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7 die in Olongapo hotel fire

3 Americans among fatalities in expats’ village
/ 05:09 AM January 12, 2013

OLONGAPO CITY—Barrio Baretto here has always been the enclave of foreigners, whether as the unofficial red light district catering to the Subic naval base until 1991 or as a community of expatriates.

So many foreigners were shocked on Friday when they heard that an early morning fire had killed three Americans, a Korean and three Filipino women.

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It didn’t help when authorities kept information about the tragedy down to a trickle.

Police said the fire struck some of the rooms of the two-story Dryden Hotel, Bar and Restaurant, killing James Brigate, Patrick Burk and Joseph Valuso, all Americans, and Kyung Ook Kim, a Korean.

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Three Filipino women were also killed but only Rebecca Perez, also known here as “Jessica,” had been identified by police. The body of one of the women was found tucked in a corner, apparently in a failed bid to escape from the fire.

Arson investigators have yet to determine how the fire started but they estimate that the damage could run to P1 million.

PO1 Elmer Bunio of the Olongapo police said three steel vaults were taken from the burnt section of the hotel for safekeeping pending the investigation.

 

Fire exit was closed

Firemen also found out that the hotel’s fire exit was closed when the fire broke out at 3:30 a.m. The fire was tapped out at about 5 a.m.

The neighborhood, dominated by Americans, Australians, Canadians and Europeans, has no idea how the fire began. John Plane, a retired fire chief who worked for the United States Army and Navy for 40 years before retiring in Barrio Baretto, said the casualty count was high for the expat neighborhood.

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“It was bad. That’s bad, man,” Plane said. He theorized that the victims could have died from asphyxiation.

“All the hot air goes to the top. If [the hotel guests] got up and stood up [to escape the fire], the upper part of the ceiling would have been covered with hot gases. Once they stood up, and took a breath, it just [burned their] system,” he said.

He said he frequents the place. “The ground floor is intact. On the second floor, there are rooms at the back, and a hall way. It could have started in one of the rooms,” he said. “When you see the roofing warped like that, it [tells me it was] a hot fire,” he added.

“This is a close knit community in many ways. People have been here for years and we sort of know each other. So when something like this happens, it’s like there’s a death in the family. We are of course devastated,” said an American who declined to give his name. The identity of the hotel owner has not been made public by investigators. But his friend, who asked not to be identified, told the Inquirer that the owner operates two other bars in the area.

Dryden Hotel served to accommodate the owner’s friends and customers, the source said.

Tina Malone, spokesperson of the US Embassy, said they are aware that the fire may have claimed American lives. “We are working with the authorities to confirm this. We offer our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who have been killed or injured in this tragic accident.”  With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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TAGS: Bario Baretto, Fire, Hotel Fire, Olongapo City, Red Light District
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