Sound the fire alarm
Are we just imagining it, or is it a given that during Fire Prevention Month the incidence of fire perversely spikes?
March has been observed as Fire Prevention Month since 1966. But the month marks the beginning of summer, when the dry days and the warm air appear to conspire with other factors to wreak havoc on daily life — the devastating, life-crushing emptiness left by a raging, ravenous fire.
The threat of fire has become part of the precarious nature of Filipino urban life, where many improvised structures are made up of flimsy and flammable materials, perfect kindling for a blaze that may break out because of sheer carelessness or unattended heat sources. Entire neighborhoods are known to be reduced to ash and misery because of a faulty electrical wire or a fallen candle.
It has been incumbent on the Bureau of Fire Protection to remind everyone to be mindful of such triggers. Conditions seemed to have improved during a recent time, with the BFP reporting 1,217 fire incidents in Metro Manila in the first quarter of 2017 — a drop from the 1,381 incidents reported during the same period in 2016. The BFP identified the most common causes of fire as faulty electrical connection (578 cases), lighted cigarette butts (191), and open flames (37).
But the first five days of March 2018 saw an astounding 172 fires reported by the BFP in Metro Manila alone.
Take, for example, the fire that struck the crowded residential area of Barangay Botocan in Quezon City on March 6. The fire, actually the second to hit Botocan in the month, was thought to be triggered by an illegal electrical connection.
It raged for six hours, threatening to engulf the nearby Camp Karingal, headquarters of the Quezon City Police District, and prompting policemen to take the precaution of emptying the supply office of firearms, ammunition and documents.
The fire was put out before it could reach the camp. But by then, it had destroyed some 150 houses and displaced some 500 families, causing an estimated P2 million in property damage.
And then there was the fire on March 8 that destroyed another historic structure at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (after the UP Faculty Center in 2016).
For decades the UP Shopping Center was the UP student’s go-to for everything from a haircut to a pair of eyeglasses to photocopies of class readings to a cheap meal. It housed the original branch of the revered Rodic’s Diner.
An early-morning, two-hour blaze rendered the one-story building unsalvageable, its 48 concessionaires without spaces, and the UP community truly bereft.
(The fire that gutted the UP Faculty Center, also known as Bulwagang Rizal or Rizal Hall, in April 2016 destroyed a heart-wrenching trove of books, artworks, documents, records, computers, antique furniture, and invaluable memorabilia kept in the faculty rooms.)
The UP Shopping Center was actually the fifth campus structure to be ravaged by flames in the last eight years, pointed out UP alumnus and Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat.
“How can UP claim it’s one of Asia’s top universities when the old iconic buildings keep burning down?” the lawmaker lamented.
Indeed, it was beginning to feel like some building or other was catching fire every day of Fire Prevention Month, reminding many Filipinos of the worst fire in recent memory — the one that occurred on Dec. 23, 2017, at the NCCC Mall in Davao City, which killed 38 people, many of them call center employees trapped in the building’s fourth floor.
The BFP is trying mightily to prevent such tragedies, but it is imperative that each and every one of us does our part in enforcing fire safety in all instances.
The bottom line is always prevention; each and every one should not be ignorant of the possible causes of the deadly disruption of fire: faulty wiring, unattended stoves or candles, lighted cigarettes recklessly thrown every which way…
Fire is all-consuming: The most tragic thing is to lose everything forever, to realize that not only lives but also dreams have gone up in smoke.
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