Fire torches native trees in Buhisan watershed
A fire broke out and spread through 12 hectares of the Buhisan Dam watershed a in barangay Toong, Cebu City, while forest guards and residents were attending a nearby seminar last Friday noon.
Chairman Boy Clamares of the Toong Volunteer Farmers Association said three out of the affected 12 hectares of trees were sponsored by two companies and managed by the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).
The cause of the fire was unknown but Calmares said he suspected it was started intentionally by illegal woodcutters eyeing the dead trees for making charcoal.
Though most of the trees are still standing, their leaves were torched. A 100-year-old teak tree and several 1-year-old seedlings were lost in the blaze.
PBSP forester Flor Rosales said she saw the fire when she passed by the area at 3:45 p.m. and was disappointed to see that no one was putting it out.
“I got off the motorcycle and went directly to the nearby Nature Center where forest guards and people were having a meeting. They ran to extinguish the fire,” she said.
The fire was also spotted by 28-year-old Buhisan resident Menti Cabingatan, who said she was about to gather firewood at the time.
“Like me, the children were supposed to get firewood, but they ran away when they saw the fire,” she said.
Rosales and Clamares said native trees like teak, narra and molave and some shrubs were ruined by the fire.
Suspecting arson, he said illegal wood gatherers “burn trees since it is no longer prohibited to cut them once the leaves and branches are dead. That’s why they burn it. Why else would they do it? It is because authorities would arrest them if they cut trees,” he said.
A forest fire is not a rare occurrence in their barangay and it is especially frequent in the summer, Clamares said.
The biggest recorded bush fire was in 2010 where a total of 320 hectares was affected.
“The summer heat may also be a cause but it’s possible that the fire was caused by illegal loggers, to avoid being penalized,” Clamares said.
He said the fire wouldn’t have occurred if there were forest watchers assigned to patrol the areas.
The burned plantation is part of the Buhisan Dam watershed reserve, where a ecotourism park is being developed by the PBSP with private donors and the community.
The Buhisan Dam watershed is a 631-hectare protected area in the Central Cebu Protected Landscape (CCPL) also called the Cebu Hillylands, which is Metro Cebu’s primary source of water.
The 100-year-old Buhisan Dam itself provides about 5 percent of the water supply of the Metro Cebu Water District.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR-7) said it will send a team on Monday to assess the fire damage.
Barangay councilor Melvin Bacalso agreed that forest watchers should be assigned in the area. Correspondents Jessa Chrisna Marie J. Agua, Caryl Baylon and Careen L. Malahay