Philippine firefighters rein in second mall blaze in two weeks

MANILA - Firefighters have brought under control a blaze that raged for two days at a shopping mall in the central Philippines, with no casualties reported, a regional fire official said on Sunday (Jan 7).

The fire at Ayala Centre Cebu was the second at a mall within two weeks, following an incident that killed 37 call centre employees and an off-duty security officer at the mall in the southern city of Davao.

The fire was under control by 12.45pm on Sunday, Samuel Tadeo, the regional director of the Bureau of Fire Protection, told reporters.

"The mall will remain closed until the fire is extinguished and we have done our full systems check," Ayala Centre Cebu said in a posting on its Facebook page.

All employees and shopping mall customers were evacuated after smoke was detected in a toy storeroom in the Metro Department Store and Supermarket on the third level of the Ayala Centre Cebu.

The extent of damage was still unclear.

The property firm behind Ayala Centre Cebu is owned by Ayala Corp, one of the Philippines' largest conglomerates.

Meanwhile, authorities have suspended operations of the Davao shopping mall and the call centre run by a US firm, citing failure to fully comply with fire safety requirements for five successive years.

Investigators looking into the Dec 23 blaze, which broke out at a furniture and fabric store on a lower floor before engulfing the call centre's offices, said there were indications of fire safety lapses that might have contributed to the tragedy.

Charito Plaza, director-general of the government's Philippine Economic Zone Authority, said the agency has suspended the registration of the New City Commercial Centre (NCCC) and American firm Research Now SSI in Davao for failing to meet certain safety requirements since 2013.

"Violations were more of the non-compliance of annual emergency drills to test the fire-safety equipment, response and rescue capability, sprinklers and emergency exits," Plaza told Reuters in a text message last week.

The suspension took effect on Dec 29, which meant NCC and SSI will be barred from any further expansion in the Philippines.