Sabotage and terrorism were ruled out by the military as behind a fire that injured 23 people when a series of explosions struck a Philippine Army munitions depot in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, on Wednesday.
Bullets, explosives and other military materiel went up in smoke after the fire razed the Army’s Explosives and Ordnance Division (EOD), a few kilometers from Makati City, the Philippines’ premier business area.
The Army Support Command (Ascom) building houses the EOD.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato said the Ascom is investigating the cause of the fire but he was quick to dismiss speculation that it was a sabotage or a terror attack.
“There’s no indication [that it was a sabotage or a terror attack]because it [munitions depot]is inside the compound [of Fort Bonifacio],” he added.
Local television footage showed uniformed soldiers carrying some of the injured on stretchers away from a burning building enveloped in black smoke, while three other victims sat on the pavement awaiting medical help.
“I was a few meters away when the fire broke [out]and caused a loud explosion,” Detoyato told reporters.
Twenty-three people were treated at a nearby Philippine Army hospital, with five soldiers and a civilian among them later moved to other hospitals because they had serious injuries, Col. Rovelene Bambao, a medical doctor, told Agence France-Presse.
Eight soldiers, seven firefighters and a civilian were among the injured, Detoyato said. The identities of the seven others were not immediately known.
He added that the Army had ordered the evacuation of nearby offices and commercial buildings as a precaution.
“There is still a possibility there could be more explosions. The area is still very hot, and ammunition reacts to heat,” Detoyato said.
An Agence France-Presse photographer saw seven men being treated for various injuries at the Army hospital.
“We were hit by flying bricks and broken glass as we retreated from the building,” volunteer Manila fireman Agrifino Santos also told Agence France-Presse.
The 40-year-old fireman said his team was dispatched from a nearby district to respond to the fire in late morning and had emptied their water cannon at the blaze when explosions began.
“We hit the ground immediately but we got hit nonetheless,” said Santos, his head heavily bandaged and his back scorched after his shirt ignited.
His six colleagues had apparently less serious cuts on their legs and hands.
Philippine Army deputy spokesman Capt. Anthony Bacus also told reporters he heard a series of small blasts “like firecrackers” as he sat at another Army building nearby shortly after the fire alert was raised.
“After about 15 minutes there was a huge explosion,” he said.
Supt. Renato Marcial of the Bureau of Fire Protection-National Capital Region (BFP-NCR) said the fire was reported to them around 10:30 a.m.
Marcial added that Insp. Leah Sajili, Taguig Sub-Station commander and her crew F03 Herlie Barrios and F01 Rosanna Chipay were reported to have been injured in the fire.
Some 30 volunteers from firefighting groups in Metro Manila responded and joined hands in containing the blaze that reached the third alarm.
The fire was declared under control a few minutes past 11 a.m.
SFO2 Pedrito Fulo of the Taguig Fire Department identified some of the injured as Joel Lopez, a volunteer of Barangay Fort Bonifacio Fire Brigade, and Rodolfo Franco, a fireman of Parañaque City.
Three others, who remain unidentified, were also injured and brought to the hospital. Two of them were volunteers of Pasig Brotherhood Fire Brigade and were brought to V. Luna Medical Center in Quezon City.
Soldiers at the Army headquarters and reporters took cover after hearing a strong explosion.
AFP, WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL, RITCHIE A. HORARIO, JING VILLAMENTE AND ANTHONY VARGAS