MANILA, Philippines—Around 2,500 families lost their homes in a big fire that struck a depressed community near Edsa in Makati City at around noon on Tuesday.
Initial investigation showed that several residents—including three children, an elderly woman, a pregnant lady and a fire volunteer—suffered minor injuries as they fled from their burning houses in the Laperal Compound at Guadalupe Viejo.
The fire started in the house of a certain Michelle on Bernardino Street and spread quickly to the rest of the settlement.
SFO2 Gerson Moncada of the Makati Fire Department said they were looking at two possible causes: An unattended rice cooker or a computer that overheated.
Quoting Jesusa Magacaling, 52, secretary of the homeowners group in the compound, Moncada said that of the 1,000 structures in the area, 90 percent were destroyed in the fire.
At 12:35 p.m. firefighters declared a general alarm—the highest fire alarm level—which means that all available fire trucks in Metro Manila should help put out the blaze.
The fire was declared under control at 2:05 p.m. but it took another 10 minutes before it was put out.
Around 70 to 80 fire trucks rushed to the site and occupied most of the southbound lane of Edsa, causing heavy traffic in the area and prompting the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to reroute traffic.
A strong breeze that fanned the flames also worsened the situation. Apart from the shanties, billboards in the area also burned.
When the smoke cleared, some 900 shanties had been gutted, leaving about 2,500 families homeless, Moncada said.
Tuesday’s blaze was reportedly the fourth to hit the community which is packed with small houses made of light materials. It is located at the back of the Loyola Memorial Chapels and Crematorium.
The last fire in the area occurred in June 2008, arson investigators said.
This prompted the city government to call on residents to leave the compound and relocate instead to Bulacan and Laguna where there are housing sites ready to accommodate them.
Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay, who went to the area, said the huge compound was privately owned but that informal settlers had over the years erected clusters of homes that the city government had earlier warned were fire hazards.
“The compound had burned down several times in the past,” Binay said. “It is very clear that it is very dangerous to live there.”
Despite his warning, some residents were seen entering the compound to “scavenge” or check what was left of their houses even though firefighters had yet to contain the blaze.
Ella Garcia, 56, a mother of four, said that perhaps, Tuesday’s incident was just meant to test her faith.
“Maybe there’s a reason why all of these things happened. Look at the timing, today’s Holy Tuesday. Maybe He’s just trying to send us a message,” said Garcia in Filipino, tears welling up her eyes as she described the scene as “hell-like.”
“This is probably our penance,” added Joel Salvador, 47, who said that all he was able to save were the clothes he was wearing and his dog. “At least my family’s safe; that’s good enough.”
Binay, meanwhile, instructed the engineering and the social welfare departments to assist the affected residents. With Anna Bettina Pangalangan