SAWANG CALERO FIRE: Another inferno

Aerial view of Sitio Kanipaan in Barangay Sawang Calero, Cebu City, that was struck by a fire before midnight on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 and burned down 145 houses before it was placed under control at 12:50 a.m. on Friday. The fire left 260 families or 944 individuals homeless.
CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA

The 4th big fire to hit Cebu left 260 families with no home

Screams of “Naay sunog!” woke Lindly Ann Solomon, 42, from her sleep late on Thursday evening.

Solomon said she immediately grabbed her month-old grandchild and the small image of the Sto. Niño, which she kept on their altar before she fled for safety.

It was only later when she realized that she left everything else behind, including the P12,000 cash that she set aside to buy fresh fish that she was supposed to sell at the Pasil Fish Market on Friday morning.

“Bahala na akong mga gamit. Akong gisiguro akong bag-ong na tawo nga apo ug among Sto. Niño (My possessions did not matter. What was more important was my newborn grandchild and our Sto. Niño),” Solomon, a fish vendor, told Cebu Daily News.

Solomon was among the close to a thousand individuals who were left homeless by the fire, which burned homes in Sitio Kanipaan in Barangay Sawang Calero shortly before midnight on Thursday.

As of 6 p.m. yesterday, barangay officials already listed a total of 145 homes that were burned down by the more than an hour long fire, which left 260 families consisting of 944 individuals homeless.

One of the fire victims was brought to the Cebu City Medical Center for the treatment of a cut on his right ankle.

The Sawang Calero fire was now the fourth major fire incident to hit Cebu City since the New Year. The three other incidents were the three-day fire that struck on Jan. 5 and gutted the six-storey Metro Ayala Department Store at Ayala Center Cebu mall complex; the Barangay Pasil fire on Jan. 14, which destroyed nearly 300 houses in three sitios, displacing 400 families; and the Barangay Duljo Fatima blazed on Jan. 16 that destroyed 10 houses.

Fire authorities placed the damage caused by the Sawang Calero fire at P2 million, as most of the houses razed by the fire were made of light materials.

State of calamity

Barangay Captain Ariel Yburan said they would continue to verify their list of fire victims to make sure that only the affected families would receive aid from the barangay and City Hall.

Barangay officials convened at 2 a.m. on Friday to place Sitio Kanipaan under a state of calamity to facilitate use of their calamity funds to aid the fire victims who are badly in need of construction materials, tents and kitchen utensils, among others.

Yburan said they will use the balance of P200,000 from last year’s quick response funds to aid the affected families since their barangay council has not yet approved their 2018 budget.

‘Inferno’

Solomon and her husband Arthuro were already asleep when the fire broke at 11:26 p.m. on Thursday.

They were sleeping with their month-old grandchild when they heard neighbors scream “naay sunog!”

Arthuro, she said, tried to save some belongings but their surrounding was getting too hot, as the fire was, by then, getting to close to where they were.
“Mura na siya og impyerno sa kainit. Dili matabang ang iyang kainit (It was like we were in a raging inferno. We could no longer bear the heat),” Solomon added.

The Solomons lived 10 houses away from the origin of the fire, the second floor room leased by couple Jestoni Fernandez and Kristine Vorgos.
While no one was certain how the fire started, neighbors heard the couple fighting a few minutes before it broke.

Fernandez and Vorgos occupy a second floor room of the house owned by Fernandez’ uncle Eduardo.

The house, located at least 30 meters from the barangay road, did not have an electrical connection.

Narrow roads

Fire Chief Insp. Noel Ababon, Cebu City Fire Marshall, said small roads made it difficult for fire fighters to immediately penetrate the fire site, which is located about 500 meters from N. Bacalso Avenue, causing the flame to immediately spread to nearby houses that were also made of light materials.

Ababon said the presence of vehicles that were illegaly parked on the barangay road also obstructed the way of fire trucks. The same situation was also experienced when they responded to the Jan. 14 fire that hit Barangay Pasil.

Fire Supt. Ceasar Patrocinio, Cebu Provincial Fire Marshall and the ground commander in the Sawang Calero fire, said they received the fire alarm at 11:26 p.m. on Thursday. By 11:54 p.m., they placed the fire alarm under task force alpha, which prompting firefighters from neighboring Local Government Units in Metro Cebu to also respond to the emergency.

The fire was placed under control at around 1 a.m. and was declared as fire out by 5:35 a.m. or six hours after it broke out.

Bayanihan

While the fire raged, volunteers at the Missionaries of the Poor Little Lamb Center in Sawang Calero evacuated 42 children with disabilities who were under their custody.

They started to board the children on wheelchairs to bring them to safety.

Firefighters, neighbors and barangay workers also helped in the evacuation of the children.

Raul, who lived close to the center and helped in the evacuation of the children, said he did not mind that he was not able to save his personal belongings from his burning house, as he was more concern about the safety of the children who were inside the center.

“I did not anymore pay attention to my personal belongings since there are so many of them at the center that needed help,” said Raul partly in Cebuano.

The children, most of whom were physically handicapped, were later allowed to return to their quarters after the fire spared the center.

Firefighters trained their hoses at the compound of the Missionaries of the Poor to make sure that the fire would not reach the center.

Nagiel Bañacia, head of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CCDRRMO), said most of the fire victims were housed at the Sawang Calero gym.

Others occupied tents that they set up at the grounds of the Missionaries of the Poor Little Lamb Center, which is right beside the fire site.

Investigation

Ababon said they will summon Fernandez and Vorgos to appear before their office and shed light about their alleged involvement in the fire incident.
They wanted to verify reports that the couple engaged in a heated argument before the fire broke.

He said there were talks circulating in the neighborhood that Vorgos bought kerosine from a nearby store Thursday night.

Another neighbor said the fire broke after Fernandez stormed out of the house and headed for downtown Cebu City.

Within hours after the fire was put out, Sawang Calero Councilman Ramon Diamante fetched Fernandez and Vorgos, whom he caught up with along Colon Street in Cebu City. It was unclear what the couple was doing in the area at that time.

Diamante turned them over to the San Nicolas Police Station for safekeeping on Friday dawn.

PO2 Jose Edward Acop said they allowed the two to stay at the police station to safeguard them from angry neighbors. They were allowed to leave the police station on Friday morning.

Acop explained they had no basis to detain the two since no charge has been filed against them./With Reports from Chris Ligan

READ NEXT

More drug addicts in LuzViMin, less in NCR — SWS survey

Outbrain