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16 killed in slum community blaze

Sixteen people, including children, were killed when a fire swept through a residential building as people slept in a slum community in the central Philippines early today.

The blaze started after midnight and rapidly spread because of strong winds, gutting the wooden two-storey apartment building and more than 60 nearby shanties in Bacolod city, Fire Marshal Pamela Candido said.

Several people leapt from windows at the height of the fire but others failed to wake up in time to save themselves, she added.

"Some mothers perished with their children," Ms Candido told The Associated Press. "It was really tragic."

Dionisio Nino, a 46-year-old market vendor, wept as firefighters brought out the charred bodies of his wife, two children and a grandchild who were trapped by the blaze in their second-floor room.

"I jumped out of the window to get help but I couldn't get back in later because the fire spread quickly everywhere," he told reporters.

The building housed impoverished families, which included men and women who worked as vendors in a nearby public market, officials said.

Relatives have identified all the dead, who were placed in black bags and lined up side by side in a clearing near the still-smouldering slum community.

An investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire, which started on the ground floor.

Witnesses told investigators the fire may have been sparked by candles lit by a tenant who failed to pay her electric bill, village leader Jocelyn Uychiat said.

Bacolod is on Negros island, an impoverished, sugar-producing region about 340 miles (550km) south of Manila.