Cebu News

Firemen push trucks to scene: Fire destroys Oslob church

- Fred Languido, Garry B. Lao -

The close to two centuries-old parish church of Oslob town was gutted down by fire believed to been caused by a computer that short-circuited.

While miraculously the image of the town’s patron saint, Immaculada Concepcion, was spared from the early dawn blaze, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) is going to be under probe after firemen failed to immediately respond.

The fire station of the town, which is located 117 kilometers south of Cebu City on the eastern side of this island province, is just 30 meters away from the church.

It took firemen about three hours to put out the blaze, because the two fire trucks of the town had to be pushed to get to the fire scene.

The fire trucks both had defective master clutch assemblies, said Senior Fire Officer 2 Jaime Suycano, who had already made a request for the repair early this month with the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

Suycano said that the request was made last March 3.

Assistant Ombudsman Virginia Palanca Santiago, who heard Suycano’s interview over radio station dyLA, yesterday ordered a fact-finding investigation into the possible negligence of the BFP.

Santiago said the fire could have been put off immediately had the firemen responded on time after receiving the alarm at 1:40 a.m. yesterday.

According to Suycano, they had to look for people to help them push their fire trucks, which took them sometime.

He said when they arrived at the scene the fire was already big prompting them to declare a general alarm to seek help from all fire stations in Cebu.  

Suycano said they were only able to control the fire at 4:30 a.m. or almost three hours after it started, because they had to wait for the fire trucks from the neighboring towns of Santander, Dalaguete, Argao and Sibonga to arrive.

He explained that they could not refill their fire trucks with water because their engines are not working.

Suycano said, the fire started at the room of Fr. Valentino Gemelo, parish priest, who was in Cebu City for personal reasons when the fire broke out.

Gemelo left his 20-year old altar boy and nephew Feryland Gemelo to take care of the convent.

The fire destroyed the interior and the roof of the church, which was built in 1830, including the altar. The walls however did not collapse because it was made of corals.

The parishioners believe that it was a miracle that the image of the Immaculate Conception was not burned even if the altar was totally razed.

The icon’s glass case only cracked apparently because of intense heat.

Initial investigation pointed to a computer that was not turned off, inside Fr. Gemelo’s room at the convent, as the cause of the blaze.

The priest was not happy with the initial findings of the fire department saying that it is not fair to immediately conclude considering that the computer has voltage regulator.

“Wala ko nahimo-ot sa maong pasangil. Ilang susihon ang electrical wirings dinhi sa convento kung okay pa ba,” Gemelo said.

Gemelo said he heard that Cebu

Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal will visit the site this week.

Provincial Fire Marshal Victor Vibares believes that faulty electrical wirings might have caused the fire.

Oslob Mayor Ronald Guarin said that baptismal and marriage certificates were burned.

Guarin said the church was burnt during the war, and subsequently the vault and dome fell. Again the church was gutted in 1955, Fr. Benedicto Zafra restored the church, and restoration continued under Fr. Constantino Batoctoy and was completed in 1980.

From 1737-1742, because of personnel shortage, the Augustinians handed the administration of the Oslob Parish to the Jesuits.

Oslob became an independent parish in 1848 under the advocacy of the Immaculate Conception.

Fr. Julian Bermejo is credited for building the church, laying its foundation on May 4, 1830. The plans were drawn by then Cebu bishop, Santos Gómez Marañón, and was completed 18 years later.  The church was blessed by Father Romualdo Gimeno in 1847.

Fr. Apolinar Alvares built the adjacent bell tower in 1858. Although Fr. Julian started construction of the convent, it was finished and reinforced with buttresses by Fr. Juan Aragones between 1848 and 1850.

In 1932, Fr. Pablo Alva replaced the church’s tile roof with galvanized sheets.

The convento built at the side of the church is an oversized bahay na bato. — /NLQ

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