MANILA, Philippines – A huge blaze believed to have been ignited by firecrackers razed nearly a thousand shanties and killed three people in a creekside slum in the Philippine capital, one of more than a dozen fires across the country linked to raucous New Year's celebrations.
Strong winds fanned the flames racing through nearly a kilometer (half a mile) -long row of shanties in a village in suburban Quezon city in metropolitan Manila before dawn Thursday, said village officer Noel Carino. Firefighters struggled to get near the burning shanties because of narrow alleys.
"It's really a tragic way to welcome the new year," Carino said.
Firefighters recovered the body of a woman and two other residents who were trapped in their houses after rains helped douse the six-hour inferno. Three people were injured, including a firefighter, whose three fingers were ripped off by metal shrapnel that flew around when a cooking gas tank exploded, the Bureau of Fire Protection said.
Residents struggled to save anything they could from the fire, including cats and dogs, with many using improvised floating devices to cross a murky river and escape the flames.
Bureau of Fire Protection spokesman Renato Marcial said nearly a thousand houses, mostly shanties and huts, were destroyed, displacing about 4,000 poor families.
At least 17 fires have raged across the country prior to and during New Year's revelry. Despite threats of arrest and a government scare campaign, outlawed powerful firecrackers were still used, according to the bureau.
At least seven people died in two of the fires, Marcial said, adding that some of the flames were believed to have been ignited by illegal firecrackers.
The Department of Health reported Thursday that more than 350 people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire in recent weeks and on New Year's Eve. The figure is considerably lower than last year's, but still an alarming sign of an unstoppable annual folly.