BACOLOD CITY – On the morning of November 2, 2009, this reporter sifted through the burnt remains of what used to be a clump of houses in Barangay 19.
Among the ashes was a coloring book with the image of Piglet, Winnie the Pooh’s best friend. The edges of the page were burnt, the child who colored it dead.
Inside this crowded village near a public market and accessible only to foot traffic through narrow alleys, 17 people, mostly transients, were killed in an early morning fire.
It blazed its way like a hot knife through cold butter, in this case, old houses mostly made of wood where salesladies and market vendors rented affordable bedspace.
Hours after the blaze was put out, the bodies were carefully laid on the floor of the basketball court. The smell of burnt flesh, wood and concrete wafted through the air as the sound of crying, moaning and wailing provided an eerie, almost surreal feel to what was considered then as the worst fire to have hit the city.
Most of the dead were children.
By the entrance of the main alley, a politician had his assistants erect a canopy, the seal of the city council, and his grinning face printed on it.
There were more canopies inside with different politicians’ faces on it.
Only the local affiliate of ABS-CBN was giving hot arroz caldo. One of their hosts, beauty queen Carmela Arcolas-Gamboa was ladling it into cups and handing it out to survivors, some of whom still looked dazed.
The fire chief then said a candle lit by the owner of a boarding house caused the fire. It was lit to remember her dead. It caused the deaths of many.
At least 60 houses were gutted by the fire, hundreds lost their homes.
Most of the victims were sleeping, among those killed was an entire family.
A father survived but watched in horror as his house with his wife and two children, and a grandchild, were burnt to death inside.
Another family also died inside their home.
Yesterday, November 26, the Java Pension House fire looked similar to the Village 19 blaze.
It started early in the morning and an entire family, the Javas were killed.
Christopher, the owner, 33, his mother Magdalena, 73, his son Christian Miguel, 12, his nanny Ronalyn Dacalio, 43, and Arnold Felomino, 58, a front desk employee.
The Java fire was the second deadliest incident over the past 10 years, next to the Barangay 19 incident, local fire chief Publio Ploteña told DNX.
The two happened on the tail-end of the dead season in the Negros sugar industry and a time when the wind pattern shifts to the amihan felt as a cool northeast wind.
A lot of questions still remain over the Java fire and the answers have yet to be found.