At Least 24 Die in Department Store Fire in the Philippines

At least 24 people died in a fire that engulfed a one-story department store in the central Philippines on Christmas Day, police said Tuesday.

The fire, believed to have been caused by firecrackers, swept through the store in Ormoc city, 550 kilometers southeast of Manila, leaving many vendors and customers trapped inside, acting provincial police director Senior Superintendent Manuel Cobillo said.

At least five people were injured. Two of them are in critical condition, he said.

The charred remains of the 24 victims were found inside a bathroom, where they tried to escape from the blaze, said Chief Superintendent Eliseo dela Paz. Those killed included customers, vendors and store employees.

He said the fire started from firecrackers and pyrotechnics that ignited near the entrance door of the Unitop Commercial store.

A television station reported the store did not have a permit to sell firecrackers, and Cobillo said emergency exits were locked. Police were looking for the owner.

Many stores and malls throughout the predominantly Christian Philippines were open on Christmas Day, a public holiday, giving families a chance for last-minute shopping as well as recreation.