GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 Oct) – A fire that broke out at the Gaisano Mall here after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake Wednesday evening damaged 75 percent of the 2.3-hectare shopping complex at a cost of P2 billion, authorities said.
The Bureau of Fire Protection declared “fire out” by 1 p.m. Thursday, more than 16 hours after the fire broke out, according to Chief Insp. Reginald Legaste, city fire marshal.
The fire erupted following a strong aftershock past 8 p.m., according to Dr. Agripino Dacera Jr., head of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO). The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) reported a magnitude 5.5 quake at 8:09 p.m., or 32 minutes after the main quake.
“As of now, the fire in several sections of the mall was already contained but the operations are still ongoing,” he said in a radio interview around 8:30 a.m., adding that firefighters coming from as far as Davao City helped out battle the fire.
Dacera, who led the emergency and support operations at the scene, said there were no reported casualties as mall goers and employees were immediately evacuated when the fire started.
But a total of 1,500 Gaisano workers were reportedly affected in the fire.
Dacera, quoting mall personnel, said the fire originated at the kitchenware, furniture and plastic ware sections at the ground level.
It eventually reached the second level and rapidly spread to the other sections.
Chief Supt. Louie Puracan, director of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)-Region 12, declared a general alarm before midnight Wednesday.
Legaste said firefighters from Region 12 and the neighboring regions assisted in the operations.
He said further investigation as to the origin and possible cause of the fire will be conducted by the BFP central office.
Dacera said almost all BFP, private volunteer firefighting and rescue units in the region helped in putting out the fire.
Mayor Ronnel Rivera thanked the firefighters from the Bureau of Fire Protection and other rescue and fire volunteers from private companies, nearby cities and municipalities for risking their lives to put out the fire.
“The earthquake is a reminder that we still have a lot of things to do to improve the disaster preparedness and resiliency against natural and man-made calamities,” he said.
Firefighters from as far as Davao City, which is three hours away from here, responded to the fire call for the newly-renovated mall.
The act of kindness and friendship amidst the tragedy will be forever remembered by GenSan and its constituents, the mayor said.
Rivera urged business establishments to improve and update their building plans to ensure structural integrity and stability, and strengthen their disaster preparedness plans for the safety and security of their personnel.
Mall employees affected by the fire will receive assistance from the city government, he added.
The City Social Welfare and Development Office will set up a help desk to assist the affected workers starting Friday at their office along Matalam Road corner Roxas Avenue.
Affected mall employees were advised to bring valid company identification cards. (With reports from Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)