A pre-dawn fire in the southern Philippines raced through public market stalls, killing 15 vendors, including six children, who were sleeping there to be up early for the weekend crowds, police said.
Thirteen other vendors were injured in the three-hour blaze that broke out at 2.40 am in Zamboanga city, a major port about 860 kilometers (540 miles) south of Manila, the capital.
“Apparently it was a spark in the (electrical) wiring,” Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said on the origin of the fire.
It apparently started when sparks from low-slung electric post cables set fire to sidewalk stall umbrellas then ignited stacks of used clothing being sold at the city market, said Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro.
The fire is reported to have started in one of the stalls owned by Mannan and it spread rapidly to the nearby stalls.
The victims were clothes vendors who slept at their stalls, including at least six children, so they could be up early for the weekend market that usually draws sizable crowds, said police investigator Rafael Salcedo.
“One vendor saw the electrical sparks set a stall umbrella on fire, but many were asleep and the others thought somebody was just playing a prank until the fire started to spread,” Salcedo said by telephone.
The victims’ bodies were taken to a nearby Muslim mosque prior to burial, he said.
Superintendent Dominador Zabala Jr., Zamboanga City Fire District (ZCFD) fire marshal, said the fire razed 350 stalls, mostly used-clothing shops, and partially destroyed a three-storey commercial building.
Estimated worth of property damaged was put at PHP8 million.
Zabala said the fire has reached third alarm status in few minutes after it broke out.
Firefighters, who have been on alert along with police for All Saints’ Day ceremonies in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, prevented the blaze from spreading to nearby commercial buildings.
Salcedo said that daily blackouts might have caused power fluctuations, but Bureau of Fire investigators would determine whether officers in charge of fire safety could be criminally liable.
Dilapidated buildings, a lack of adequate fire safety systems and inspectors and weak enforcement of fire safety regulations have contributed to many fires in the Philippines.
In 1996, a disco fire left 162 people dead, mostly students celebrating the ends of the school year in one of the deadliest nightclub fires in the world.