MANILA, Philippines — The huge predawn fire, which left two children dead and 2,000 families homeless at a community of informal settlers in Makati City, on Sunday, may have been deliberately set by one of the residents, according to city fire officials.
Superintendent Ricardo Perdigon, Makati fire marshal, said that investigators were looking for a man identified only as “Blue.” He was renting the second floor of the house at 96-B Guijo Ext. in Barangay (village) Cembo where the blaze started.
Witnesses told fire officials that shortly before the fire broke out at 12:10 a.m. on Sunday, Blue fought with his wife and threatened to burn down their house.
“The neighbors heard him shouting that he would set the house on fire and moments later, neighbors found the house already ablaze,” case investigator, Senior Fire Officer 1 Rorycarl Dalmacio, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the phone.
The fire reached the highest alert level— general alarm—and raged for nearly three hours before it was put out at 3 a.m. It grew so big that the flames crossed over to nearby Barangay Guadalupe Nuevo despite a creek, which separated it from Barangay Cembo.
“The fire quickly reached the next barangay because there were a lot of illegal structures built along the creek,” Perdigon said.
He added that arson investigators were still assessing the damage caused by the fire but according to their records, it destroyed 500 houses made of light materials.
While nearly 2,000 families were lamenting the loss of their houses, vegetable vendor Romanuel Ariola was grief-stricken over the death of his children, 6-year-old Roselyn and Robert, aged 3.
According to a fire official, Roselyn and Robert were locked up inside the house while their father was at the public market selling vegetables.
“[Ariola] told us it was the first time he had locked up the children inside the house. He said he usually asked his relatives to watch over the kids while he was at work,” Dalmacio said, noting that the children’s mother no longer lived with them.
Upon learning that the residential compound where he lived was on fire, Ariola rushed back to his house.
“But when he arrived, it was too late and there was no way to get near the burning structures,” Dalmacio added.
He said that neighbors even heard the children crying for help. “Fire victims usually die first from suffocation, not because of burns,” he told the Inquirer.
Firefighters later found the charred remains of the two children under what remained of the burnt house. Perdigon said it took three hours and 110 fire trucks to put out the blaze.
Violence erupted at one point when some residents attacked some of the firefighters who were manning the fire hydrants because of their desperation to put out the blaze, the fire marshal said.
As a result, some volunteers were injured, prompting Perdigon to seek help from the Makati police.