Flooding. Traffic. The wrong address. All of these kept firefighters from responding quickly to a T-shirt factory fire in the Philippines that killed at least 15 people on Thursday.
Marcelo Ragundiaz, fire brigade chief for the Tandang Sora district of Quezon City, where the disaster took place, told local media that the printing shop operated out of a house. Most of the victims appeared to be employees who were sleeping in rooms when the blaze broke out in the early hours of the morning.
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Because the fire likely started in the middle of the building, where combustible materials such as textiles and printing chemicals were stored, it trapped most of the people inside. Three people escaped with injuries by leaping off the second floor of the building, after which they were taken to the hospital.
The arrival of 37 fire engines was delayed by roughly 14 minutes after monsoon rains caused flooding and traffic snarls and the incorrect address was provided, Chief Superintendent Nahum Tarroza of the Bureau of Fire Protection told AP News. Upon their arrival, the flames were quenched two hours later.
Besides workers, which included printing staff and a driver, the dead included Michael Cavilte, the business’s 44-year-old owner, his son’s wife and his three-year-old granddaughter. Erick John Cavilte, 25, the owner’s son, survived.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, with authorities looking into possible violations of building and fire codes, occupancy permits and other regulations. Chief Ragundiaz said it was unclear if the factory owner had permission to operate a business inside a residence.
Construction of buildings that do not adhere to safety regulations, along with weak enforcement of fire codes, have contributed to the proliferation of conflagrations in the country, most notably a nightclub inferno in Quezon City in 1996 that killed 162 people. A 2001 fire at a hotel in Quezon City caused the deaths of at least 75, while a 2015 fire in a slipper factory in the suburban city of Valenzuela killed at least 72. More recently, in May 2021, a garment facility in Golden Mile Business Park in the Cavite province of Carmona burst into flames, causing damages estimated at 15 million Philippine pesos, or $264,121, though no casualties were reported.
Informal factories, too, present a persistent safety issue. In March 2021, more than 170 families were left homeless after a fire gutted a slum area in the Rizal province. The Philippine Bureau of Fire Protection said the fire probably started from a house that was being used to manufacture garments.