Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, December 31, 2009

P260M lost in Iba public-market fire

IBA, Zambales—Fire of suspicious origin razed the building housing this capital town’s public market on Tuesday night, destroying some P260 million in properties and merchandise.

The blaze, which reportedly started in three locations within the building, quickly engulfed the two-story steel-and-concrete structure that was built in 1986, witnesses said.

The “slow reaction” of local firefighters, who reportedly deployed an empty water truck to the fire scene, made matters worse for more than 200 stall owners occupying the public market.

“In a matter of 15 minutes, the market was totally consumed by fire,” said public prosecutor Adhebert Deloso, son of Gov. Amor Deloso, who was then attending a late Christmas party about 300 meters from the market.

“The Iba fire truck arrived at about 9 p.m., but [the water tank] was empty,” he said, quoting investigation reports.

“The fire was only contained hours later when fire fighters from the NETC [Naval Education and Training Command], the PMMA ?[Philippine Merchant Marine Academy] and the SBMA [Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority] arrived,” Deloso added.

“Without help from the NETC, PMMA and SBMA, the fire could have spread to the nearby residential areas in barangay Zone 1.”

Deloso said that there are “strong indications that it was a case of arson,” citing reports that days before the fire, there were already rumors that the market would be burned down.

He said it was “unbelievable” that an unattended cooking fire in one of the stalls caused the blaze.

According to Hernan Moises, owner of a shoe store in the public market, several fires seemed to have started all at once just before 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

“We’re already here at about 9 o’clock and there was one fire at the first floor there,” Moises said, pointing to the western side of the market.

“There was another at the dry- goods area in the middle of the building,” he added.

The simultaneous fire scenario was also confirmed by at least two other stallholders who asked not to be named.

According to Hernan Cortez, chairman of barangay Lipay Dingin and one of the local officials who first responded to the emergency call, most of the merchandise lost in the blaze were intended for New Year.

“They have already stocked on chicken, cold cuts and other foodstuffs for the Media Noche [the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner celebrated by most Filipino households],” Cortez said.

Lina Bernan, who sold ladies’ accessories at the dry-goods section of the market, said she lost some P500,000 in inventories.

A rice dealer, meanwhile, lost some P7 million in the blaze, Deloso said.

Deloso, who is running for mayor of Iba town in the coming May 2010 polls, said that traders who lost their livelihood in the fire “should be given soft loans for them to start anew.”

He added that the legal question on the 5,000-square-meter lot where the public market is located should be settled as early as possible.

He said that while the Iba municipal government owned the market building, the land is being claimed by the Garcia family, who reportedly owns large landholdings in Zambales.

Recently, the municipal government lost the case to the Garcias, leaving the public market a virtual squatter in the area.

Deloso said that to resolve the issue, the government should decide to either relocate the market to another area or expropriate the land from the Garcia family. Written by Henry Empeño Business Mirror Correspondent

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