Christmas Day unleashed hell instead of bringing joy in Quezon City and San Juan, where seven people died in predawn fires and another was killed in an ensuing riot as residents vented their panicked rage on firemen.
At least 19 people were wounded and thousands were left homeless in the two infernos which authorities initially traced to electrical circuits that had probably overloaded from increased use during Christmas Eve parties.
After battling an hour-long blaze that began before dawn Tuesday, firefighters recovered seven charred bodies—all believed to be from one household—from a burnt, two-story apartment complex on Rest Haven Street, Barangay (village) Bungad, Quezon City.
Senior Fire Officer 3 Jose Felipe Arreza said the bodies were believed to be that of Dr. Carlos Filamor Sr., his wife Corina, 50; their two children, Carlos Jr., 25, and Eva, 26; Eva’s two sons, Miguel Andrei Mutuc and Mateo Aaron Mutuc; and their househelp Marina Ayon, 48.
Dr. Filamor, a veterinarian, owned the gated 16-unit apartment complex, his home facing two buildings occupied by the tenants. He operated a clinic in the compound, where the carcasses of a dog and cat were also recovered.
Senior Superintendent Aderson Comar, assistant regional director for operations of the Bureau of Fire Protection–National Capital Region, said investigators may have to look for dental records to ascertain the identities of the dead, who were all burned beyond recognition.
A tenant recalled hearing shouts for help and “Sunog! (Fire!)” before seeing the Filamor residence already in flames around 5:30 a.m.
Comar said two of the victims were later found at the main door of the Filamor unit, one in a room on the second floor, one in the kitchen, one inside the ground floor toilet, and one at the living room.
The seventh body was recovered around 2 p.m. at another unit, 16B, which was two doors away from the Filamors’ home. Quezon City deputy fire marshal Samuel Tadeo said this could be the remains of Carlos Jr., who was seen jumping from a second-floor window and landing on his knees.
With the fire preventing them from getting to the gate, tenants managed to escape by climbing over the perimeter wall using a ladder and jumping into a neighboring vacant lot.
Arreza said the fire apparently started from the ground floor of the Filamors’ unit and may been caused by a faulty Christmas light installation or an electrical appliance that overloaded. He placed the damage at P5 million.
In San Juan, another fire that struck on Christmas Day left one person dead and 19 more injured, including three firefighters who were wounded in the riot.
The shantytown blaze reportedly started from the house of Francisco Paulate on Marne Street in Barangay St. Joseph around 2:25 a.m., and left some 2,000 families homeless, a figure that equates to at least 8,000 people.
BFP-NCR head Chief Superintendent Santiago Laguna said the fire sparked a riot that left one man dead and led to the arrest of two others.
“They (residents) started grabbing hoses from our firefighters, who could not do anything as they feared for their own safety,” Laguna said in a radio interview.
A man was beaten up and later died from his injuries in the melee as the blaze consumed the shantytown, he added. “They mistook him for a fireman,” he said of the victim.
‘Residents to blame’
Laguna said residents were apparently infuriated by the delayed arrival of firefighters and took it upon themselves to grab fire hoses to aim at their blazing shanties.
However, he said the residents were themselves to blame. “Our firetrucks had difficulty entering the narrow streets that were blocked by parked cars and carts,” he said. “Our firefighters had to drag the hoses into the alleys, where they were attacked.”
Fire Officer 1 Jericho Ala identified the fatality in the riot as Michael Munoz, 32, a resident of Barangay St. Joseph.
But in Ala’s version of the incident, Munoz was mauled to death because the residents suspected him of starting the fire.
Two firemen—Senior Fire Officer 2 Ramon Abrera and volunteer Wilfredo Tiongson—sustained cuts in the head after being hit by bottles thrown by the rioters. FO1 Lizandro Ocampo suffered bruises after being punched and kicked.
‘Drunk, possibly on drugs’
San Juan City fire marshal, Chief Insp. Gilbert Dolot, said there were also reports of residents pointing guns at the firefighters. “The crowd was uncontrollable. Some of the residents were drunk as it was Christmas Eve, while others were possibly high on drugs,” Dolot said.
Like Laguna, Dolot said the unruly crowd was the primary reason why it took firefighters almost five hours to put out the fire.
He said up to 60 firetrucks responded to the emergency, but 20 to 30 of them later pulled out of the area as the firemen began fearing for their lives.
The Dec. 25 infernos came a day after two fires left 15 families homeless in Pasig City and engulfed three commercial buildings in Manila’s Divisoria market area on Christmas Eve. With a report from AFP