DAVAO CITY - Melvin Gaa, a security officer at NCCC Mall, had already helped evacuate some call centre workers as fire raged through the four-story building on Saturday.
"But instead of [staying on the ground], he went [up] again to try to save more people," Thea Padua, spokesperson for the shopping mall, told the Inquirer in a Facebook chat on Wednesday.
Gaa died trying to rescue trapped employees of a 24-hour call centre for Connecticut-based market research company Survey Sampling International (SSI) on the building's top floor.
His body was recovered from what remained of the building on Tuesday, raising the death toll from the 32-hour fire to 38.
The other 37 victims were call centre workers at SSI.
Gaa, who had worked at NCCC for 10 years, had helped evacuate 83 other SSI employees and about 700 workers of the mall and shoppers before he died, Padua said.
"We offer his family our sympathies and recognise with the deepest gratitude Melvin's sacrifice," Padua said, adding that Gaa was a hero.
Lloyd Angeles, a supervisor at SSI, also returned to the top floor although the fire was dangerously spreading to help evacuate his coworkers.
Unlike Gaa, however, he lived to tell his experience.
Angeles said in a post on Facebook on Christmas Eve that when the fire broke out, SSI employees followed the evacuation plan, grouping themselves according to their designated fire exits.
But as they were fleeing the burning building, someone told him that there were employees still in the locker area.
"I ran to the locker area and smoke was already black and I yelled 'lobby' so many times I couldn't count it," he said.
"After everyone exited the hallway, I started moving toward the lobby and exited the building," he added.
"When I was told that there [were] missing four (employees), and two of [them were] confirmed [to be] still inside, I went back up and informed the firefighters that we [had some] people trapped," he said.
But it was already too late, he said, as the heat had become unbearable and thick smoke had overwhelmed all entry points.
"We tried every entry point, to no avail," he said.
Of the 38 who died in the fire, only two remained unidentified as of Wednesday.
Forensic officers said they needed to be sure which one was Mikko Demafeliz and which one was Alexandra Moreno.
They said they might resort to DNA tests if they could not find "secondary identifiers" such as jewelry and still-readable IDs.