Possible violations eyed in Metro Ayala fire

By Benjie B. Talisic January 07,2018

CEBU CITY– Fire investigators are looking into possible violations by the management of Metro Ayala in Cebu City following the fire that broke out and damaged the department store on Friday evening.

Supt. Ronaldo Orbeta, deputy director for operations of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas (BFP-7) and ground commander, said they received reports that Metro Ayala’s sprinklers and fire alarm did not function.

“We’re conducting an investigation to determine whether or not there were violations. We will also invite the persons who were present in the storage room where the fire started,” he said in an interview.

Orbeta said they had yet to establish the cause of the blaze that destroyed the establishment’s five floors. The fire department also still has to determine the cost of the damage.

“What we can say for now is that there are no injured persons or any casualties due to the fire,” Orbeta said.

The fire at Metro Ayala had been “contained in the area” but was not under control as of 1 p.m. on Saturday, about 15 hours since the flames broke out. The fire had not spread to the adjacent Ayala Center Cebu although the mall remained closed and the employees evacuated as a preventive measure.

A haze alert was issued by Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office ( CDRRMO) chief Nagiel Bañacia on Saturday morning due to the smoke from the ongoing fire.

The thick smoke had enveloped most of the Cebu Business Park which the store was located as well as the establishments in front.

Face masks were distributed by the Cebu City Health Department to people who passed by the street near the fire scene.

Nearby establishments and homes were advised to take some precautionary measures, and to temporarily evacuate to avoid the thick smoke.

Two jack hammers and a crane were used to drill into the department store’s walls.

The fire broke out at 9:44 p.m. from the storage room of the toy department located on the third floor. It spread to the upper floors and the second floor.

The department store’s two basements and ground floor were spared from the flames.

At 8:45 a.m., the fire department had raised the fire alarm into task force bravo, which meant all fire stations from Danao City down to Naga City were asked to respond to the fire alarm.

“Our problem was we had limited breathing apparatus and there was zero visibility inside the department store which was an enclosed space,” Orbita explained.

“We are currently working on drilling holes on the building’s walls to relieve the smoke and heat,” he added.

Orbita said they expected to completely put out the fire in two to three days.

“Once we will be able to ventilate the building, firefighters will be able to penetrate it,” he said. Bañacia, in a separate interview, said at least 50 fire trucks responded to the fire alarm since Friday evening.

“We tried our best to contain the fire so that it won’t spread to adjacent establishments,” he said.

Bañacia said there was a possibility that the Metro Ayala sprinklers did not function when the fire broke out.

“Sprinkling systems are installed in enclosed areas so that when it detect heat, it will automatically splash water over the place. Had the Metro Ayala sprinklers functioned, the damage could not have been this bad,” he said.

Vince Tomaning, legal officer of Vicsal Development Corporation, said they were closely working with the BFP and other emergency response teams to manage the situation.

“All customers and personnel were safely evacuated. There are no casualties and serious injuries reported. At of this time, the firefighters are still working on putting out the fire,” he said.

Vicsal is a private family corporation of the Gaisanos who own and operate a chain of department stores and supermarkets, including Metro Ayala which opened in 1994.

“The management of Metro Gaisano would like to thank everyone, the firefighters, the volunteers, the government personnel, its employees, concerned citizens, and all those who have helped and assisted in putting off the fire,” Tomaning said.

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