Alarm raised as forest fires hit Benguet towns

BAGUIO CITY — More than 15 hectares of forest in two adjacent towns in Benguet province were destroyed by fire that raged for nearly 10 hours on Sunday until Monday.

 

The blaze that started around 5:45 p.m. at Sitio Bisil in Barangay Gumatdang in Itogon town burned at least 5 ha and was placed under control at 4 a.m. on Monday, according to the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Itogon.

It recorded three forest fires in January and February, including the one that razed some 60 ha and killed five foresters of Philex Mining Corp. in February.

In nearby Tuba town, fire also razed some 10 ha of forest at Sitio Pitlawan in Barangay Poblacion on Sunday, according to the Tuba fire station.

The fire was reported at 5:45 p.m. and was put out around 11:40 p.m.

No rainfall

Tuba fire officials blamed the fire on “kainginero” (slash-and-burn farmers).

The BFP in Cordillera has raised the alarm over the series of forest fires since January.

In Mountain Province, 20 forest fires were recorded in the past two months, including the one that struck the watershed of Mt. Amo that serves Tadian and Bauko towns. An elderly farmer was killed in the blaze.

Supt. Allan Emballar, Mountain Province fire marshal, said the lack of rainfall since December had also made the forests “very susceptible to fire.”

In Kalinga, grasslands were being burned for graze land that had affected adjacent lands or forests, according to Chief Insp. Rogelio Nisos, the province’s fire marshal.

He said fire authorities were even scolded by residents for putting out grass fires.

Apayao spared

Kalinga recorded at least five forest fires. “The figures are alarming,” Senior Supt. Maria Sofia Mendoza, BFP regional director, told a recent press briefing here.

Of the six provinces in Cordillera, only Apayao has been spared by forest fires.

According to BFP data, there were over 90 forest and grass fires recorded in the region in January and February, compared to the 87 from January to March last year.

Mendoza asked farmers to refrain from burning dry grass in their farms and from practicing “kaingin.” She said uncontrolled kaingin was the main reason for forest fires in the region.

“Prevention is better than cure,” Mendoza said. —Kimberlie Quitasol

 

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