In the predawn hours of February 28, the Tzu Chi community of Barangay Tatalon, Quezon City mobilized to aid families displaced by a huge fire. Local Tzu Chi volunteers prepared hot meals for the victims at breakfast and lunch, and would do so for dinner.
At 4:00 a.m., the fire engulfed a hundred homes and displaced an estimated 300 families. As it reached fifth alarm, firefighters from all over Quezon City raced to contain the blaze. No casualties were reported.
The Tzu Chi community of Barangay Tatalon, Quezon City was alerted to a huge fire that broke out in the predawn hours of February 28.
At 4:00 a.m., the fire razed a block of slums and forced an estimated 300 families from their homes. Within an hour, the fire reached fifth alarm, prompting fire stations from nearby barangays to respond with haste. The cause of the fire is under investigation as of this writing, although accounts from the fire victims point to an unattended phone charger. The fire was brought under control by 7:30 a.m.
Due to the firefighters battling the blaze on two fronts, a section of Quezon Avenue was closed to traffic.
Small businesses weren’t spared from the disaster. Michelle Matriano’s internet café was reduced to a smoldering husk. All ten computer units and five video game consoles—capital of Php150,000—were traded for scrap for Php1,300, less than one percent of their original value.
“The fire had already grown big by this time, so I saved my child first, while my companion grabbed a few clothes. By the time we reached safety, the firefighters prohibited us from returning because the fire grew bigger,” Matriano narrates.
Local volunteers led by Evelyn Lato have begun mobilizing as early as 6:00 a.m. The recycling center, a few-minute walk away from the disaster site, became their base of relief operations. For breakfast, they prepared hot soup, bread, and coffee to the fire victims and firefighters.
“Tatalon has many donors, as well as Tzu Chi commissioners and Faith Corps volunteers. So we’re deeply concerned by their well-being with this tragedy,” Lato shares.
Firefighters from all over Quezon City fought the blaze to a standstill for hours. Even as the sun rose, they continued to extinguish pockets of smoke among the wreckage. In any disaster, these men and women put their lives on the line so that others may live. Fire inspector Lyndon Yao, overseeing the fire operation, is grateful for the lengths Tzu Chi went to reinvigorate his men.
“Whenever there’s a fire, Tzu Chi’s been very supportive to our firefighters, not only from the [Bureau of Fire Protection] but also the volunteers, as well as the residents,” says Yao.
With the arrival of the Mobile Kitchen from the Tzu Chi Great Love Campus late morning, the volunteers prepared a two-course lunch of stir-fried noodles and braised veggie-meat. A full complement manning the cooking platform from Taiwan can feed hundreds of disaster victims multiple times. They also planned to cook dinner.
Gift of life
For five years, Tzu Chi volunteer Warlita Azucena has been waking up early to make “three steps and one bow.” Every Wednesday morning, volunteers gather at Jing Si Hall to perform this ritual to give thanks for the blessings in their lives.
When the fire broke out before sunrise, the 74-year-old volunteer puts every bit of her faith in Master Cheng Yen and her wisdom. Even as the fire consumed her home, she prayed for the wellbeing of her two children and one grandchild. Hours later, the fire claimed about a hundred homes but no innocent lives.
And so, as firefighters mop up at the site, Azucena headed to Jing Si Hall for the ceremony as if it was any other Wednesday morning.
“I went to [Jing Si Hall] to give thanks to Master Cheng Yen because she heard my prayer,” she says.
A survivor of Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana), Azucena has since been praying for the gift of life. She asks to be allowed to live longer so that she can do more good deeds in return. So far, her prayers are answered without question, inspiring her to dedicate her time to charity while she still can.
“I give thanks when I live up to 60. I do the same when I reach 65, and so on. I’ve always been grateful for this, so I dedicate my time while I’m still able,” she says.