THE fire that gutted Davao's homegrown NCCC Mall of Davao in Maa on December 23, 2017, barely two days before Christmas, had left Dabawenyos with heavy hearts: 38 people perished, most of them locals who are known to the relatively tight-knit Davao community.
December 23, 2017
The fire was first reported at 9:30 a.m. on the third floor of the mall. Firefighters were on the scene, but fire was already spreading fast. The third floor was where the textiles were and other combustible materials, fanning the flames and filling the area with deadly fumes.
On the fourth floor, right above the fire were Survey Sampling International (SSI) employees who were finding it difficult to evacuate as their fire exit was already thick with smoke and all heated up.
Many made it out, but 37 SSI employees.
Downstairs, the mall was being vacated. As it was still early, only grocery shoppers and suppliers and the mall personnel were inside. Everyone was able to leave, except one.
Hours after, firefighters were still putting off the fire.
Around 7 p.m., the Davao City Information Office announced that the holding room of the families and relatives of the missing persons in the NCCC fire is at Aposento Restaurant in front of Alorica Bldg. beside S&R.
Around 9 p.m. until the wee hours of December 23, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio with Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte spoke with the families. Also, President Rodrigo Duterte met with the families.
Around 3 a.m., the fire is still active. President Rodrigo Duterte told the families that there was zero chance of survival for the 38 individuals trapped in the mall as the fire raged on through the night, creating heat between 500-700 degree Celsius.
On Sunday morning, a burnt body was recovered inside a comfort room of the mall's fourth floor where the missing persons were said to have been trapped. The body was later on identified as Jeffry Sismar, an SSI employee.
Around 8:20 a.m., Davao City Fire and Arson Investigator SFO4 Ramil E. Gillado announced that the fire is already under control. Fire out was declared at 5:15 p.m.
In the afternoon, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio cancelled Pasko Fiesta events, saying it was inappropriate to be rejoicing when thousands were rendered homeless by flashfloods just hours before the fire, and 38 perished in the fire.
The BFP and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio confirmed that 36 charred bodies were already retrieved on Christmas morning. The BFP said the bodies were found just a few steps from the stairs going down.
The charred remains were placed inside the buffer room of Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) for identification of their families based on the identifiers recovered from the bodies like ID, clothes, rings, among others.
In the afternoon of December 25, the City Government of Davao offered a mass for the trapped victims of the fatal fire incident.
Authorities thought all fire victims are SSI employees, but families of certain Melvin Gaa, an NCCC employee, reported that he is still missing days after the fire incident. This development raised the fire victims' number to 38.
All 37 victims were already identified, while one SSI employee named Alexandra Moreno-Castillo remained missing.
The mayor, in a press conference, confirmed that Gaa was found among the 36 recovered last December 25. The NCCC Mall management said Gaa was a safety officer of the mall who led several SSI employees to safety.
The search and retrieval operations continued for Castillo.
BFP Fire Superintendent Honey Fritz Alagano said that around P1.6 billion worth of properties of the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) Mall Davao was damaged, including the building structure and its content.
The NCCC Mall of Davao management announced that all NCCC employees that were left unemployed by the recent fire incident were assured that they will not be displaced and will instead be absorbed by the company in its other operations.
Inter-agency Anti-Arson Task Force spokesperson Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Fire Superintendent Jerry Candido said that based on their initial findings, the massive fire that hit NCCC Mall of Davao was caused by a short circuit, which started at the ceiling of the third floor in the furniture section.
He added that there were five personnel of the BFP Davao who were relieved from their post after the investigation of the Inter-agency Anti-Arson Task Force revealed that there were violations during the inspection but the building was still given the Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC).
Candido said the building failed to comply with the requirement of an automatic fire suppression system. He also confirmed that there was no functioning sprinkler system at the third floor of the mall.
The fire exits of building, he said, also violate the Fire Code of the Philippines as they were not smoke and heat-proof.
January 4, 2018
The remains of the last missing employee (Alexandra Moreno-Castillo, SSI Quality Assurance supervisor) were recovered. Inter-agency Anti-Arson Task Force spokesperson Jerry Candido said her body was found at the fourth floor near where the 36 bodies of other victims were also discovered. Hers was lodged in a crack on the floor and covered with debris and was thus gone unnoticed for days.
The inter-agency Anti-Arson Task Force, the body formed to investigate the NCCC fire, is still gathering documents to point who could be accountable for the fire. The task force could not yet provide update on the legal charges to be filed against the mall owners.
Follow Sun Star Davao for more updates about NCCC fire incident.