WHY did the flames spread quickly and raze 81 houses when the fire scene in Barangay Lahug was across a fire station that had a fire truck?
Cebu City Fire Marshall Rogelio Bongabong Jr. pledged yesterday to investigate radio reports on some victims’ allegations that the fire substation near them was not quick to respond to the fire that hit Sitio Avocado from 6:22 p.m. last Saturday to 12:26 a.m. yesterday.
He said the Lahug Fire Substation has until today to submit a post-operation report on the incident.
“We will look into it,” he told Sun.Star Cebu in a phone interview.
Larry Arsolon, one of the 735 survivors, lamented in an interview that the fire’s damage was so severe because “naa’y fire truck sa atbang, dugay sad nakaresponde (there’s a fire truck across the street, but the team didn’t immediately extend help).”
The fire substation’s SFO1 Archie Custodio, however, clarified that their fire truck did respond a minute after the firefighters saw from a window the huge fire devouring the homes below.
He said their fire truck, which the station has been using since 1994, has an engine that needs to be warmed up with air pressure before its air brake system could start.
Custodio said it takes about a minute to get the air brake mechanism ready.
Records from the Cebu City Fire Department also showed that the substation responded at 6:23 p.m., a minute after the Bureau of Fire Protection received the fire alarm.
The firefighters initially said no one among the residents reported the incident to them. They just noticed the flames when one of their colleagues looked out of the window and saw a huge fire on top of the packed community.
Sitio Avocado was celebrating the feast of the Holy Family (Jesus, Joseph and Mary) that night, a day after Christmas.
Arsolon said the news of fire breaking out in their neighborhood provoked them to rush toward the river, located farther from the community’s exit on Gorordo Ave., where the fire substation is.
The residents left the food they had prepared for the celebration, and the pork dishes Arsolon’s wife had cooked got charred by the flames.
Bongabong said he was informed by the Lahug firefighters about the matter.
“Dapat gyod unta, ang unang moresponde ang mga silingan, magtinabangay og bubo og tubig sa unang nasunogan, unya naa poy mo-report sa kabomberohan (What the neighborhood should have done was to help put off the fire from the first burning structure and report the matter to firefighters),” he said.
The fire that hit Sitio San Miguel in Barangay Lorega last June 12 killed a four-month-old baby trapped in a house but managed to raze only around 10 homes made of light materials.
Jessica Dughol, one of the Lorega fire survivors, said this was partly due to their male neighbors who immediately boarded a motorcycle to inform the nearest fire substation.
Custodio said their 21-year-old fire truck is still functioning and “serviceable”, but “kon naay mohatag og fire truck bag-o, amo gyung dawaton (if somebody donates a new fire truck, we’ll gladly accept it).”
The firefighters also had a hard time putting out the fire because there was no clear road leading to the place, only narrow alleys and external walls of jam-packed houses facing each other.
It was also very windy that night, he said. “Ang kayo dali kaayo nidagan subay sa hangin, padung sa luyo pa gyud (The fire was quick in spreading because of the wind).”
The fire reportedly started in the house of Rosemarie Villarin, 46, where a candle had been lit.
The fire alarm was raised to Task Force Bravo, meaning all the fire trucks in Cebu City and the neighboring towns and cities were asked to respond.
The first one to respond was the fire truck in Lahug, then the six other trucks in the city and some fire volunteer brigades.
Mandaue and Talisay Cities, Minglanilla, Consolacion and Liloan also each sent a fire truck to help, according to FO3 Antonio Gonzales of the Cebu City Fire Department
Although the fire was put out at 12:20 a.m. yet, the responding firefighters were able to get it under control around an hour after the alarm was received.
The Cebu City Government will re-block the fire-gutted sitio.
Acting Mayor Edgardo Labella, who visited the fire scene again yesterday, assured survivors that they will not be relocated even if they don’t own the lot.
The lot is reportedly owned by the University of the Philippines.
Labella, however, asked the affected families to be patient while City Hall implements the re-blocking because they will not be allowed to construct their houses until the area is ready.
Clearing will start today.
Records from City Hall’s Department of Social Welfare Services (DSWS) showed that 81 houses were destroyed, displacing 187 families or 735 individuals.
DSWS chief Ester Concha said at least 17 classrooms of Lahug Elementary School were used as temporary shelter for the survivors.
Disaster kits were also given to them.
Families will also receive financial assistance and construction materials from the city.
But Labella said he will present in their meeting today a suggestion to extend additional aid to the families, considering that the New Year celebration is approaching.
“New Year is fast approaching and to mitigate the suffering of the victims, we would like to find out if there is any possibility and whether it’s legally feasible to somehow add to the assistance to the families,” he said.
Suspended Mayor Michael Rama, who also went to the fire-gutted area yesterday, urged the Council to muster a quorum today and declare the area under a state of calamity, which would speed up the release of help.
“There are some 700 individuals who will not be spending New Year’s Eve in the same manner that others will spend it. I wish the matter would not be taken lightly,” Rama said.