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12 killed in deadly Navotas City fire

By Niña Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:27:00 01/30/2011

Filed Under: Fire, Disasters & Accidents, Philippines - Metro

MANILA, Philippines?An old man and his 10-year-old grandson were locked in an embrace when firefighters found them inside their burnt house in Navotas City yesterday morning.

Carlos Blancaflor, 92, and Gerald were among the 12 people who were killed when a fire which raged for more than three hours broke out in the middle of a community on A. Liongson Street, which was accessible only through an alley which was about a meter wide.

Firefighters, even the veterans, were moved by the sight of burnt bodies buried underneath heaps of collapsed concrete beams and roofing material, Senior Fire Officer 4 Joselito Dugan, operations chief of the city?s Bureau of Fire Protection, told the Inquirer.

After the fire was placed under control at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, nothing was left in the residential compound except for ashes and gutted homes. A total of 100 houses were burned while 130 families were left homeless.

Six of the dead were children, the youngest among them a year-old baby.

Superintendent Felix Medes, Navotas fire marshal, said one of the victims, 62-year-old Remedios Ortillana, died of a heart attack when she saw how the barangay (village), which was supposed to celebrate the feast day of its patron saint San Roque Sunday, was consumed by flames.

According to Medes, the fire started at 11:08 p.m. on Saturday in the house of George Milagrosa, 28, who neighbors described as ?mentally ill with a history of drug abuse.?

Milagrosa, who was believed to have started the fire, also burned to death. Since his house was next to the narrow alley, residents living near the back of the community were trapped while firemen could not get inside the area.

A strong breeze that fanned the flames also worsened the situation and the fire reached the fifth alarm before it was placed under control at 2:30 a.m.

?It was at that time we saw the bodies of the victims,? Medes said.

What remained of Jennifer Agarin was found beside the burned remains of her children, 1-year-old Harvey and 3-year-old Jessie James. Their grandfather William Agarin, 56, was also killed in an adjacent house.

The other fatalities were Jerod Salonga, 12; Natalia Salonga, 11; Angela Salonga, 10; and Eric Tambor.

?All of them were trapped in the fire because the only pathway in the area was a narrow and dead-end alley,? Medes said.

?Only two people at a time can pass through that alley,? he added.

Era Trinidad, the head teacher of San Roque High School, which was beside the community, saw the fire from the fourth floor of her house nearby. She described the scene as ?hell-like.?

?I could see from my window children jumping and not knowing what to do because the flames have blocked their way,? Trinidad said, tears welling up in her eyes.

A portion of the second floor of the school was also destroyed in the fire.

May and Ronaldo Blancaflor, the parents of 10-year-old Gerald, said they still could not accept that their only son was killed.

?I used to tell him to take care of his ?lolo? (grandfather) and to always stay by his side. Last night, that was exactly what he did, he did not leave his lolo?s side,? Ronaldo said in between sobs.

He said he found Gerald?s favorite toy far away from their house.

?He may have gone back for his grandfather. He should have run away and save himself,? May chimed in in a regretful tone.

?He is now gone. I don?t want to close my eyes because I keep seeing him in deep pain and shouting ?Mama, help me. It?s very hot in here,?? she said.

Francis Agarin, the son of one of the fatalities, said he tried to go back to help his family.

?I know my father and the others were still inside. I wanted to save them but some firefighters stopped me,? he said.

One firefighter also tried to brave the flames when he saw children waving frantically for help. But he was stopped by his own colleagues.

?We couldn?t sleep after that. We wanted to save those children,? the firefighter who asked not to be identified said.

Medes said the residents suspected that Milagrosa may have started the fire because of previous instances in which he was seen playing with matches.

?According to his neighbors, he was a pyromaniac, clapping in joy when seeing something go up in flames,? Medes added.

But the fire marshal said it was too early to say that the fire was caused by arson because witnesses had yet to submit their affidavits.

Based on estimates, P5 million worth of property was destroyed in the blaze.

The victims who have nowhere to go have been moved to the gymnasium of San Roque High School.

?Please help us. All the things we have worked so hard for are now gone,? Jovita Boco, a 57-year-old laundry worker, said.

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