Banner of the Official Gazette on Fire Safety
Photo courtesy of gov.ph
Fire is defined as the phenomenon of combustion manifested in light, flame, and heat (see Merriam-Webster definition). It is one of the most potent disasters that man has encountered. There is even a notion that fire is alive (because it feeds on oxygen), although most biologists would tend to disagree. Indeed, there is a saying in Filipino, "Mabuti nang manakawan, huwag lang masunugan" (It is better to be robbed than destroyed by fire). Still, fire incidents are quite common in a country like the Philippines. As late as February 2017, some 15,000 people are left homeless when a thousand houses were burned in Tondo, Manila. Of course, fire and the burning it causes has been with us since time immemorial.

Artist's sculpture of Limahong in Pangasinan
Photo courtesy of Biyaheng Palos
In Filipino history, for instance, there is the invasion of Limahong (Lim Hong or Ah Hong) in 1574. Leading a pirate army of 3,000, he sailed for Manila to take it as his base. By this time, Ming Dynasty China was chasing Limahong with some 40,000 soldiers. He needed a base of operations to face this formidable force sent against him. A quick survey of the Spanish city gave him an idea that shall be of advantage to his invasion. Most of the houses and buildings are made of flammable materials (not to mention thatched roofs). Thus, the pirate leader used fire against the Spanish facilities. The whole city was in flames thereafter. However, what seemed as an easy victory turned into defeat when the combined Spanish and Filipino forces proved tenacious in ground battle. Soon enough, Limahong called off the attack on Manila. Among those killed in the Spanish side was Martin de Goiti, master-at-arms of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and the one who defeated Rajah Sulayman in 1570. Limahong's invasion taught the Spanish a valuable lesson. Two decades later, by 1590, plans were laid to build a city of stone (since stone is not as flammable than wood). This would later become Intramuros, the Walled City.

Antonio Luna
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
325 years after Limahong, it was the Filipinos' turn to utilize fire to their combat advantage. In 1898, the Spanish handed over Manila to the Americans, shutting the Filipinos beyond the city in the process. In February 1899, war broke out between Filipinos and Americans. General Antonio Luna and his staff prepared plans to take the city. By carefully placing their men, the sandatahanes (bolomen dressed in civilian clothes), inside the city and its suburbs, the Filipino forces were able to burn establishments in Santa Cruz and Tondo, Manila. Soon enough, even Binondo caught fire. The inhabitants of the city were in a state of panic. To make matters worse for the Americans, the local firefighters refused to put it out. Thus, they had to rely on their own volunteers. This great fire signaled the beginning of the Filipino attack. It took some three hours to put the fire under control. At least a million pesos were accounted for as damages. Of course, a million pesos in 1899 is different from a million pesos today. One peso in the 1890s is worth at least 942 pesos in 2015. This means that the damages caused by this fire cost almost a billion pesos today. That is equivalent to the damage caused by a typhoon with a retired name (PAGASA retires a typhoon name when damages amount to at least one billion pesos). However, like Limahong's experience, the Filipinos did not win the battle that ensued.

In recent history, major fire incidents continued to destroy properties and lives. For instance, on January 22, 1975, a wig factory in Marikina City burned for three hours, leaving 42 people dead. On March 18, 1996, Ozone Disco in Quezon City caught fire before midnight, causing the death of 162 people. It is officially considered as the worst fire in Philippine history. Meanwhile, the structure where Ozone Disco once stood was demolished after almost two decades, in 2015. In the same year, on May 13, 2015, Kentex slipper factory in Valenzuela burned for five hours, leaving 74 people dead. With such history in fire incidents, the Philippine government has set up fire safety codes, mobilized a Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and designated a Fire Prevention Month to continually raise awareness among the populace. It was on November 17, 1966 when President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation No. 115-A, designating March as Fire Prevention Month. The selection of the month may have been caused by the observation that many fire incidents occur during March, since it is also the month when temperatures begin to rise nationwide. However, it must be taken to mind that fires may occur any month of the year. The following are some fire safety tips from the Philippine National Red Cross (issued in 2008):

1. Avoid electrical overloading.

2. Unplug all electrical appliances after every use.

3. Check all electrical installations regularly.

4. Check gas stoves and LPG tanks for leaks.

5. Keep children away from flammable liquids, lighters and matches.

6. Avoid smoking in bed.

7. Ensure you have a pre-fire plan at your residence or office.

8. Do not leave lighted mosquito coils unattended.

9. Always take extra precautions while cooking.

10. Never leave lighted candles unattended.

11. Do not throw lighted cigar or cigarette butts on dried leaves and garbage.

12. Strictly obey the no smoking signs.

13. Maintain proper housekeeping to eliminate fire hazards.

14. Check fire protection gadgets or devices of appliances and equipment regularly.

15. Be fire-safety conscious.

The main point is that people must remain informed and prepared when it comes to fire safety, because unlike most disasters, fire incidents can be prevented.

See the references here.