METRO AYALA FIRE
The fire that swept through the Metro Ayala department store at the Ayala Center Cebu mall complex was finally placed under control at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, about 39 hours since it broke out on Friday night.
Senior Supt. Samuel Tadeo, chief of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas (BFP-7), said they doused water on all the levels of the six-storey department store that were affected by the blaze to make sure it won’t rekindle.
“By no means it will affect other structures now,” he said in an interview at dusk on Sunday.
Tadeo, however, ordered all firefighters not to get inside the burned establishment as it may collapse due to its unstable condition.
“Butas-butas na ang building at may mga portions pa nito ang tagilid na especially yong harapan. So alanganin na siya. (The building has several holes and there are portions that have tilted, especially those in the front section. So it is unsafe),” he said.
The streets adjoining Metro Ayala were cordoned to prevent the public from coming near the structure.
Tadeo said it’s now up to the store management whether or not to tear down the entire building.
Of Metro Ayala’s eight levels, only three were spared from the flames; the ground floor where the main entrance is located and its two basements which housed the grocery and household items.
Tadeo said they have yet to determine the cause of the fire, which started at the toys stockroom on the third floor. No injuries or casualties were recorded.
“Our arson investigation unit has already invited those persons who can shed light on the matter. They are expected to appear at our office tomorrow (today, January 8),” he said.
Fire investigators will also look into reports that the store’s sprinklers and alarm system did not function when the smoke was first detected at around 9:30 p.m. and the fire alarm was reported to the Cebu City Fire Department at 9:44 p.m.
Initially, the damage caused by the fire was pegged at P50 million to P100 million, Tadeo said.
“That is just a rough estimate. It can be more than that. We are waiting for the management to submit their affidavit of loss (which will be used to determine the actual cost of damage),” he added.
While fires are inevitable, Tadeo urged owners of different establishments to take the precautionary measures to avoid accidents.
“Nahihirapan lang talaga kami kasi enclosed area siya. Pahirapan talaga ang pagpasok during ng sunog. (We had a hard time since we were dealing with an enclosed area. Entering the building during the fire was extremely hard),” he said.
Blisters, lessons learned
A number of firemen sustained blisters on their feet due to constant rubbing of their wet skin and the boots they wore. They were treated by medical teams brought to the fire scene by the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CDRRMO).
“Sobrang pagod ang mga firemen kasi mga dalawang araw rin yong operation namin. (Our firemen are so tired since we battled the fire for two days),” Tadeo said.
If there’s a lesson that everyone ought to learn from the incident, he said, that is for everyone to be careful at all times and to observe all safety measures to avoid fire incidents.
“Siguro, mag-ingat lang talaga tayo (I think we just have to be careful),” Tadeo said.
He added, “Architects have the choice whether or not to build enclosed structures but as long as they comply with the fire safety measures, any design is all right.”
While the fire may have destroyed a major commercial landmark in the city, it also showed the bayanihan spirit of the Cebuanos.
Firemen were given water, food and vitamins by nearby hotels, merchants and other individuals as they combat the fire for two days.
“Since the fire at Metro Ayala started, we received a lot of help from various sectors. People here and there called to ask how they can help. I’m very happy with the gesture. Our firefighters and emergency responders were well taken cared of, and we never had any problem with food, water and other supplies,” said Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO) chief Nagiel Bañacia. (see separate story)
50 fire trucks, over 100 firefighters
When the fire first struck on Friday night, responders from outside of Cebu City came from the neighboring cities of Mandaue and Talisay. By Saturday, however, firefighting units from as far as Danao City in the north and Naga City in the south were ask to assist.
At least 50 fire trucks and over a hundred firemen and volunteers worked from dusk til dawn to reduce the fire to the smoldering amber that it became by Sunday night.
Firefighters had a hard time containing the flames which started at the department store’s third floor due to the heat and the thick smoke inside the enclosed space.
Responders had to use two jack hammers and a crane to drill into the department store’s walls and roofs to ventilate the building and release the smoke and heat.
Bañacia said the government spent P1.5 million for the Aqueous Film-Forming Foam Concentrates (AFFF), which was mixed with water to extinguish highly-flammable materials.
Metro Ayala, which is owned by Vicsal Development Corporation, was built in 1994 at the Cebu Business Park, a business district operated by Cebu Holdings Inc., an affiliate of Ayala Land Inc.
The Metro Ayala blaze was the second fire to hit Cebu City that lasted more than 24 hours before it was completely placed under control.
In 2011, a fire gutted Gaisano Capital South, an establishment in downtown Cebu City owned by another branch of the Gaisano clan. It took about a week before firefighters completely put out the flames inside the enclosed building.
Bañacia said controlling the Metro Ayala fire in less than two days is way better than the fire incident at Gaisano Capital South years ago.
“The Metro Ayala incident was organized and managed well. We were able to extinguish the fire, unlike the Gaisano Capital South incident when firefighters just allowed the blaze to devour the entire structure,” he said.
Bañacia said he was grateful to various sectors who joined hands to put out the fire at Metro Ayala.
“It is the primary responsibility of the government to protect its citizens. Thank God, we have not encountered any serious problems in putting out the fire,” he said.
Bañacia on Sunday also lifted the haze alert in Cebu City as the fire and smoke at Metro Ayala had died down.
Bañacia said they will meet with CDRRMO officers in the coming days to discuss how they performed during the Metro Ayala fire.
“As in previous instances, we will talk about three aspects: What went well?, What went wrong?, and any recommendations for future operations,” he said.
“I’m just happy that the bayanihan spirit in Cebu is alive,” he added.