By Kier Edison C. Belleza
Cebu City – A composite team has started investigating the fire that razed the six-story Metro Department Store and Supermarket – Ayala Center in this city, authorities said Monday.
Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Central Visayas Assistant Regional Director for Operations Supt. Rolando Orbeta said the 15-man team went into the third floor of the fire-stricken building to collect debris from 9 a.m. until noon.
The stock room for toys, where the fire is believed to have started at around 9:30 p.m. last Friday, is on the third floor.
The team is composed of personnel from the regional, provincial and city fire offices.
The fire was declared under control at 12:45 p.m. Sunday, after it raged for 39 hours.
“Though we have not seen flames inside the store anymore, we have not declared a fire-out yet (as of 1:30 p.m. Monday) since there are still embers,” Orbeta said.
“By definition, fire-out means up to the last ember must be extinguished… But I would want to make it clear that it has been declared under control,” continued Orbeta.
Orbeta acknowledged it will be difficult for the fire department to say when a fire-out will be declared.
He added that the BFP personnel have not left the fire scene since the fire could restart inside the mall.
Sr. Supt. Samuel Tadeo earlier said it took them nearly 40 hours to control the fire since there were stocks of plastics and textiles that were highly combustible.
Tadeo said damage may be in excess of P100 million.
“But we would be waiting for the mall management’s affidavit of loss because we would still base our final report on that, It may also reach a half billion.”
The fire reached Task Force Bravo, which corresponds to a seventh alarm level, at 8:45 a.m. Saturday. The alarm was up until the fire department’s declaration that the blaze was already under control.
Around 180 firefighters and 50 fire trucks from nearby municipalities responded to the fire.
Tadeo said no one was trapped inside the building because of the fast and orderly evacuation procedures.
Vincent Tomaneng, corporate secretary and chief legal counsel of Metro Retail Stores Group, Inc., denied speculations that the mall was torched for insurance purposes.