Zamboanga’s Worst Fire

March was supposed to be National Fire Prevention Month for the Philippines. I even saw a banner in front of the Zambo Fil-Chinese Volunteer Fire Brigade heralding the event.

Thus, it is painfully ironic that ’s worst fire in history happened last month.

This is the aftermath of a huge fire that razed almost ten hectares of residential land in Camino Nuevo, Zamboanga City barely two weeks ago. More than a thousand families were displaced and some lives (including a child who was barbecued on the spot by a burning wooden post that fell on top of him and a guy who volunteered to help others stuck in their burning houses) were lost.

The fire began at around 7pm, a bit after rush hour. (Gim and I usually go home around this time but on that particular day we went home early, at half past 5, so we didn’t know about the fire until late in the evening) Firefighters rushed to the scene but the fire was blazing in the center of Barangay Camino Nuevo and all the roads inside it were too narrow for the trucks to reach. And when I say the roads were narrow, think of a Bichu-bichu (a very compact minivan) occupying the entire width of the road all by itself. The fire was put out by 1am but, by then, Barangay Camino Nuevo had been all but wiped out.

The official report on the origins of the fire cite a boy who left a lighted candle in the altar of their house, which began the horrifying blaze when the candle fell and burned the house to the ground. Rumors abound, though, that the fire was actually arson, to drive squatters away and to be able to build a road in the center of the affected area. I hope, though, that these rumors are false. Though it’s plausible, I hope no one in my city is evil enough to want to destroy a thousand lives for a single road. At the same time, I wonder whether the official report is true. The house mentioned was too close to the main road for the fire to not have been put out quickly and efficiently. I remember, two years ago, there was a big fire (though nowhere as big as this one, and that one, I was witness to) in the exact same spot. They said the fire began from faulty electric wiring or something like that. A boarding house was affected, but no one was killed, to my knowledge. And the fire was contained quite speedily, which makes me wonder why this recent fire was allowed to burn for so long and actually reach the center of the barangay, which firetrucks could not have access to.

But anyways, what’s done is done. I only hope that Zamboanga City learns from this tragic mistake. Hopefully we will finally have a fire hotline implemented instead of a landline number that is hard to memorize. And hopefully the city’s infrastructure will be improved (read: less squatters, wider roads)

For the kind hearted, donations are welcome. Cash and cheque donations may be forwarded to the Ateneo Grade School Principal’s Office. Please make all checks payable to Ateneo de Zamboanga University.

More pictures of the remains of Camino Nuevo below. (All pictures were taken from the fourth floor of the LRC Building in Ateneo.)


  1. grabe man ste. shucks. i remember that fire before, it was during second year college. i remember it well coz the boarding house that burned down was where gay, my kabarkada and now my housemate, stayed. she escaped, being able to save only the clothes she had on and the polsci book she was cradling when she fell asleep after studying. i remember how devastated she was to lose all her possessions and how everyone in class pitched in to donate clothes and stuff to her. i can just imagine how much worse this is. i hope the rumors are not true.