Seventeen people were killed and three others were injured when fire gutted an old building hosting different stores in Butuan City early Wednesday, police said.

Those killed were mostly sales personnel staying in a “barracks-type” room in the second floor, Caraga regional police spokesman Supt. Martin Gamba said in a phone interview.

“Parang na-trap sila, inaalam pa ng kung bakit hindi nakalabas, pero may escape ladder naman ‘yung building. Inaalam pa kung naka-lock ‘yung gate, may iba nagsasabi na naka-lock daw, meron namang hindi,” Gamba said.

Fire started around 3 a.m. and reached “general alarm” before it was put out past 6 a.m. with the help of 15 firetrucks.

“Medyo nahirapan ‘yung mga bumbero natin na pasukin ‘yung loob kasi medyo luma na ‘yung building, parang magko-collapse na,” Gamba said.

The two-storey building on Montilla Blvd., inside the city proper, is owned by a certain Boy Tan.

Formerly host to the Crown cinema house, the building, is now an “icon” in Butuan and hosts establishments on the first floor, including a ready-to-wear garments store, a money transfer outlet, and telecommunications outlets, according to Gamba.

Members of the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Butuan City Police are still trying to determine what caused the fire, he said. (John Roson)

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