By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The Bureau of Fire Prevention Cordillera (BFP) said the spate of forest fires in the region this January and February is alarming.
According to BFP data, there were over 90 forest and grass fires recorded in the Cordillera this January and February as compared to 87 recorded from January to March in 2018.
Senior Supt. Maria Sofia Mendoza said the number of incidents recorded in the first two months this year is alarming given the El Nino warning of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA).
“We do not want more fires but we have to brace ourselves and prepare, because we have had no rain this year,” Mendoza said during a press conference on February 27.
It can be recalled that on Feb. 20, four foresters of Philex Mining Corp. and an elderly resident were killed in a fire that hit some 60 ha in a forest area that straddles Itogon and Tuba towns in Benguet province.
In Sagada in Mountain Province, authorities recorded at least seven forest fires this month. The most recent fire gutted 6 ha of forest in Barangay Aguid on Feb. 21.
The Spanish trail leading to Bauko 7 Peaks and the Usan trail leading to Mt. Bato in Bauko town in Mountain Province have been off limits to tourists since February 20 after a fire destroyed portions of Mt. Am-o that straddles Bauko and Tadian town.
Arsenia Addon, tourism officer of Bauko town, said the fire at Mt. Am-o, a watershed, started on February 17 and raged until February 22, killing a farmer from Tadian. To date, more than 50 he of forest area in parts of the municipality.
Municipal officials called on concerned agencies to craft a more comprehensive plan after the anti-forest fire system put to protect their forest failed to prevent the incident. Large portion of Mount Data watershed is located in the town.
Mendoza said the recent creation of a task force against environmental crimes in the Cordillera would be of great help in addressing the perennial problem. She said the task force will be co-chaired by the BFP and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“Forest fire prevention needs an inter-agency response and government agencies must work together to protect our forests, our environment,” she said.
Mendoza said the BFP lacks equipment and personnel to fight forest fires but the task force is expected to provide reinforcement.
She said they would also rely on the data on climate change and weather from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration to address the problem.
During the press conference, Baguio fire fighters were called to put out a grass fire near the Baguio City Economic Zone in Barangay Loakan here and to help put out another fire in Sitio Tuding, Itogon, Benguet.
Fire investigators said they have yet to determine the source of the forest fires but cited kaingin (slash-and-burn farming) as one of the causes in the past years.# nordis.net