CEBU, Philippines – Lack of safety measures has been blamed on the firecracker blaze that killed at least three people – including two children – and injured six others in Mandaue City on Christmas Eve.
Although the area of the incident in barangay Sentro, Mandaue City has been declared a firecracker zone for the Christmas and New Year revelries, safety measures were allegedly not being put in place.
Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes said he and other city officials were saddened over the incident. But he assured that regulating the sale of pyrotechnic items will remain their primary concern.
The city government is now discouraging the selling of firecrackers and other pyrotechnics within the city as a result of the incident.
All permits to sale, except those issued to licensed pyrotechnic traders, were revoked while investigation has been ongoing into the incident.
Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna said the vacant area in barangay Sentro should have not been designated as site for firecracker vendors because of its proximity to a gasoline station.
Fortuna said the spacing of stalls that could have prevented the quick spread of fire was overlooked.
The Mandaue City Fire Department received the report of the explosion around 10:26 p.m. on December 24.
Initial investigation shows that the fire started at stall number 27. There was a total of 58 firecracker stalls in the area.
Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated, witnesses claimed it was a firecracker that started the chain of explosions.
It was reported that the fire started when a buyer was testing a firecracker at one of the shops. The skyrocket or “kwitis” he was testing suddenly flew and landed on firecracker products in other stalls, igniting a series of explosions
MCFD Deputy Fire Marshall Inspector Jose M. Laurito said that the fire took less than two minutes to consume the whole area.
Hundreds of people were estimated to have converged in the area before the incident occurred. A stampede ensued when people rushed away from the fire.
The casualties were identified as seven-year-old Akmad Villacorta, eight-year-old Osama Renabatan and Minombao Bulao.
Injured were Hanifa Mustafa, 11, with first-degree burn; Michelle Almeda, 24, fractured left leg; Ibrahim Mosmira, 25, second-degree burn; Lemuel Roy Flores, 14, leg abrasion; Mary Ruth Ladavos, 10, first-degree burn; and Thelma Lacsama, 45, first-degree burn.
Laurito said that the fire, which quickly spread, started at the center of the area. It was controlled after three minutes and was totally out in an hour.
Cortes said it was actually better to have all firecracker products sold in one area. He said it is more dangerous if these explosive products are allowed to be sold just anywhere in the city.
But Fortuna said the fact that stalls are not spaced properly made the area susceptible to incidents. He believes that those who issued permits to the vendors to sell firecrackers in the area must be held liable for the incident.
“Safety was never considered. We could have limited the extent of damage had the stalls been spaced accordingly. Just like in Lapu-Lapu where each stall is about 25 meters away from each other. They know that firecrackers are incontrollable,” Fortuna said.
Fortuna added that the body that issued permits to vendors should have limited the number of stalls in the area to have enough space.
But Laurito said they made sure those vendors were legitimate and have complied with the requirements before a permit to sell was issued to them.
The vendors were required to have fire extinguishers and barrels of water and were also warned that smoking and testing are strictly prohibited.
Cortes said city officials should not resort to blaming each other since nobody wanted the accident to happen.
Prohibiting the sale of pyrotechnic products will be implemented until such time measures to avoid firecracker accidents are put in place.
“We could anyway best celebrate New Year without these items. Due to the recent tragedy, we would have to make some sacrifices,” Cortes said.
Cortes said the city will be providing financial assistance to the victims. He will meet with the council members and department heads tomorrow to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, the Cebu City Police Office is heightening its campaign against firecracker products sold in the city’s downtown areas following the incident in Mandaue City.
The Cebu City Council had passed a resolution allowing the sale of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic products only at the South Road Properties.
This means that the sale of firecracker products along Colon Street and other downtown areas are illegal.
“Daghan na ta og nasakmit. Pagka karon basi sa among monitoring gamay pa ang nag-display sa downtown, akong ipa-check pag-usab, unya operate na usab mi. Nasayod na man na sila nga gidili na ang pagbaligya og pabuto sa downtown area,” police director Patrocinio Comendador said.
Mayor Tomas Osmeña said he is waiting for the recommendation of Councilors Augustus Pe Jr. and Sylvan “Jack” Jakosalem, chairman and vice chair of the council committee on peace and order, whether to deploy a firetruck at the firecracker zone at SRP.
Pe said the police and fire officials are reminding the public that firecrackers are only sold at the SRP, meaning those displayed outside the SRP will be confiscated.
Fire marshal Esmael Codilla said the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) will not issue permit to those firecracker dealers who are selling their products outside the SRP. — With Rene U. Borromeo/LPM (FREEMAN NEWS)