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Fire Razes More Than 1,000 Homes In Shantytown

April 28, 1988

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A fire described as the city’s biggest since World War II swept through a crowded shantytown near an oil storage area today and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, the fire chief said.

At least four people were reported injured in the blaze, which spread thick black smoke over large sections of the capital. No deaths were reported.

The government-run Philippines News Agency said an estimated 3,000 families were left homeless.

Firefighters concentrated on preventing the flames from reaching the oil tanks rather than on saving houses, and angry residents responded by pelting the trucks with stones. They piled their belongings in the street and began fighting the blaze themselves with buckets of water.

The flames spread to within 24 feet of the state-owned petroleum company compound, said Col. Oscar Pascual, deputy fire chief. Fire Chief Brig. Gen. Ernesto Madriaga said a shift in the winds prevented the fire from reaching it.

″During the early stage, fire threatened the depot because there was a strong wind blowing in that direction,″ he said. ″However, wind direction changed and the fire near the depot was placed under control.″

Madriaga estimated that more than 1,000 dwellings, mostly squatter shanties, were razed before the fire was brought under control after 4 1/2 hours. The cause of the blaze had not been determined.

Hundreds of people huddled around the mounds of personal belongings as scattered fires continued to burn into the night.

There was no immediate estimate of damage. But Madriaga said the blaze was ″possibly the biggest in Manila since World War II.″

He said flames destroyed a candy warehouse and virtually every building in a 25-acre area along the Pasig River, which runs through the heart of Manila.

Oil companies such as Shell, Caltex and the state-run Philippine National Oil Co. maintain storage tanks in the area. The presidential palace is about 1 1/2 miles away on the other side of the river.

Firemen said they were unable to move trucks into the crowded shantytown alleys and concentrated their efforts on keeping the fire from the oil tanks.

Troops armed with M-16 rifles were sent to the depot after the residents began throwing stones at the fire trucks.

Madriaga said the injured included three civilians and a fireman who was struck by a water hose.

Antonio Santos, operations manager of the national oil company, said the squatter area was ″too congested for even the best firefighters to have been able to battle the flames very well.″

Shanty homes in the Philippines are normally made of wood, cardboard and other flammable materials and are packed side-by-side.

Mary Bayani, 27, whose home was destroyed, said she was attending a Bible study class about 3 p.m. (3 a.m. EDT) when she heard children shouting ″Fire 3/8 Fire 3/8″

She said the smoke seemed ″far away, but we started just the same bringing our things out.″

″I saved our clothes and some kitchen utensils,″ she said. ″But we have no rice and no money.″

Mrs. Bayani said her husband, Rogelio, worked in the burned-out candy warehouse and will probably lose his job.

″We will stay here during the night,″ she said. ″But I don’t know what we will do tomorrow.″

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