Fire engulfs house in Gualo Rai


A fireman checks out the gutted house. The fire also burned the couple’s vehicle. (Ferdie de la Torre)

A couple’s money and all their belongings, including a car, turned into ash when a fire of still unknown cause gutted their rented house across the New XO Market in Gualo Rai yesterday morning.

“We [weren’t able to] save anything because the fire was already big when we came,” according to Victoria Catbagan, speaking in Tagalog.

Catbagan, 53, and her common-law husband, Romeo Tajan, 59, suspected that somebody burglarized the house and intentionally set it on fire.

The one-story house was made of light materials. The couple’s 1996 Mitsubishi Mirage was also engulfed in flames as it was adjacent to the house.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze after about 30 minutes. The Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services has yet to release information about the incident.

After securing the house around 7:55am, the couple walked over to the New XO Market, where they are both employed as stockers.

At about 9am, the couple’s friends called to tell them that their house was burning. The couple ran to the house, but it was already engulfed in thick smoke and large fire.

The couple failed to save any of their belongings, including clothes, money, passports, and other items. Catbagan said they had just received their salaries last Tuesday; the money was burned too.

“We don’t know what to do now,” said Catbagan, who has been on Saipan since 1992. Tajan has been on the island since 1995.

The couple had been renting the house, which is owned by Jess Kaipat, for seven years now. The couple said they never fell victim to burglars because Kaipat, who lives near the house, is always watchful. Kaipat, however, is currently off island, in the Philippines.

American Red Cross-NMI Chapter volunteers were at the scene yesterday, interviewing and assisting the couple.

Last July 23, a fire engulfed a container filled with eggs and frozen goods in a compound located beside the New XO Market along Chalan Pale Arnold Road.

Loud explosions were heard from the container, but no one was injured.

Witnesses said the container belonged to the New XO Market.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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