Caloocan mayor orders probe of Gotesco fire | Inquirer News
ARSON OR ACCIDENT?

Caloocan mayor orders probe of Gotesco fire

/ 03:12 AM March 19, 2012

Was it set deliberately or did it break out by accident?

Caloocan Mayor Enrico Echiverri has ordered the city’s fire and Department of the Interior and Local Government officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of Friday’s fire which gutted the Ever Gotesco Grand Central Mall on Rizal Avenue to determine whether or not there was foul play involved.

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“It’s possible that the fire could be a case of arson which could be [the mall] management’s way to escape the payment of its debt to the local government,” Echiverri said in a statement issued Sunday.

No fire out declaration yet

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The fire raged for more than 24 hours before it was placed under control at 11:50 p.m. on Saturday. A clearing operation was ongoing at press time.

The blaze destroyed the five-story establishment, one of the oldest shopping centers in Metro Manila.

In 2009, the city government attempted to take over the mall after Echiverri said Gotesco Investments Inc. failed to pay 23 years’ worth of real property taxes amounting to P722.3 million. The case has yet to be resolved by the courts.

Superintendent Oscar de Asis, Caloocan fire marshal, said the blaze was first reported to a local fire station at 10:45 p.m. on Friday, 15 minutes after it broke out.

“The security guards told us that at first, they thought they could handle it with fire extinguishers,” he told the Inquirer.

When fire fighters finally arrived at the scene, the flames had already spread, forcing them to retreat.

At one point, the fire grew out of control, affecting operations at the Monumento station of the Light Rail Transit Line 1.

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Help from other firemen

The blaze reached Task Force Delta (the third to the last highest fire alarm level) in just a few minutes, prompting city fire officials to ask for help from other fire departments in the metropolis.

According to De Asis, 80 percent of the mall and the goods inside it were destroyed.

The damage to property was still being determined at press time although he said that it would be “tremendously huge.”

Echiverri expressed suspicion over the length of time it took to put out the fire, considering that nearly all fire-fighting units in Metro Manila went to the area.

“The local government has long sought the payment of the outstanding taxes owed to it by Grand Central but the mall’s management has continued to evade its responsibility,” he said.

Fireman airs suspicion

An official who requested anonymity said that the mall’s management was uncooperative during the first few hours of the fire, leading them to suspect that someone wanted the blaze to spread throughout the entire building.

“They refused to give the Bureau of Fire Protection the building’s floor plan which would have helped the authorities penetrate the building easily. The management also refused to allow the firefighters to use some entrance and exit points,” he said.

“But those who would lose everything in the end would be the vendors whose goods were destroyed by the fire,” he added.

The same mall was gutted by a huge fire in 1991, resulting in P100 million worth of property damage.

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TAGS: Caloocan City, Fire, Gotesco mall, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
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