APRIELLE Annerose Bolosito, a market research interviewer of Survey Sampling International (SSI) Davao and one of the survivors of the fire that razed NCCC Mall in Davao City, fought with all her might to be able to escape the inferno they were caught in with the image of her six-year-old child pushing her on through the thick black smoke that has surrounded them all.

“Sige ko ug hilak sige ko ug hilak ka give-upon napod ko, kakuyapon nako ug dili nako kaginhawa. Mao to sige ko ug huna-huna sa akong anak ug kung mahimatay ko diri sa fourth floor, wala jud mutabang sa akoa. Ngitngit kaayo walay makakita sa akoa (I was crying. I wanted to give up, I felt like collapsing. But I kept thinking about my son. It was so dark at that time and if I will become unconscious, no one will see me),” Bolosito shared in an interview with Sun.Star Davao.

The fire incident that claimed the lives of 37 fellow workers left a gaping hole in her heart. The memory of how they were all struggling to escape will forever be etched in her mind.

December 23, 2017, two days before Christmas, was just a regular day. She went to their office very early in the morning not knowing that this work day would not even end.

They were doing their usual routine. Dialing, facing their computer screens and talking to their respondents.

At around 9 a.m., they had their meal break. They went to the second floor where the food court is located. Talking and laughing with their fellows. After 30 minutes, they went back to the fourth floor. Just minutes after she sat down to work, she heard their facility director telling them to get out fast.

“He said don’t run don’t panic go to the fire exit,” Bolositos recalled.

But as white smoke seeped out of the airconditioner, panic started eating at them. A fellow employee, she said, grabbed a fire extinguisher and aimed at the airconditioner, but all they got were more smoke.

Contrary to what kibitzers are claiming over social media, they have evacuation plan. The Wire 1, 2, 3 were instructed to proceed to the fire exit near the locker area while the Wire 4, 5, 6 in the fire exit heading to Maa side.

Although she was from Wire 4, she went to the fire exit near the locker room so she could get her personal belongings from the locker. But just as she got hold of her bag, light bulbs started exploding and everything was thrown into deep darkness.

“Naratol na ang mga tao, nagbuto-buto na ang lights sa taas. Ang mga wirings napalong na ang suga pero ang buto buto sige pa [Everyone was panicking. The bulbs were exploding. Even in the dark, the sound of exploding lights could still be heard],” she said.

In just a matter of minutes, the smoke became thick and blanketed the whole of the office area. They were all crying begging for help. The line going to the fire exit was not moving. They could not move forward because intense heat was emitting from the fire exit and they could not see anything. They were trapped.

As the heat intensified, someone shouted: “Init kaayo guys, balik! Balik! Dili na makaya! CR! CR!” Then some of the employees went to the restroom. She didn’t follow them thinking she might be crushed by the mass of bodies because of her petite size.

“Mao to ang akong gibuhat nag sige naman mi ug hilak didto, sige na mi ug syagit kaingon ko sa akong sarili mamatay naman jud ko ani. Lisod napod kaayo iginhawa mao to jacket nalang nako nga gitabon sa akong ilong [We were crying at that time, we kept on shouting. I told myself, I’ll die in here. I was having a hard time breathing because of the smoke so I covered my nose with my jacket],” she said.

Instead of going to the CR, what she did was she tried to run to the other fire exit despite the fact that it would take her several steps before she arrived. What was running through her mind was at least she did her best to live and get herself out there.

Like an angel in disguise, at the middle of their office, he heard their supervisor Lloyd Angeles shouting: “Lobby! Lobby!” She backtracked and ran to the lobby, feeling relieved as she can breath easier as they ran down the stairs.

The scenario at the fourth floor was completely different at the second and ground floor. There were people there who seemed oblivious to the fire, and so they shouted warnings as they ran out.

She recalled seeing just around three other co-employees rushign out with her. No one else were following them.

As they gathered outside, they made a head count and realized there were still others who did not make it out. Some of the survivors tried to go back, but the intense heat and the fire stopped them.

No alarm

Bolosito said they didn’t hear any alarm that would warn them earlier of the fire which started at the 3rd floor of the mall.

“Wala jud mi kabalo gyud, kung wala nigawas ang usok sa among aircon wala pod mi kabalo nga naa diay sunog. Walay alarm, wala man lang nag-ingon didto na: uy nasunog na baya diri. Naog namo dra (We did not know. Had smoke not come out of the aircon, we wouldn't know there's a fire. There was no alarm, no one told us there was a fire and that we should evacuate),” she said.

Usually, there were security guards who roam around but at that time, they did not see one.

She also said that nobody tried to go upstairs to help other colleagues except for their supervisors who also risked their lives trying to get the others.

“Wala jud lain nitabang didto bisan guard (No one helped us, not even a guard),” she said.

Some of trapped were even able to text them begging for help as they could no longer endure the smoke and the heat.

Second life

After surviving the life and death situation, all that she could do was to thank the Lord for another life for giving her presence of mind a brave heart to not give up. It was the worst nightmare she had and she was only hoping it was only a dream.

She could still recount how the families of the employees arrived looking for their family member and how they broke in tears when they couldn't find them among the group of survivors.

An Inter-Agency Anti-Arson Task Force was formed led by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) together with the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the City Government, Philippine National Police (PNP) and among others.

Having survived and seen how it was when the fire broke out, all she is hoping right now is for the truth to come out.