By Joseph Almer Pedrajas
Investigators are eyeing arson as one of the possible causes of the four-hour blaze that struck the famous Star City amusement park in Pasay City early Wednesday morning.
Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) officials said 80 percent of the Star City was damaged while the adjacent Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC) office and Aliw Theater were totally destroyed.
The MBC building houses radio stations: DZAR, Love Radio,Yes the Best! and Easy Rock.
Ed de Leon, Star Parks Corporation spokesperson, pegged the cost of damage at P1 billion.
Pasay City Fire Marshal Paul Pili said that the fire started around 12:30 a.m. and reached Task Force Bravo by 2:25 a.m.
At least 57 firetrucks and 136 personnel were deployed to the area.
The fire was eventually placed under control at 4:30 a.m.
“Mabilis ang pag responde ng firefighters, kaya lang masyadong malaki ang area at saka maraming light materials, maraming props dyan, mga karton, cotton kaya mabilis kumalat ang apoy (Firefighters responded quickly, but still the fire spread swiftly as the area is too big and there were lots of light materials like props, boxes, and cotton kept in the place),” he said.
Citing the claims of Star City personnel, De Leon said the fire started at the stock room where prizes for Star Games, including stuffed toys and other plasticwares, were stored.
“Nakita ng mga fire marshall ng Star City and security people na doon nagsimula (Our fire marshall and security people noticed that the fire started at the stockroom) and they still tried to put it out,” he said, adding that there were about 20 personnel inside the park when the fire broke out.
Marlon Candido, Star City emergency response team member, said that he rushed to the park from home after learning of the fire.
“Ginuide namin ‘yung mga bumbero sa loob (We guided the firemen while they were inside),” he said.
Candido said that after he and five other Star City personnel guided the firemen, they tried to get out through the main entrance but they started to get suffocated. He said they broke a fire exit door to get out.
“Puro usok na nakikita namin. Naso-suffocate na kami. Buti alam ko kung saan ‘yung pinto ng fire exit, tinadyakan ko para masira (All we can see was smoke and we started to suffocate. Fortunately, I am familiar with the fire exit so I kicked it to break it open),” he said.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), meanwhile, is looking into possible causes of the fire, including electrical fault and arson.
“Nakita natin na arson kasi nakakita kami ng simultaneous burning. Na mayroong iba-ibang lugar na nagsimula ang apoy ng sabay sabay (We see possible arson as the burning was simultaneous. It started simulatenously in different areas),” Pili said.
“Tinitignan natin ang charcoal pattern ng sunog, kung saan may mga part na abong abo at kung saan may pinakayuping bakal, doon may possibility na nagsimula ang sunog (We’re looking at the charcoal pattern, the area which was burned badly, the fire effect on steel and iron materials),” he added.
A reported tweet saying “Star City will die” raised suspicion that the fire might be intentional.
The tweet, which was posted two days ago, circulated at the height of the blaze.
Lisa Macuja, wife of Star City owner, Fred Elizalde, showed the post to authorities.
However, Ellen Fullido, vice president for Human Resources and Admin Services of Star City’s FJ Elizalde Group of Companies, said that they were not considering a “disgruntled” employee as behind the fire incident.
“We will just rely on the final report of the BFP,” she said. “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion.”
As of 10:30 a.m., firefighters were still conducting a mopping-up operation at three rooms of the MBC as smoke still billowed.
Fullido said that operations at Star City, MBC and Aliw Theater will be temporarily suspended, but she assured that affected employees will be accounted for.
“Whatever is stated in the law, we will comply,” she said.
De Leon, on the other hand, said that the amusement park will try its best to open in December.
In a statement, however, the MBC management said the 28-year-old Star City will be closed this Christmas season.
“Despite the catastrophe, MBC FM stations Love Radio, Yes the Best, and Easy Rock will continue regular broadcasting operations,” it said.
DZRH is expected to go back on-air within 48 hours or less.
Meanwhile, Malacañang expressed grief after the devastating Star City fire.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the fire incident was “sad news,” especially since Star City is a popular attraction for families during the Christmas season.
“As we near Christmas, this is truly sad news knowing that Star City is a place where Filipino families visit to celebrate the Yuletide season,” he said. (With reports from Dhel Nazario and Genalyn Kabiling)
READ MORE: Palace expresses grief over Star City fire