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Casualties of Fire

The month of March has arrived.

Aside from the end of classes and the start of summer vacation for students, March is known as Fire Prevention Month.

This annual observance has been there since 1967. Then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Proclamation No. 115-A, aimed at increasing the level of awareness of the public on the ways to prevent fires and save lives and properties.

Marcos chose the month of March as it marks the start of the hot, dry season during which most fires occur.

Thus, every year, March has been declared as a time when Filipinos should be extra careful against fire.

As we reach the 45th year of Fire Prevention Month, we cannot overstate the importance of fire safety. As the climate gets hotter and humidity decreases, flammability is at its highest.

We simply cannot overstate the importance of preventing fire.

Unfortunately, fire continues to occur. And in many instances, there are fatalities.  What makes it worse is when the fatalities are children.

Last Saturday (March 3), a fire hit a residential area in Pasay City shortly before midnight.

The fire started at the F.B. Harrison area around 11:30 p.m. It quickly spread to at least 30 houses and reached the fourth alarm before it was put out at 2:50 a.m. The fire also spread quickly to the slum area, where houses are made of light materials.

Shortly before the fire began, a mother went out of her house to buy some medicine, leaving her two sons and their cousin at home. The children were sleeping at the time.

When Janice Alberca returned, she saw the house was already in flames. The fatalities were two year-olds John Jason Alberca and John Angelo Alberca and three-year-old Chris Alberca.

When the fire was put out, it was found that about 100 families were rendered homeless.

Arson investigators said the fire might have started from a candle left unattended, as there was no power in the area at the time. Of the six injured, one was a four-year-old who suffered first-degree burns.

The incident is but one of the many fires that recently occurred. According to the Bureau of Fire Protection, there have been 436 fires in Metro Manila since the start of 2012.

We can expect a lot more to happen.

The BFP has not been remiss in reminding the public on how to prevent fire. They have consistently given reminders on how to promote fire safety. The government however continues to dodge the bigger issue, which is overcrowding in populated areas.

A member of a household in the slums may be careful in using a candle in his house but his next-door neighbor may not be. Thus, being careful doesn’t necessarily mean you can escape fire because you don’t have enough safe space between you and your neighbor.

Overpopulation is the bigger issue behind fire that government is simply not addressing. The number of people per square meter especially in squatter areas poses a huge fire hazard to everyone.

This is the reason why, to some extent, the issue of fire is relative to poverty.  Slums experience more fire than prosperous communities.

The poor simply cannot afford to follow fire and building regulations that provide for proper exits and proper fire-extinguishing systems. The poor don’t have enough space, enough land.

This is simply sad, but true.