DEADLY INFERNO: Fire bureau probes pension house’s compliance with safety rules

Rescuers and firefighters retrieve two of the six casualties in the fire which razed Java pension house along Gonzaga Street in Bacolod City Tuesday. (Glazyl Masculino photos)

By: Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD City – The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) here is investigating if the management of Java pension house here followed fire safety protocols following the early Tuesday morning fire that claimed six lives and gobbled P8 million worth of properties.

Some guests and tenants who survived the fire claimed that there were no sprinkler systems and fire alarm installed inside the pension house located on Gonzaga Street.

Chief Inspector Publio Ploteña, BFP-Bacolod head, said he cannot confirm the claims because the investigation is still ongoing.

“We need to see and check the documents first before making a conclusion. We saw pipes upstairs, and we will also check if there’s fire alarm inside the pension house,” Ploteña added.

The BFP’s reply, however, sounds shaky as businesses undergo yearly inspection for fire safety protocols which are required for the renewal of business permits.

Ploteña said that the five-storey building has fire exits but used outdated ladder types.

He also cannot ascertain if the building is dilapidated because it probably underwent renovation since not all rooms were affected by the fire which broke out around 4:37 a.m. yesterday.

The building formerly known as The Bascon Hotel was built in 1965, according to Oscar “Dodong” Bascon, whose family owns the building.

“We will check the business permits, fire safety certificates, and other documents to check if they have complied with the safety protocols,” Ploteña said.

Meanwhile, Ploteña confirmed six casualties in the fire, which was raised to general alarm to enable other fire departments outside the city to respond.

The casualties were identified by their families and relatives as Java pension house owner Christopher Java, his mother Magdalena, Christopher’s 12-year-old son Miguel, and his nanny Ronalyn Dacalo who allegedly suffocated after they were trapped inside a room on the second floor of the building.

Ploteña said the victims probably panicked and failed to find a way to get out of the room since thick smoke was all over the place.

He said that another body was found at the hallway of the second floor while a charred body was found at the rooftop. They have yet to identify these two casualties.

He also said that four persons, including an Australian national were also injured in the incident and were rushed to hospitals.

Based on a report from Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO), the wounded were Paul Codognato (Australian national), Rey Bayona, Janine Pepito, and Romeo Omnus.

Ploteña said they cannot account for the actual number of tenants and guests at the pension house since the employee assigned at the front desk is still missing.

“We need the records to account and identify the number of individuals inside the pension house when the incident happened,” he said.

The fire initially started at the ground floor, but investigators have yet to determine the cause.

“We are looking at different angles so we cannot yet tell what caused the blaze. We’re trying to look for a copy of closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera near the area to help us in the investigation,” he added.

Initially, people claimed that the fire was caused by an ignition from a motorcycle parked at the ground floor area, an allegation which the city fire marshal refused to confirm while they continue to gather evidence.

He said six adjacent small business establishments, including an upholstery shop and an eatery were also damaged in the fire.



Katsumi Suzuki, 67, a tourist from Japan who survived the fire, said that he crawled through the window to get out of his room when thick smoke was all over the place.

“I was sleeping and I crawled like a Spiderman just to get out of my room,” he told journalists.

He said he’s been staying at the pension house for a month and he left about P200,000 cash inside his room’ safety vault. He has no relatives here and all his personal belongings were left inside the building.

A certain Ronnie said he was with three other friends when he noticed smoke coming outside their room.

He woke up his companions and they managed to climb out of the window to survive. They emerged from the incident unharmed.

Firefighters used a ladder to rescue some individuals trapped inside their rooms through the windows on other floors. The BFP declared the fire out at around 9:15 a.m.

The Bacolod Traffic Authority Office (BTAO) implemented a temporary road closure in the area for almost 10 hours due to the incident.

Meanwhile, Mayor Evelio Leonardia, Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran, and Councilor Cindy Rojas went to the area and assisted the affected fire victims.

Familiaran expressed his condolences to the families of the six casualties.

He said the incident should serve as a moral lesson especially on the part of the BFP and the Office of Building Official (OBO) to conduct strict inspections of all the buildings here as to their compliance to the building code.

Kadamo sang ma-save na kabuhi kun compliant kita especially sa pagbutang ka fire exits and pag-install sprinklers,” he said.