Molo fire: A disaster waiting to happen?

The fire that hit two barangays in Molo, Iloilo City and gobbled almost 300 houses brought to fore the problems that contributed to the fast spread of the conflagration. (Contributed photo)

By Jennifer P. Rendon 

At past 4 in the morning of Jan 28, 2023, residents of the thickly-populated Barangay West Habog-Habog in Molo, Iloilo City were roused from sleep by the smell of smoke and panicky voices of their neighbors.

The fire that started out at Sitio Chinatown quickly spread to the adjacent Sitio Calubihan and the neighboring Barangay San Juan.

After more than an hour, the fire gobbled 263 houses and damaged 33 others.

If there’s one entity that felt the brunt of the incident, it was the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

While the fire was something that could not be totally prevented, the widespread damage was something that could have been averted.

Fire Chief Superintendent Jerry Candido, BFP-Region 6 director, said West Habog-Habog is one of the identified fire-prone city barangays in the hazard mapping conducted by the bureau.

In 2019, the BFP again conducted the hazard mapping, and 9 barangays, including West Habog-Habog, were tagged as “fire-prone.”.

“Naglibot survey ang aton mga bumbero to do that,” Candido said.

A vulnerability assessment was immediately laid out by BFP personnel to village officials.

Among the vulnerabilities cited was the lack of accessibility to barangay roads due to obstructed entry points.

It also did not help that several residential structures have extended their roofing towards the roads.

The fire bureau also noted on-road parking and tilted utility posts as additional obstructions.

“In short, in cases of emergencies, like fire, firemen would have a hard time responding to the farthest portions of the barangay because of inaccessibility,” Candido said.

The BFP-6 chief said that it is critical in fire response to clear entry points of obstructions.

“If it’s obstructed, naturally indi kasulod ang salakyan. Kun kasulod man, indi naman ka maneuver,” he said.

Candido said that these concerns in the farthest areas of West Habog-Hanog are something that Barangay Captain Lee Quimsing knew.

“Our fire trucks could not reach these remote portions of the barangays,”‘he said.

In cases like this, firefighters need to lay out hoses that would be used to quell the conflagration, but it will take time.

“Posible makasulod ang aton mga bumbero pero basi ma-trap sila. We couldn’t gamble on that. I could not allow to put my men in danger,” Candido said.

Aside from the hazard assessment, Quimsing knew the vulnerabilities and he even signed the hazard mapping results

“We did our job. We lay our assessment. We recommended kag nag agree si kapitan nga amo na himuon,” he said.

But Candido said they have no authority to take out the obstructions.

“We’re not trying to wash our hands on what happened. But we couldn’t just implement things without the barangay. It’s their duty to ask for assistance from responsible agencies,” he said.

Instead of pointing fingers, Candido said they should sit down and talk things out.

“Three years ago, gin hambalan na sila nga once nga may matabo da, maubos gid mga pamalay da,” he said.

Based on the community fire protection plan of West Habog-Habog, more than 20 houses will be burned and will extend to San Juan if a fire will hit “and it happened.”

Candido explained that the BFP is doing everything it could with what they have.

“We only have ground or land capabilities. We don’t have air assets like helicopters to respond to fires,” he said.

That’s why all accessible roads are important.

Under the community fire prevention plan, several suggestions were laid out to local officials.

First is the clearing of roads.

“Number 2, put up a dry standpipe system,” Candido said.

A dry standpipe is a network of in-place piping allowing the connection of a water supply (usually a fire department mobile apparatus known as a pumper) to a dedicated inlet at street level.

But he noted that there are villages that install dry standpipes without coordinating with the bureau.

“What happened is that that hose outlet valves are not compatible with our hoses because they did it without consulting us,” he said.

Aside from compatibility of technical specs, consultation should be done on the proper location of the dry standpipe system.


Candido made the statement in response to Quimsing’s earlier accusations that the fire already gobbled his village before the BFP responders arrived.

“Ang punto da, dapat maging responsable siya (Quimsing) sa ginapa hambal sina because he has shared responsibilities. Indi ni ya amon tanan trabaho,”‘he said.

Candido said they started the groundwork.

“We should be able to move forward to how we will implement. This is a challenge to all government agencies, especially the local government,” he said.

As he challenged Quimsing to stop blaming each other, Candido said they should just discuss the community fire protection plan of West Habog-Habog that was done way back in 2019.

The plan should be discussed in the first quarter of the year and so is the organization of the community fire auxiliary group or barangay fire brigade.

By the second quarter, they should do a house-to-house survey to educate residents on how to prevent fire.

There should also be a seminar in the village hall where fire prevention tips are discussed with residents.

A fire drill is also important wherein a scenario will be created so that the fire brigade knows what to do.

“That’s the importance of drill or simulation exercises. We have to teach the whole barangay on how to do it,” Candido said.

Unfortunately, in most cases, only barangay officials participate in simulation exercises.

“If we don’t do what is on the community fire protection plan, we will suffer the same fate. Masakit ang kamatuoran but it will happen again and again,” he said.