Arson probers still looking for clues
Arson investigators has summoned at least four people whom they believe could shed light on what really caused the fire that levelled a slum area in Cebu City on Tuesday.
Chief Insp. Rogelio Bongabong Jr., the city fire marshal, said the arson investigation section of the Cebu City Fire Station has already sent out invitations to the four residents of an area in barangay Barrio Luz which was destroyed by the fire.
SF01 Louell Opolentisima, an arson investigator, said that based on the statements gathered from residents, the possibilities could be narrowed down to two – an electrical short circuit and untended cooking.
Varying accounts from witnesses indicate that a spark that came from a power line near the house of Mario Villaflor in sitio Abellana started the fire.
One witness claimed that a cooking gas canister had exploded while there were those who said they heard explosions before the fire spread. Children were also reportedly seen playing with matches moments before the blaze started.
“We are still gathering witnesses for us to determine what really caused the fire,” Opolentisima said.
He said they initially wanted to return to the house where the fire reportedly started to gather debris for forensic testing, but they later reconsidered as the fire scene was already “contaminated”.
“So many people have already gotten in and out of the burnt house,” Opolentisima said.
‘We didn’t start the fire’
Leonides “Eding” Villaflor, 59, wife of the owner of the house where the fire allegedly started, vehemently denied allegations that her grandchildren were playing with matches.
“Di gyod intawn na tinuod ma’m. Ang akong mga apo, wala sila diri sa amoa, tua sila didto sa complex nangaligog uwan, kami ra sa akong umagad ug gamayng apo ang nahabilin diri sa amoa,” she said.
(That’s not true, ma’m. My grandchildren were not at home, they’re playing in the rain at the sports complex. The only ones left behind with me were my daughter-in-law and a younger grandchild.)
She said she and her daughter-in-law, Editha, were watching television when she heard a blast from the second floor of their house.
Villaflor said she immediately checked on the source of the blast and found flames spreading fast from the roof. She said she had the presence of mind to switch off the main power switch of their house in the hope it would help stop the fire.
“Nakurentihan pa gali ko ma’m pero wala nalang nako panumbalinga kay ang ako mapawng gyud to ang kayo,” Villafor said.
(I even got grounded, but I persevered as I just wanted to put out the fire.)
Her husband Mario said he was not at home when the fire struck.
“Gikan ko ato’g I.T, Park, namunit og mga plastic. Wa ko diri ato oy,” he said. (I was scavenging for scrap at the Cebu I.T. Park. I was not here.)
Asked for her reaction that they were being blamed by their neighbors for the fire, Mrs Villafor said: ”Ang Ginoo ray bahala ato nila, ma’m kon kinsa man gali ang nag-istorya ana. Basta kay wa gyud intawn nagduwa og posporo akong mga apo, nangaligo gyud silag uwan ato. Kami pod, nanan-aw ra mi og TV sa sala.
“Since 1970 pa gud mi diha nagpuyo, siyaro pud og di ko mobadlong sa akong mga apo og nagduwa man sila og kayo. Ang posporo ug lighter di man gyud namo ipaduol sa ila, amo man gyud itago.”
(To whoever is spreading that story, I leave it to God. I insist that my grandchildren were not playing with matches, they were playing under the rain at the time while we were just watching TV. We’ve been living here since 1970 and it’s unthinkable that we would not stop our grandchildren from playing with fire. We don’t even allow them to get near matches or lighters which we keep in a safe place.)
STATE OF CALAMITY
The Cebu City Council yesterday placed three fire-affected sitios in barangay Barrio Luz under a state of calamity.
As of 3 p.m. yesterday, the Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) accounted for 128 houses and structures destroyed in the fire displacing 265 families consisting of 1,032 individuals.
“They need food and sleeping materials kay kasagaran nila walay nadala pag-igo sa sunog,” said acting barangay captain Jerome Pagador.
Fire victims especially the children were made to occupy classrooms at the nearby Barrio Luz Elementary School on Tuesday night. They were transferred to the school gym and on tents set up by the city government before classes opened at 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning so as not to disrupt classes at the elementary school.
“We will have to adopt this set up for now because there is nowhere else that we can put them. Ang important is that the children are safe at nighttime,” said acting Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella.
Members of the Barrio Luz barangay council convened for a special session Tuesday night to declare sitios of Abellana, Sto Niño and Sta. Cruz under a state of calamity. The barangay resolution was immediately sent to the City Council yesterday.
The fire victims are expected to receive relief goods, P10,000 cash assistance and construction materials from City Hall.
DSWS head Ester Concha said they already started serving packed meals to fire victims Tuesday night and would continue doing so in three days. Release of the other assistance will be made in the coming days.
Labella said reblocking will have to be done in the densely populated community to prevent a repeat of Tuesday’s fire.
“But rest assured they will all be allowed to rebuild their homes when reblocking is completed,” he said. /with reports from Doris C. Bongcac, Chito O. Aragon and Carinne M. Asutilla
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