Equipment lack hampers battle vs forest fires | Inquirer News

Equipment lack hampers battle vs forest fires

/ 05:04 AM February 24, 2024

forest fire blankets a mountainside near the PhilippineMilitary Academy in Baguio City

POOR VISIBILITY Firemen work through poor visibility as smoke from a forest fire blankets a mountainside near the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City on Wednesday. The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has recorded 63 forest fires and 26 grassland fires in the Cordillera since January. —PHOTO COURTESY OF BAGUIO CITY FIRE STATION

BAGUIO CITY—The lack of equipment, coupled with strong February winds, has made firefighting difficult in the mountains of Benguet and Mountain Province because these have been preventing disaster response officials from accurately tracking the path taken by forest fires.

“High velocity winds… have made fire direction unpredictable,” according to the Cordillera Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC), which convened on Thursday to assess the fires that struck the region’s mountainsides at the start of the year.


Cordillera firefighters have battled 63 forest fires and 26 grassland fires since Jan. 1, it said.


Teams of firefighters assigned to these areas do not have sufficient equipment to combat fires that spread quickly through woodlands, the council concluded. Most of the fires also occurred in inaccessible mountain areas, which were far from roads.

The forest fires have affected a span of 590.64 hectares, according to an initial estimate.

The CDRRMC also observed that “Cordillera’s Bravest (a term associated with firefighters)” do not have aerial “spotters” like drones or other devices which would help firefighters navigate through woodlands and ensure they are not trapped within a burning section of the forest.

Aided by choppers

The Philippine Air Force’s helicopters, equipped with huge water containers, have been flying around the Benguet mountains to help suppress the blaze since a forested section near a mine site first caught fire on Jan. 18 in Itogon town.

Helicopter pilots have been filling up these containers with water from the Mt. Santo Tomas rain basin in Baguio.

Mountain fires have also been recorded in Bokod town, also in Benguet and within the vicinity of the Mountain Province capital Bontoc this month.


On Tuesday, a fire consumed trees near Fort del Pilar, home of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Fire lanes and other safeguards have been set up to secure all occupied areas surrounding the military training school, according to Maj. Charito Dulay, PMA public information officer.

PMA has not suffered any “significant incidents,” she reported.

On Friday, a fire broke out at Springhills in this city’s Kadaclan village but it was contained before 6 a.m., according to the city information office, which cited reports from Charles Carame, supervising administrative officer of the CDRRMC. A structural fire was reported on the same day at Navy Base here.

The CDRRMC said the fire at Sitio Sirib-Labey, Barangay Ambuklao in Bokod was under control as of Feb. 19, although it was validating reports that the blaze impacted over 600 ha of forest land.

Benguet had the highest reported fire incidents from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, with 32 forest fires and eight grassland fires, followed by 22 forest fires and nine grass fires in Mountain Province.


Baguio recorded three forest fires, including a Feb. 11 blaze at Camp John Hay’s Voice of America area that reignited on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, and three grass fires as of Feb. 22, while Abra province had put out six forest fires. Kalinga province recorded six grass fires while Ifugao reported one structural fire. Only Apayao had no recorded fires during this period.

Despite the prevailing drought due to El Niño, authorities still suspect that many of the blazes were ignited by “kaingin” (slash and burn) farmers.

In 2023, the region recorded 98 forest fires from January to May, 53 of which hit Benguet woodlands.

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The 2023 fires consumed 1,420 ha of forests and watersheds. In 2022, 32 forest fires damaged 1,730 ha of forests.

TAGS: Benguet, forest fire

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