Post Office fire ‘purely accidental’
MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has ruled out arson as the cause of the fire that gutted the historic Manila Central Post Office Building, saying the May 21 blaze was “purely accidental.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Philippine Postal Corp. (PPC) declared the case “closed and solved,” following the BFP’s issuance of a fire clearance certificate that determined no foul play in the fire that engulfed Manila’s nearly century-old “architectural jewel.”
Based on the BFP’s report, the fire originated in the Mega Manila Storage Room in the southern part of the building’s basement, “where office supplies, thinners, paint cans where piled in close proximity to the car batteries stored inside the room.”
“On the determined cause of fire, it has been established, based on the pieces of evidence gathered, … the statement of the witness and the result of the laboratory examinations, that the cause of fire is attributed to sudden self-discharge of car battery (sulfation) resulting [in] thermal runaway, causing sudden buildup of heat and pressure, and eventually … the explosion,” the PPC said, citing the BFP report.
Sulfation is the formation of lead sulfate crystals on the surface and pores of the battery’s lead plates. This significantly shortens battery life and may lead to an increase in heat buildup within the battery.
According to the BFP, the combustibility of the battery’s load contents and its enclosed setup “greatly influenced heat build-up that explains the explosion and subsequent conflagration.”
The BFP’s investigation was completed two weeks after the fire late that Sunday evening—faster than arson investigators’ earlier estimate of 45 days.
The bureau placed the damage at P300 million to P500 million, but that estimate may increase, since the interior of the post office was made of expensive materials, such as narra and molave hardwood, and many antique works had been destroyed.
Wick Veloso, president and general manager of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), said the Post Office was insured for P604 million—the building itself for P406 million, and the objects inside it, including furniture and other fixtures, for P198 million.
The insurance, however, does not cover the letters and parcels lost in the fire, including around 5,000 to 7,000 national ID cards due to be delivered.
The GSIS said it was willing to provide a loan to the PPC for the reconstruction of the building.
The building, declared in 2018 as an important cultural property, was designed by architects Juan Arellano, who also designed the Manila Metropolitan Theater and the Old Legislative Building; Tomas Mapua, who was behind the St. La Salle Hall of the De La Salle University; and Ralph Doane.
It was damaged during the Battle for Manila in 1945 but rebuilt in 1946.