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Home » Migrated » Nuevo Fuego: Remembering the Camino Nuevo Fire

Nuevo Fuego: Remembering the Camino Nuevo Fire

March 23, 2006, at around 5:30 p.m – a fire devoured Camino Nuveo leaving nothing but ashes and memories that will haunt the victims, volunteers, and spectators forever.

Seven years and four months later, at around the same time, the memoirs of the Camino Nuevo Fire took another form as it was reminisced during an exhibit in the Gallery of the Peninsula and the Archipelago. Students, staff, and some of the survivors themselves gathered to tell the tale of an event that changed their lives and left an imprint in the Ateneo history as well.

It was no ordinary exhibit. It was an experiential exhibit. As we entered the gallery, all of our five senses were one by one awakened and the accounts of those who have witnessed the event seem to have transported us back in time.

Chapter One: FIRE

In the stage set with the different tarpaulins printed with depict scenes from the Camino Nuevo Fire, the story of a volunteer, Mellun Pepito initiated our journey. He recounted his experience as a volunteer being dragged by a man asking for his help in trying to save whatever things they can. Another faculty of the Ateneo, Michelle Reyes, a fire victim this time, tried to hold back tears as she remembered how she lived in the place for twenty three years. Branded as a Camino Nuevo Girl, she told her story with every detail she could remember even from when she thought the fire was just a false alarm.

Aling Lourdes, another victim, took her place with the same emotional story of saving her father and being able to carry only three items with them: a pot, some plates, and an amount of cooked rice. In her words, the fire was indescribable. The only thing that she could think of was to persist in reaching the gates of Ateneo in order to ensure both her and her father’s safety.

Chapter Two: Heroes

“The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference.” – Henry Miller

And act they did. From the moment the AdZU gates were opened, every member of the community had the urge to serve the fire victims at whatever cost. From the humblest act of chopping vegetables to segregating donated clothes – all were valuable acts of service. Engr. Aldrin Hitalia narrated how she somehow lost contact with the outside world for the time being, as her world revolved between the market and the makeshift kitchen she had to manage feeding about 1800 of the victims at a time.

It was no ordinary task to accommodate such a huge number of people. Attending to their every need and making the best of what was provided, each willing hand to contribute and help was vital in managing the situation. And the heroes acted in any and every way possible. Students, teachers, and the staff were one in spirit, the best of the Ateneo spirit.

The president at that time, Fr William H Kreutz SJ, recalled along emphasizing that it was a good decision to open the AdZU gates for the people. It was a decision not to be thought twice, a response to the immediate call of need.

Chapter Three: Ashes

Fr Wilfredo Samson SJ and Fr Albert Alejo SJ, both not yet with AdZU at the time of the Camino Nuveo Fire, talked about the two dimensions the event had on the victims and on the entire Ateneo community itself. Nuevo Fuego, a new fire, symbolizes the passion and compassion we need to keep burning in our hearts for our fellow human beings. Indeed what were left of the fire are ashes of the structures destroyed. But as Fr Willy said, behind those ashes are the hearts of the Ateneans who took it upon themselves to lend a hand and to demonstrate the highest form of love and service for others.

This is the real worth of the Ateneo’s hundred years of existence. This is the story that needs to be recalled in order for us to remember the true and heartfelt meaning of community. More than the all the achievements our institution has received, the most meaningful one still lies in primary definition of the Ateneo – to be men and women for others.