By Kier Belleza
CEBU CITY – The fire that hit the six-storey Metro Department Store and Supermarket – Ayala Center in this city last Friday evening had been declared out this afternoon.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Central Visayas director Senior Supt. Samuel Tadeo said the declaration was made at 4:18 p.m.
But Tadeo said authorities would still remain in the area as they are not discounting the possibility of the fire rekindling inside the mall.
In fact, a number of fire trucks and ambulances were put on standby should an untoward incident happen.
He, however, made it clear that embers or smoke were no longer visible even from the outside of the fire-gutted structure.
“The reason why it took us some time to declare a fire out was we had to make sure that the last ember was extinguished,” Tadeo explained.
The fire official also gave a go-ahead for other wings of the mall not affected by the fire to resume operations starting tomorrow. “But the final decision would still be up to the mall management,” Tadeo added.
Meanwhile, a composite team has started an investigation into the blaze that broke out at around 9:30 p.m. on Friday.
BFP-7 assistant regional director for operations Supt. Rolando Orbeta said the 15-man team went into the third floor of the fire-stricken building to collect debris at 9 a.m. until noon today.
Orbeta said this was done for investigators to determine what could have caused the conflagration that started from the stock room for toys on the same level.
Investigators continue to take a very cautious approach due to the building’s stability issues. Other firefighters and volunteers were no longer made to enter the building. The team is composed of personnel from the regional, provincial and city fire offices.
The fire was placed under control yesterday at 12:45 p.m., or 39 hours after it was reported to have started.
Tadeo earlier said it took them nearly 40 hours to place the fire under control as the mall had stocks of plastics and textiles that were highly combustible.
Tadeo also 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, It may also reach a half billion.”
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.
There were no reported casualties. Tadeo said no one was trapped inside the building due to the swift and orderly evacuation procedures.
Meanwhile, Vincent Tomaneng, corporate secretary and chief legal counsel of Metro Retail Stores Group Inc. denied speculations that the mall was purposefully torched for insurance claims.
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.”
Tomaneng earlier said they will address the needs and concerns of displaced employees and that necessary arrangements will be carried out in due time.
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