By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY (updated Feb 23, 11:18 am) — Forest fires that struck the woodland near Philex Mines in Benguet on Feb. 21 and blazes that consumed forest areas in Mountain Province were among the disastrous fires recorded this February.
Fourteen fires razed forests in Sagada and Bauko municipalities in Mountain Province just this month according to the towns’ Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) records, with one fire still raging in Bauko as of Feb 22.
Apart from the fire near Philex in Baranagay Ampucao, Itogon town, bushfires also destroyed parts of Mt. Yangbew on Feb. 2 and Mt. Kalugong on Valentine’s Day. Both summits are located in La Trinidad. Latest report as of Feb 22 also put total scarred area in Ampucao at 60 hectares.
Benguet. According to the provincial fire bureau, 36 forest fires occurred in the province from January to the present.
The forest fire that hit Mt. Am-o, a watershed in Bauko town has not been put out yet as of press time according to tourism officer Arsenia Addon. She said the forest fire is the 7th in the town since Feb 7.
The said fires happened in barangays Abatan, Bila, Bangnin, Guinsadan, Mt. Data and Balintaugan.
Addon said mountain trekking trails in the town were closed since Wednesday, Feb. 20 due to several forest fires in the area. These include the Spanish trail leading to Bauko 7 peaks and Usan trail leading to Mt. Bato.
“The trails will remain closed until the burned areas are rehabilitated,” she said.
SF03 John Dacwang, officer in charge of the Bauko BFP said recorded forest fires since January gutted at least 22 hectares.
“All cases are still under investigation,” he said.
Meanwhile, fire fighters in Sagada responded to seven forest fires since the first week of February according to SFO4 Jose Sudicalan.
The most recent was a fire that gutted some four hectares of the forest in Brgy. Poblacion on the afternoon of Feb 21 .
Sudicalan said they arrived at the area at around 2:30 pm and were able to put out the fire at around 4:30 pm. At around 7:00 pm, a report of another forest fire in the village of Aguid reached the station.
“We went to Aguid but the fire was way into the forest where there are no roads and is hard to access, so we were not able to go to the area of the fire,” he said.
The fire marshal said four forest fires, including the biggest blaze on Feb 21, happened in Poblacion. He also acknowledge that other bushfires were put out immediately with the assistance of the residents.
Separate fires that hit the tourist town destroyed around 10 hectares of forest based on his estimate. The authorities have yet to identify the cause of the fires.
Sudicalan explained that forest fires are common because the pine needles and dried grass easily catch fire even with just a cigarette butt. There has been no rain in the area since January.
Other possible causes he cited were cinders carried by strong winds during farm cleaning and clearing kaingin (slash-and-burn farming). Like most mountain communities, Sagada folk engage in kaingin in areas allowed in their communal forests.
Sagada Mayor James Pooten, Jr. said forest fires are normal to his town at this time of the year.
“Since I was a kid I remember that forest fires occur towards summer,” he said.
The mayor shared that communities have developed their system to manage their forest resources and respond to forest fires within their communal forests. These include the Batangan (indigenous forest protection and management) system.
“Our Batangan system outlines how to protect our communal forests and how to manage the resources in them,” he said.
Pooten added that their customary laws also include penalties for those who violate the Batangan system.
He told Nordis that forest fires in accessible areas are easily responded to and controlled. However, there are those that occur deep into the mountain, far from communities, that even the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) do not have the capacity to put out.
Aside from the five victims in Itogon town on Feb 21, forest fire also claimed the life of a farmer in Tadian, Mountain Province on Feb 18.
Killed in the fire that ravaged Mt. Am-0 is 80 year old Delfin Carias who suffered fourth degree burns on 100% of the body surface area.
It can be recalled that four Philex foresters and a resident perished in the fire that ravaged a 6-hectare forest area in Sitio Sal-angan, Barangay Ampucao.
Killed in the incident were Dante Molina, Noel Dagiyem, Marlon Guiniguin, Dexter Labasan and Leon Mocate. # nordis.net