'yun na 'yung pinakahuli (We were happy the night before, we celebrated the 5th birthday of my eldest daughter as a complete family, I didn’t expect it to be the last time),” Angelyn said.

With no home and their two young children gone, Angelyn and Rodel feel lost as well.

Eduardo Nogar, 54, woke up due to the loud noise of people rushing outside. He smelled smoke and felt the heat; he got up, shot out of bed and got his family to safety. The only thing he was able to save was his motorcycle.

“Syempre nataranta na ako, wala ko kabalo unsay puniton, lawas lang nako akong nadala (I was panicking and didn’t know what to bring, all I could save was my body),” Eduardo said.

Now, the 23 families are taking refuge in the village gym, living in tents, sleeping on mats, and eating food given by the government. Buckets filled with packaged goods were given to them. There they endure the cool and damp air brought about by the recent rainy days.

Bucana village has suffered several casualties caused by fire, the narrow alleys and roads make it difficult for firemen.

Wider roads would help the firemen get to scene faster. The affected families will still come back after the government cleans the area.

The families will procure materials to rebuild their homes with financial assistance from the government, P10,000 will be given to the owners with destroyed homes, and P5,000 for the others sharing the home.

The families are still waiting for the government to remove the debris as they don't have a place to throw them to and vehicles to haul them off, before they can rebuild their homes, a place where they can make memories anew.


Keisha Pulido is a student of Ateneo de Davao University.