PORAC, Pampanga — Around P4.8 billion worth of fake cigarettes, raw materials, chemicals and cigarette-making machines literally turned into ashes after a 15-hour fire completely gutted three warehouses here on Labor Day.
The burned items were pieces of evidence seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), along with the police, in raids against manufacturers and distributors of fake cigarettes in different parts of the country.
They were being kept in the warehouses of Digama Waste Management Services and the Greenleaf 88 Non-Hazardous Waste Disposal inside a 4-hectare compound in Barangay Mitla here for safekeeping while the legal cases against the suspects are pending in courts.
The pieces of evidence include P1.3 billion worth of fake cigarettes and raw materials seized by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the BIR in Mabalacat City on June 24, 2021.
Also inside the burned warehouses were products, chemicals and manufacturing machines seized by the BOC and BIR from San Simon, Pampanga and Bulacan, Pangasinan, Cavite, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro over the past few years. The two companies also keep pieces of evidence for Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco against those who copied their products.
It was learned the the warehouses contained some P4.8 billion of confiscated products.
Robert Gaza, owner of Greenleaf 88, said only several security personnel reported for work on Monday since it was a non-working legal holiday.
“Yung mga security personnel napansin na may usok sa bandang likuran ng mga warehouse na magkakadikit bandang 1 pm. Nung lumapit sila para tingnan, nabigla sila na mabilis nang kumakalat na ang sunog sa loob at labas ng isang warehouse,” he said.
Gaza said the security personnel immediately notified him and the fire department about the fire.
“Nagsidatingan po ang mga fire trucks ng Porac at yung galing sa ibang bayan at lungsod sa Pampanga para pagtulungan na patayin ang sunog pero nahirapan sila dahil mabilis na kumalat ang apoy sa loob ng mahigit 2,400 square meters area ng mga warehouse,” he said.
The fire lasted for 15 hours or until 4 am of Tuesday.
Porac Fire Chief Luna Lumba said initial investigation showed that the fire started from inside one of the warehouses.
On Monday night, a member of the Bureau of Fire Protection said the fire was probably caused by the very hot weather, adding that the combustible materials have been stored in the warehouses made of galvanized materials for a long time.
“Mahirap pong i-put out ang apoy dahil puno ng combustible materials ang loob ng mga warehouse. Nakita naman po nyo na halos walang tigil ang pagbalik-balik ng mga fire trucks at inikutan na ang mga warehouse pero very persistent talaga ang sunog,” another firefighter said.
At around 10 pm on Monday, this correpondent even saw a group of firefighters climbing the roof of a building to spray water inside the warehouses from the top.