MANILA, April 29 — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Horacio C. Ramos on Thursday ordered the immediate reactivation and strengthening of forest fire fighting units in its regional offices to prevent the occurrence of forest fires in light of the continuing dry spell brought about by El Nino.
This, even as also directed the crafting of regional forest fire management plans, including the training of personnel and allocation of corresponding funding for the units.
“We have to strengthen our forest fire units in the field, train our people, including participating communities particularly those living or near forests, and allocate funding to implement our forest fire preparedness plans. This way, we are not only assured of protecting our standing trees but also the safety of our forest communities,” Ramos said.
Ramos’ order came in the wake of reports that a total of 73.8 hectares of reforestation and agro-forestry areas inside the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape in Cagayan province were destroyed due to forest fires.
In a report to Ramos, DENR-Region 2 Executive Director Benjamin Tumaliuan said there were two incidents of forest fires that occurred inside the Peñablanca protected area. The first one took place on March 23, 2010 at the farmlot of a certain Angelito Danguilan, Jr. Tumaliuan said that based on investigations conducted by the regional office, it was found out that Danguilan was burning debris in his farmlot before the forest blaze struck, spreading to the adjacent Peñablanca Reforestation Project.
The fire consumed some 52.7 hectares of newly planted trees within the Toyota funded-reforestation project.
The second forest fire incident occurred last April 21 which destroyed some 17.1 hectares of reforestation and agro-forestry projects and another four hectares of agroforestry area outside of the project.
Relative to this, Peñablanca Protected Area Superintendent Tito Mangantulao filed a criminal charge against Danguilan last April 13 at the regional trial court in Tuguegarao City for alleged violation of Section 69 of Presidential Decree No. 705 or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines on unlawful occupation or destruction of forest lands.
Ramos said that the agency’s response ability must be enhanced through the establishment of units dedicated to forest fire mitigation at the community level. He likewise urged communities living within or near forests to actively participate, saying that community involvement in forest fire management is very critical given their proximity to the area and the likelihood of them accidentally starting the fire.
“Whether accidental or intentional, most of the time the causes of forest fires are people living in the area, visitors and campers. This is why it is important that a fire fighting team be set up at the community level,” Ramos said.
He added that should a forest fire takes place, the first 15 minutes is the most critical within which a response should be made to avoid spreading in nearby areas. According to him, what happened to Danguilan’s farmlot could have been avoided if the community fire fighting unit was in place.
DENR reports indicate that from 2000 to 2009, around 33,361 hectares have been razed by forest fires. Of the total, 19,607 hectares were comprised of natural forests, while the remaining 13,753 hectares were plantations.
This year, around 1,167 hectares of reforestation areas have already been destroyed by forest fires in the last three months. “We cannot allow our gains in reforestation be consumed by smoke due to lack of emergency response units,” Ramos said, adding that the department is anticipating more fire occurrences as the country’s temperature continues to soar due to El Nino. (PNA) V3/PR/utb