By KIMBERLIE NGABIT QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Fires again destroyed forests in Benguet province last night, March 10, burning an estimated 15 hectares of mountain lands.
A fire that started at around 5:45 pm in Sitio Bisil, Barangay Gumatdang in Itogon town was put out at around 4:00 am the following day, according to the Bureau of Fire Prevention (BFP) in the municipality. The fire razed some five hectares of forest.
The Itogon fire department recorded three separate forest fires in January and February including the fire that razed some 60 hectares of forest and killed five foresters of the Philex Mining Company in February.
In nearby Tuba town, a fire razed some 10 hectares of forest in Sitio Pit-lawan, Barangay Poblacion according to the municipal fire department. The fire was reported at around 5:45 pm and was declared fire out at around 11:40 pm. The fire was blamed the incident to kaingin (slash and burn) but no person was identified.
The BFP already raised alarm over the spate of forest fires in the Cordillera since January.
BFP Mountain Province recorded 20 forest fires the past two months including a fire that razed Mt. Amo a watershed that serves Tadian and Bauko towns where an elderly farmer was killed.
Supt. Allan Emballar said the forest fires are alarming, attributing the spate of blazes to the lack of rains since December.
“This makes our forests very susceptible to fire,” he said.
Of the six provinces in the region, only Apayao has no forest fires recorded in January and February based on BFP records.
In Kalinga, grasslands are being burned for graze land, according to Chief Insp. Rogelio Nisos to allow new grass to grow. He explained that new grass are good food for cattle, adding that fire authorities are even scolded by cattle raisers for putting out grass fire.
He said uncontrolled grass fires affects adjacent lands or forest. The province recorded at least five forest fires since the start of the year.
Last week, the upland town of Cervantes in Ilocos Sur also suffered from forest blaze, gutting more than 1000 hectares of forest area. Affected were the barangays of Comillas South and Dinwede East.
“The figures are alarming,” SSupt. Maria Sofia Mendoza said.
Mendoza said everybody should be more vigilant given PAG-ASA’s El Nino warning.
According to BFP data, there were over 90 forest and grass fires recorded in the Cordillera in January and February compared to the 87 forest fires recorded from January to March last year.
She encouraged farmers to refrain from burning their farm trimmings and from practicing kaingin. She said that uncontrolled kaingin is the leading reason for forest fires on the region.
The fire official explained that because of the dry spell, the forest can easily catch fire.
“Prevention is better than cure,” Mendoza said.
According to the Global Forest Watch Fires (GFW Fires) of the 17, 231 fire alerts from Jan 1 to Mar 10 this year, Benguet registered the most number with 1373 fire alerts. Two other provinces in Cordillera made it to the Top 10 with Abra at third place with 1001 fire alerts and Mountain Province fifth with 826 alerts recorded.
GFW Fires is an online platform that utilized real-time satellite data from the NASA’s Active Fires system, high resolution satellite imagery, detailed maps of land cover to monitor and respond to forest and land fires.
Environment and Natural Resources secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered the regional offices to conduct region-wide assessment and updating of their respective forest protection plans in anticipation of an El Niño-induced drought, which could increase the risk of wild fires. # nordis.net