METRO Cebu was struck by two deadly fires that claimed four lives over the weekend.
Three persons died when fire broke out in a subdivision in Sitio Sudtonggan, Barangay Basak, Lapu-Lapu City at 5:40 a.m. on Sunday, January 6.
The fatalities were identified as Rosalinda Armilla, 55; her niece Desiree Jalipot, 14; and granddaughter Aaleyah Jeanne Inoc, seven.
The blaze affected a portion of a neighbor’s house. Damage estimates were placed at P300,000.
Firefighters had the flames under control in 30 minutes.
Investigation showed the victims were trapped on the second floor of their house in Joana Homes. No other relatives were around at the time of the incident.
FO3 Oiretuele Baguio of the Lapu-Lapu City Fire District (LFCD) said the fire started downstairs and quickly spread.
He said the victims may have died from smoke inhalation. They may have tried to escape, but the windows on the second floor had iron grills to protect the house from burglars and robbers.
The burned bodies of Armilla and Inoc were found close to each other. Jalipot’s remains were found far from them.
Baguio, a fire safety inspector, said house owners should not install iron grills on their windows, even if it is not prohibited by Republic Act 9514, or the Revised Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008.
“What happened should serve as a warning against installing window grills,” Baguio said in Cebuano. “We’re not saying safety should come first, but we’re also not saying that security should be prioritized. The two should go hand in hand.”
LCFD officials will meet with homeowners in subdivisions to discuss fire safety tips.
In Cebu City, the fire that struck Sitio Cepadol, Barangay Duljo-Fatima Saturday night, January 5, killed one person.
The charred remains of a man believed to be in his 40s were found in the debris at 3 p.m. the day after, as residents tried to salvage what was left of their belongings.
FO3 Romeo Birao said Leo Jumao-an, a resident, said the body belonged to his nephew, 43-year-old Christian Lopez.
“Someone reported Lopez missing. We looked for him last Saturday, but we were told he went to the Basilica del Sto. Niño. We stopped looking. But when residents started clearing the fire site on Sunday, his relatives found his body,” Birao said in Cebuano.
Chief Insp. Randy Caballes, commander of the Mambaling police, said the body will have to undergo a DNA and dental examination because it was deemed unrecognizable.
He said Lopez might still be missing and only the test results could verify his identification.
“We’ll know for sure when we get the test results,” he said.
If verified, Lopez would be the third to die in fires that struck the barangay less than two weeks apart.
Last Christmas, two persons, one of whom was a 12-year-old boy, were killed in what authorities described as Cebu City’s biggest and costliest fire of 2018. The fire left 659 families homeless and damaged P117 million worth of properties.
Last Saturday’s fire gutted 18 houses and left 32 families, or 128 individuals, homeless. Damage estimates were placed at P500,000.
Cebu City Fire Marshal Chief Insp. Noel Nelson Ababon said they are still investigating what caused it.
The Cebu City Government is prioritizing the conduct of disaster resiliency seminar workshops in urban poor communities this year.
City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office Chief Nagiel Bañacia said social urban problems are some of the factors that contribute to fires, which are regular occurrences in urban poor barangays like Duljo-Fatima.
“The City can’t do this alone. We need the support of nongovernment organizations and the private sector. We have regular disaster preparedness seminars, but keeping it sustainable is a tough job to do,” he said.
Bañacia said a nongovernment organization has pledged to help the City intensify its disaster prevention campaign through an P80 million grant.
“Most of the fire-related incidents in the city are human-induced. We want our constituents to know how to react and respond when a disaster like a fire happens,” he said.
In an earlier interview, Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor operations chief Genevieve Alcoseba said they would focus on training members of the community as first responders.
Meanwhile, the owner of the house where the Christmas fire started will face arson charges soon.
Ababon said his office is preparing documents, which they intend to file before the Office of the City Prosecutor within the week.
“I have yet to read the complete investigation report, but several witnesses claimed that Rene Boy Aguanta was seen pouring gasoline on his motorcycle after fighting with his wife,” he said.
Aguanta was one of five witnesses invited by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) 7 for an interview last Dec. 27, but he did not show up or submit an affidavit. He fled after the incident.
“We’ve already given him enough time, but he was a no-show. He can explain himself in court,” Ababon said. (RTF/GCM, AYB and Alan Tangcawan, Superbalita Cebu correspondents/KAL)