I Ran Towards The 5 Alarm Fire

Monday 1st July 2020

If I was to sum up this evening in 5 words it would be "I ran towards a fire 🔥"

In a sentence "I ran 8.5km towards a blazing fire, helped people, then ran back home".

In a paragraph:

Today I unexpectedly ran 16.5km as I followed the smoke to a large fire. I helped in a bucket brigade and also helped some people move their stuff to somewhere safer.

The smoke, off in the distance

In Full

I was working over the weekend and missed my usual 5-8km run. So went for a run this evening. I left a 5:30pm half an hour later than I initially planned, but because today was the first day of the relaxed GCQ (General Community Quarantine) in Manila, Philippines I thought it would be interesting to film and compare. Especially as it looked like it'd be a nice sunset.

I had a vague plan to try finding some Graham's which has been in short supply. But when I saw some smoke off in the distance I knew where I was headed. It looked to be a car fire around ADB. So probably 5km away. It'd likely be out before I got there. But I've done a similar run a few times in the last few months should be good to see what's open. Now I can go in as the main quarantine has lifted.

I was wrong. It was a large fire, but further away. In the usual sunken cost fallacy way of thinking the further I ran towards it and closer I got the more I figured I was close and wanted to see it. Then along Shaw Blvd there was a bunch of fire trucks hurtling towards the now obviously rather big fire 🔥.

Followed them most of the way until I saw what looked like a traffic jam of them and found another route which they couldn't fit into.

By now I had convinced myself I'd get some great footage of a house fire abs be able to sell it on the Stock websites using BlackBox.

However as I got close I found myself facing a stream of people going the other way. They were holding their belongings and trying to get out. That's when the human side hit me.

This was what most people would consider a slum or at least very low rent subdivision area. The sort of place were fires spread rather easily.

There were dogs and bags of clothes, people with TVs, fans and microwaves. It was chaos.

I kept moving forward but by now I was so slow that my Garmin watch paused my running session. The narrow corridors and tall buildings wouldn't have helped the GPS anyway.

I went down some cul-de-sacs and there were families getting stuff out of their house and getting things ready. I asked a bunch of times if people needed help moving anything but most of the people were preparing but not actually moving their stuff. In hindsight I realise they weren't close enough to the fire to worry just yet.

I kept heading towards the fire and ended up just following someone down various alleys for a while until I saw a bucket brigade. There was a water tap or two by the street and there was two lines. Buckets were going up the building and people were trying to protect their building from being burnt down. I wanted to get up there for the view but knew it'd be both dangerous and I'd just get in the way. We were at the top of a small hill and there were people trying to bring buckets of water all the way down.

The sun had set some time ago, the street had no lights and I assume no power. So I turned my phone's torch light on.

There was a lot of hectic activity. It was mostly the teenager boys helping out. Someone official looking asked me what I was doing. I was a white guy in running clothes wearing a GoPro strapped to his head. I can see why he was asking. But I walked on. As I walked down the alleyway I saw 3 guys trying to move a large barrel of water.

I helped move it for a little while. It was hard because I was doing it one handed. One holding my phone looking for all the bumps and cracks. The other on the barrel. After a few minutes of dragging and rolling 3 more guys came to help out. Having the light likely helping point them to it.

A moment later someone with a real torch and a walkie talkie joined and I left them to it. I headed to the 4 junction square at the bottom of the small hill where there was large puddles of water.

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Firemen heading into the fray

To my left I could see the flames. There was a stream of fire fighters heading down the little alleyway. They looked to be volunteers, and were laying more hoses. Although you could see that the ones just here weren't actively worried.

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The craziness in front of me, I decided not to go that way

In front was a fire fighting team that was spraying the area. I assume trying to wet the nearby buildings to help stop the fire from spreading.

To might right was where the water bucket brigade ended, at a fire truck. I filmed a little then headed to the right, away from the fire but towards the trucks. There was actually two bucket brigades trying to fill the truck, with fire hoses running all over the place.

I helped move some buckets for a little while before moving on as it was obvious I wasn't needed. I came across another bucket line going to a truck further up and helped out for a reasonable amount of time as it was obvious there was a space I was filling.

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The people on the Fire Truck were filling it with buckets of water from the Bucket Brigade

I became conscious of the fact that it was getting late and I still had to get back home and likely still do some web dev programming work. So I broke rank and started to head out, before remembering all the people who were evacuating. I figured if I was going to leave, I'd do it carrying something. So headed back in and just were there was a street with no light I found an old lady standing by a bunch of gear. I asked her if she needed any help and saw a 20 something girl appear. Breathing heavily she took a few moments before saying yes. She got me to carry a decent sized LPG tank, probably 10-15kg worth and I also grabbed a drawer box full of clothes. She was carrying a big bag of clothes and also something my girlfriend would have really loved, a giant Teddy bear.

We headed up and out and there was people all over the place. We met up with a young boy that the girl knew, brother, son, nefew, I'm not sure but I don't think he spoke much English. He pointed out we were going the wrong direction. I knew we were heading where I'd just been and there was a lot of water and fire trucks there. So we followed him and after what felt like 800m we got to what looked like a school entrance and there was masses of people with their gear. She knew some people in the group. I said goodbye, they said thanks and shook her and the boys hand. I knew they'd be ok, although had at least another trip or two, but I had to get home to my girlfriend and 4 month old baby boy.

As I walked away I got out the hand sanitizer for the 9th time since leaving home but made extra sure to wash my hands. Covid19 is still a major issue and I'd later learn this area has quite a lot of cases.

I found myself following the truck line and stopped to film before realising what I was seeing. The fire trucks were all pumping water from one to the other. They were also doing a big water relay. There was easily over 20 trucks in a row all pumping water to the next in the line with some trucks at the end by a main road, coming and going with newly filled tanks.

The trucks couldn't go in and then just turn around so I guess that's one way of dealing with the rabbit warren of small roads in the Accident Hills Barangay that lead to the fire.

I was glad I brought some money with me as I purchased a small bottle of Royale (Fanta for my Australian friends). I was exhausted and had run so far just to get here. I ran a few more km, past MegaMall and then at the 12km mark was hitting the wall. I checked Grab, which is the Asian version of Uber and got a welcome screen about how they were back running again, but at limited capacity. I'd read there was only 3K Grab cars allowed and as the map screen showed me the area was unavailable, it was either too late (past 8pm) or there just weren't any cars nearby.

Public transport was pretty much nil. So I had no choice but to run the rest of the way.

My body was starved for energy, so I went to a MiniStop and got a can of pineapple juice. That gave me the energy I needed. Although I do admit to walking a couple of hilly sections I got home safe but sore.

This video, whilst in Tagalog shows the extent of the fire. The LPG tanks going off make me happy I helped remove at least one of them from any potential spread. It was a rather big fire.

I wish I had my drone. I could’ve not only got some great footage, but also helped direct some of the teams.

Some stats and general info:

  1. The fire started around 4pm. There's a suggestion it was from a family having a fight.
  2. I admit, I didn't actually help out that much. I probably spent as much time filming with my phone as I did in a bucket brigade. But did try to help given my energy levels, need to get home and not wanting to get in the way of people who were fighting for their livelyhood.
  3. I did 25,229 steps for the day according to my watch, covering 21.6km. I find it hard to get more than 3k steps in a normal day at home but aim to have 6k steps in average as that's just above the average needed to drastically reduce your chances of getting depressed. So I’m going to be good exercise wise for the whole week.

Some other articles about the fire:

Written by

Web Dev, Activist, Photographer and avid learner.

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