Fire razes homes squatting at Juan Luna Street in Ormoc

by EVMail News on August 20, 2012


Ormoc City – About 70 families were affected by the biggest fire to hit the city this year, razing a good portion of District 4 here at around 6:30 on the evening of August 10, 2012, Friday.
Authorities said no casualties have been reported, debunking claims that three children were killed as posted by one rumor monger on Facebook. However, barangay captain Jucela Dumaguit estimated the damage to properties and livelihood to be around P 10-million.
According to residents, the fire started around 6:30 in the evening at the house of Dominador Cabibi. Allegedly, somebody was cooking rice on a gas stove and left it unattended.
However, SF01 Ruel Wenceslao, chief of the intelligence and investigation section of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) here, debunked the claim that the cause of the fire was the gas stove. He said Cabibi’s house was a three-storey edifice and the fire started on the third floor. The kitchen, on the other hand, was located in the ground floor.
Based on his investigation, the cause of the fire was a short on the electrical circuit. A service wire of LEYECO V reportedly already touched the plywood wall of Cabibi’s house and when the wire sparked, the dry plywood easily caught fire. Then, it spread to the curtains and to the bed. Only then did the residents notice the fire, he added.
He further added that the Leyeco V service wires were substandard and old already, in fact, chairwoman Dumaguit already asked Leyeco V to change the wires but the EC did not bother to replace it.
Wenceslao said the concerned neighbors tried to put off the fire on their own but because they had no sufficient water, “that is when their barangay captain called us at around 6:45 PM,” he disclosed.
However, when they responded, their fire trucks could not penetrate the area immediately. Wenceslao said the streets were narrow for their trucks, plus the fact that the formerly Juan Luna Street was already occupied by squatters. “That is why you can see some of our fire trucks have slight damage at the side because we forced our way to get in,” he said, pointing to their trucks after the incident.
Wenceslao pointed out that they positioned themselves in strategic positions to control the fire. One was positioned inside the Ormoc Se San School where a hydrant was nearby, he said. The other was on the JICA river control side, directly in front of the fire.
Because the fire grew bigger, they declared a 3rd alarm which is a signal for firemen from neighboring areas to come and help put out the fire. Those who came were the BFP from Albuera, Tongonan, Baybay City, Isabel, and Philphos.
It was also learned that only five fire trucks assigned at the Ormoc City fire station were used that night. Fire truck No. 7 and its accompanying ladder truck were non-functional and remained parked at the premises of the old city hall where the BFP has its temporary quarters, in the meantime the city government is building a P 10-million building for them.  SFO1 Cesar Bolaño whom the EV Mail caught at their temporary office said the truck conked out “July baga” and immediately left with a limp from a sprain he got from a basketball game.
The soundness of constructing a building over purchasing new fire trucks for the city was passionately argued in the city council by councilor Claudio Larrazabal but lost in the end to the majority vote of his peers.
Back to the fire, the blaze was declared under control by 11:00 PM but it was only at 2:00 AM of the next day that a “fire out” was declared.
Rosalina Omega, a barangay councilor of District 4 and also a victim, is asking the City Government to relocate them. She admitted that most of them were informal settlers though some were able to obtain land titles already. The area badly affected is supposed to be Juan Luna Street which were taken over by squatters.
“Most of us living along Juan Luna St. are squatters. Therefore, we are asking mayor Beboy to finally relocate us. I have been here since birth and we have been asking for relocation for many years already but they did not hear us,” Omega said.
Rodita Marquez, a food vendor who was out that time, was thankful that no one in her family was harmed. She was sad to lose their house and appealed to the authorities to help them rebuild their homes.
City mayor Eric Codilla was seen visiting the area as soon as firemen were able to put the blaze under control. The City Social Welfare and Development Office also geared into action, providing relief goods to the victims and temporary shelter.
The next day, August 11, the fire victims were already busy scavenging for whatever they can salvage from the area. One thing they asked also was that scrap collectors and buyers would not take advantage of the situation.
Congresswoman Lucy Torres-Gomez, on her part, through husband and chief of staff Richard Gomez gave out three straight pre-cooked meals to the victims. Richard Gomez said they will sustain this for the next two to three days in the meantime the victims are still recovering from the disaster.  They are also thinking of extending shelter assistance to the victims, he added.
Meanwhile, councilor Omega expressed her frustration of unkind observations that the area was burned because it was a notorious haven for the illegal drug trade in the city. She said they did not know about illicit trade happening in their village. She added that it is not right to call neither them notorious nor a drug haven in the city.
She did not mention that their own barangay chairwoman, and her husband Mario, were arrested and charged at least for two times after they were caught in police raids for possession and alleged drug trafficking. The recent cases were dismissed on a technicality, which Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Northern Leyte head Ch. Insp. Bernard Lao has appealed with the Court of Appeals.
The raid yielded positive for shabu but except for the illicit drugs, RTC Judge Apolinario H. Buaya’s quashed the search warrant against the Dumaguits claiming that it was issued by a judge who did not have territorial jurisdiction over Ormoc.  with a report and backgrounders from Lalaine M. Jimenea


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