Arson ruled out in Davao mall fire


DAVAO CITY: A special multi-agency task force investigating the December 23 fire that hit the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) Mall here is ruling out arson, as strong evidence points to electrical short circuit as the cause of the blaze.

Even if arson is a remote possibility, Senior Supt. Jerry Candido, spokesman for the task force, said debris and ashes were still submitted for laboratory test.

Based on initial investigation, Candido added, electrical wirings that were taken from the scene where the fire started strongly manifested that there was an electrical short circuit.

Inspection of the affected area where the fire began also manifested electrical problems.

According to Candido, something fell from the ceiling, landing on combustible items on the third floor.

“Yan po ang sinusundan natin sa imbestigasyon ngayon [That is what we investigators are pursuing],” he said in a phone interview.

Candido confirmed that the fire started in the ceiling of the third floor of the furniture section of the NCCC Mall.

He explained that a fire triggered by an electrical short circuit spreads fast immediately.

Candido said the investigating team coming from the Department of the Interior and Local Government as lead agency, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) national office, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police conducted an evaluation of the electrical installations of the NCCC Mall and the Survey Sampling International (SSI), a call center.

He hinted at few illegal practices that caused damage to electrical installations of the NCCC Mall.

Candido said the probers are detailing all evidence and findings because they are expecting a court battle.

The investigators will be focusing on liabilities of the people involved, including the mall and the SSI, which allegedly was found to have made lapses in complying with the Fire Code.

Naming names
Candido said the probers are careful in naming persons for now until they get testimonies of the witnesses from the mall and the SSI who were present when the incident happened.

Meanwhile, he confirmed the sacking of five BFP Davao officers: Supt Honee Fritz Alagano, City Fire Marshall; Inspector Renero Jimenez, Station Commander of the Talomo Fire Station; Senior Fire Officer 1 Leo Lauzon and Fire Officer 2 Joel Quizmundo, both fire safety inspectors; and Senior Fire Officer 1 Roger Dumag, chief of the city fire office’s safety enforcement section.

Candido said the removal of the fire officers on Sunday was one of the recommendations of the investigating team.

He added that Alagano was sacked even if she is still new to the assignment.

Candido said Jimenez was the signatory to the fire safety inspection certificate of the NCCC Mall issued in April 2017 and the certificate of the SSI issued in September 2017.

Dumag is in charge of ensuring compliance with the Fire Code.

Candido said Dumag recommended issuance of the fire certificates to both establishments.

Both Jimenez and Dumag are in charge on giving orders of inspection and reviewing of accomplished inspection reports of the two inspectors.

Gist of the inspection reports for NCCC Mall and SSI hinted at no violation by both firms.

‘[This means] they [NCCC mall and SSI] complied with the firefighting requirement,” Candido said.

The inspector for SSI noted that the call center has not conducted exit drills and safety lectures.

There was no such note for the mall.

Both inspection reports and recommendation should be similar, according to Candido.

He said the NCCC Mall’s classification is dominantly a first-class mercantile and so it is required to install an automatic fire suppression system.

He added that a sprinkler system installed by mall at the fourth floor had been allegedly condemned when the SSI constructed its own office within the building.

“If the sprinklers still function to suppress fire in the SSI, these will be of no use because these are outside of the SSI structure. The SSI is a structure within a structure.”

Candido said findings showed that the alarms of the whole NCCC and the SSI were not interconnected.

Emergency alarms
Under the law, emergency alarms of a building should be interconnected and must be heard in every nook and corner of the building.

The SSI has its own alarm.

According to Candido, this explains why there were people who were trapped because activation of the SSI’s alarm came late.

This, he said, also explains a statement of a witness that they were only alarmed when smoke was already escaping through the air-conditioner of the SSI office.

Candido said there were exits in the SSI but were not opened and connected.

Construction material of doors allegedly did not also comply with fire code.

According to Candido, the exits should have fire-resistant doors to last during a fire at least for two hours.

Doors, he said, should be smoke-proof and heat-proof to protect the people until they can escape within two hours.

Candido, however, said the exits were also of no use because the alarm sounded late.

On January 4, the team will continue the investigation focusing more on possible liabilities of the people involved.

By Friday, Candido said the investigation should be complete.



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