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PHOTOS | No subtraction of courage, faith in Addition Hills folks' heart after big fire

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By: Text and photos by Bernard Testa/ November 26, 2015 5:38 PM The online news portal of TV5 MANILA, Philippines - If their tears combined could put out a fire, the families of Nimfa Ponce and the Pilano couple, and those of over a thousand other families would not be homeless for Christmas.


As it is, a noontime fire that lasted five hours Wednesday in Brgy. Addition Hills in Mandaluyong City east of the capital razed 10 blocks of homes, leaving thousands in temporary shelter.

Ponce, 45, said she has no more tears to shed after trying to save a few precious belongings, as the fire - said to have started on Block 32 - spread quickly to blocks 15, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 32 plus their extension blocks.

Most of the families in the area are typical working-class folks - starting couples, single parents, contractuals and daily wage earners - trying to survive in humble abodes that resemble lego blocks stacked close to each other. Some rented homes, others rented rooms, and some, like the Pilanos, had just finished building their own home.

Narrow alleyways cut through the whole barangay, and it's these tiny entrance points that made it hard for the first reponders to stop the fire before it got out of hand and devoured entire blocks.

The fire was so big it reached General Alarm, drawing Bureau of Fire Personnel from the whole metropolis, as well as fire volunteer brigades. Residents counted more than 100 fire trucks of different makes and sizes stretched along Martinez street, but with only a few smaller ones managing to squeeze through the narrow streets.

Later, the Air Force was called in, with their helpful water-bucket drops.

Some witnesses and residents in the area said they were thankful that firemen (both BFP and volunteers) arrived on time, but, besides the problem of penetrating the narrow alleys, some of the bigger firetrucks ran out of water;  some had difficulty replenishing their stock from the hydrant because of little water pressure.

Super 8 grocery personnel Recie Calzado, 31, driven purely by adrenaline, took less than 15 minutes - just half of her normal pace - to run to her house from her workplace on Shaw Blvd.

She and husband and their couple friends didn’t make it in time to save anything of value from their rented room.

Meanwhile, as arson investigators are collating more evidence and testimonies, DILG Secretary Senen Sarmiento arrived and talked to the ground commander. He immediately made a call to thank the Air Force for the help provided.

Couples for Christ members Greg and Jocelyn Pilano were a picture of calm and  even gratitude - that their family survived - as they spoke to, saying ‘God is good’ even if they saw in horror their newly built house razed to the ground.

Mrs. Pilano and her mother and sister, who were sleeping at the time of the incident, had helped each other climb to a second floor and walk through wooden debris to escape the fire by scaling the wall of a nearby subdivision.

They found themselves crying with the few precious belongings they had saved: clutching images of the Virgin Mary, the Sto. Niño [Child Jesus] and a Christmas tree.

The Couples For Christ community responded and helped them to salvage their appliances, clothes and everything they can throw to the other side of the wall.

Greg Pilano said he was just three houses away from the fire when he suddenly felt the Holy Bible in his hand and thought: “The Lord will not give you a problem which you cannot solve, It is just a trial.”

With their four children safe in the basketball court in the nearby botanical garden, they know Christmas will be bleak, possessions-wise, but keep adding that they thank the Lord for their safety.

"God is Good, even in times of distress," Greg intones.

The Pilanos are apparently not members of the Couples for Christ for nothing: Greg and Jocelyn Pilano saw their house burned to the ground, but still thanked God for their safety, adding "pagsubok lang yan [that is just a test], God is Good."

Nimfa Ponce (foreground) says she has no more tears to shed as she sadly surveys her razed house on Martinez Street , Brgy. Addition Hills.

Residents of Martinez Street on Brgy. Addition Hills guard their belongings.

BFP personnel replenish the supply of a firetruck that responded to the fire scene on Martinez St. on Brgy. Addition Hills.

This is the barangay hall opposite the fire scene, where several residents camped out for the meantime.

DILG Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento thanks the BFP fire fighters and the volunteer brigade and the Air Force choppers  personnel who helped out out the blaze.

BFP trucks had difficulty penetrating the fire scene in the first hour of the fire because the entry points were like this narrow alley.

Residents with whatever belongings they could take from their houses fill up Martinez Street, waiting for a chance to return home or seek temporary shelter.

Residents lift appliances as heavy as refrigerators as the BFP announced the fireout.

The basketball court and botanical garden nearby provide temporary shelter for fire victims.

Greg Pinalo arranges a Christmas tree, sharing his reflection on the moment: "Hindi ka bibigyan ng problema ni Lord kung hindi mo kaya, pagsubok lang ito [God won't give you a problem you can't bear; this is just a setback]."

The Pilano family's belongings sit next to their Christmas tree inside the barangay and botanical garden.

Residents manage to eat their lunch and dinner after their evacuation at the barangay and botanical garden.

Children play in a nearby playground, blissfully unaware of their elders' nightmare.


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