By Kier Edison Belleza
CEBU CITY – After 39 hours, the fire that hit the six-story Metro Department Store and Supermarket – Ayala Center in this city was finally declared under control as of 12:45 p.m. today.
The fire broke out at the stock room for toys on the third floor at around 9:30 p.m. Friday. Authorities received the alarm 14 minutes later.
Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Central Visayas director Sr. Supt. Samuel Tadeo said firefighters and volunteers were no longer made to enter the building because of the possibility of the structure becoming unstable.
“What we’re doing now is an external firefighting operation, meaning, our firemen would just douse the mall from the outside because the engineering department of the mall has said it would be risky for us to go inside,” he told reporters.
Tadeo said damage may be over P100 million. “But we would be waiting for the mall management’s affidavit of loss because we would still base our final report on that.”
The fire had reached Task Force Bravo, which corresponds to a seventh alarm level, at 8:45 a.m. yesterday. The alarm was up until the fire department’s declaration that the blaze was already under control.
Around 180 firefighters with 50 fire trucks from different towns and cities in southern and northern parts of Cebu went on shifts to help put out the fire since Friday night.
Fire-out, probe starts
All customers and personnel were safely evacuated at the time the fire started, according to mall management.
Tadeo confirmed the management’s statement, saying no one was trapped inside the building due to swift and orderly evacuation procedures.
It helped that the fire broke out just when the mall was closing for the night.
The fire official acknowledged it is difficult for the BFP to issue an exact time frame as to when the fire will be declared out.
“We will try our best to put out the fire later tonight (Sunday),” Tadeo said.
BFP officials and other emergency responders are set to meet the mall management within today.
Investigators, on the other hand, will be coming in tomorrow to inspect the structural integrity of the building and determine the cause of the fire.
Haze alert lifted
The Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CCDRRMO) has also lifted the haze alert in Cebu City as the fire and smoke at the mall died down.
CCDRRMO chief Nagiel Bañacia noted there were no complaints or reports about the haze yesterday.
CCDRRMO raised a haze alert over Cebu Business Park and nearby areas as thick smoke engulfed barangays Kamputhaw, Luz, Hippodromo, Mabolo and Lahug.
Mall burnt for insurance?
Meanwhile, Vincent Tomaneng, corporate secretary and chief legal counsel of Metro Retail Stores Group Inc. said speculations that the mall was purposefully burned for insurance benefits were untrue.
Tomaneng’s statement came after a number of people, mostly on social media, said otherwise.
He assured a “better Metro will rise again to serve the community.”
Two suspects released
The firm’s legal counsel also said the two backhoe operators were released by cops for humanitarian consideration today after they were arrested yesterday for allegedly stealing shoes at the mall while firefighters were working to put out the blaze.
Arnel Villarta, 39, and Edwin Sarabia, 49, denied the allegation, saying they were just trying on the shoes.
Tomaneng earlier said they will address the needs and concerns of displaced employees and that necessary arrangements will be carried out in due time.
Tomaneng said the Metro Ayala and Ayala Center Cebu emergency brigade teams have been closely working with the BFP and other emergency response teams to manage the situation.
Cebu City Police Office director Sr. Supt Joel Doria had said cops were immediately fielded to bolster security in the area.
He said this will prevent instances of looting and “maybe a bigger damage to properties.”
Doria said some policemen were also deployed to man the traffic on streets around the area.
He assured the police, on their part, will stay in the area until the fire has been completely put out.
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