Kerosene lamp may have set off 43-house blaze
The fire broke out past 5 a.m. in the house of a female rug-maker whose nephew, 21-year-old John Michael Manuel was seen by neighbors trying to put out the flames with a pail of water.
Manuel suffered first-degree burns in his arms and back while trying to save some belongings. He was the only casualty.
The fire in purok Lemonsito, a crowded neighborhood of houses of light materials, was the third one to hit Metro Cebu in four days.
Fire officials have yet to declare the cause of the back-to-back fires in Cebu City that burned down 250 houses in four sitios of barangays Carreta and Tejero on Dec. 10 and then 175 houses in a hilly part of sitios Quiot and Kinasang-an in Pardo on Dec. 11.
With Christmas two weeks away, yesterday’s fire left 54 families without a roof over their head in Mandaue City, adding to the number of 670 displaced families in Cebu City.
The date, Friday the 13th, also set off talks about how it was associated with bad luck.
FO3 Nilo Cosido, Mandaue City Fire investigator said, the cause of the fire is still under investigation but their initial theory was an overturned kerosene lamp in the house.
The fire started past 5 a.m. in the house of 67-year-old Elsa Manuel, who makes rugs for a living from shredded fabric scraps stocked at home.
At that time, Elsa had already stepped out of the house, which is lighted by a kerosene lamp since their electric connection was cut off a few years ago.
Some neighbors openly talked about suspecting her nephew John Michael, who was home alone.
The fire may not have been an accident, said Elsa’s neighbors, Miro Lipa and Florita Veraces, who said the young man appeared unstable and had almost burned down the house twice by playing with fire last year.
Elsa said she had no idea if her nephew had been playing with fire or if the lamp accidentally fell down.
“He woke up early because he was scheduled to go to church that morning. But I left the house ahead,” Elsa said.
Elsa said her nephew, whom she looks after like a son, was depressed, not mentally disturbed. She said the young man longed to meet his mother, who had left him when he was two years old. John graduated from high school but did not continue his studies due to financial constraints, she said.
Veraces, who lives next door, said she saw flames coming from inside the house and saw John Michael dousing it with a pail of water to try to put it out.
Veraces said she shouted for help, got her two children and ran out of the house. She wasn’t able to save any of their belongings.
Bella Hortellano, a 33-year-old resident, rescued her 21-inch TV set and set it aside so that it wouldn’t be reached by the fire. But when she came back for it later, the TV was gone, apparently stolen in the commotion.
Other neighbors reported losing a laptop and other belongings.
Umapad barangay Captain Nelson Rubio said the barangay council declared their area under a state of calamity and will use its standby calamity fund to give financial aid to victims: P1,000 to house owners who lost their homes and P500 for affected renters.
Additional aid will be asked from the Mandaue city government.
Social workers are there to distribute meals for three days and to list down fire victims.
Rubio said fire victims could still rebuild their houses, though most of them were renting the land they occupied. He said the land owner never objected before about their presence.
The alarm was raised to Task Force Alpha to bring in fire trucks from neighboring towns and cities to reinforce efforts since the densely-populated area’s houses were built of light materials.
The fire took 30 minutes to control after it was reported at 5:30 a.m. Property damage was placed at P300,000./with a report by Fe Marie D. Dumaboc
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