THE recent fire in Barangay Centro in Mandaue City that claimed the lives of a municipal trial court judge and his wife reminded me again of the fire that hit our place in Sitio Kawayan, Barangay Sambag 2 in Cebu in, if I remember it right, 2002. The fire did not spare the ancestral home that we siblings renovated with our hard-earned money. The structure has not been fully rebuilt until now.
That fire, in a way, changed our lives. It prompted me and my wife to look for other temporary dwellings, including in Barangay Inayawan, the homeplace of my wife. Months later, my father died. I don’t know how the sight of the burned house and burnt pigs affected him. He was already retired by then and was without any source of livelihood. The fire took away his remaining source of income.
One lesson from that fire was provided to me by my former editor-in-chief in SunStar Cebu, Pachico A. Seares. When we got a chance to talk, he told me to look for a residence that is not within a fire-prone community. The advice stuck in my mind because before the fire hit, I was already thinking of that reality. Our community being hit by a fire was a constant worry for me then.
We could not afford to make the house fully concrete so we used wood for the upper structure. My family stayed in a room in that upper structure and that portion didn’t have emergency exits. I would often spend time looking at the only stair of the house and thinking about how to go down through the windows. My fear was if the fire would hit at night while we were sleeping.
The fire hit us one early noon.
I had to leave my editing work when reports said the location of the fire was Sitio Kawayan. We were working parents and we left our first-born, Khan-khan, to the care of the yaya. In the confusion that followed, my son ended up in the hands of my wife’s relative who rushed to the fire scene from Barangay Inayawan. In the meantime, my wife and I would scour the temporary havens of the victims to look for our son. I saw my parents and some of our things on the riverbed of the Guadalupe-V. Rama river.
My prayer has always been for Sitio Kawayan to no longer be hit by fire, especially because the population of the community and the number of dwellings there have already increased considerably. I remember efforts by authorities to clear the street to the interior of shanties so firetrucks won’t have difficulty using it. But fire preparedness is always an on-and-off thing in urban villages everywhere.
The death of Judge Gerardo Estopa should once more jolt government officials into action, especially in the urban lowlands. Interestingly, many village chiefs do not live in these urban communities that, as PAS would describe it, are fire-prone. I doubt if any of the mayors, vice mayors and councilors of local government units do, too. But even if they reside somewhere safe, they still need to be concerned about these places. They are, after all, public officials and have promised to serve their constituents well.