Severe wildfires ravaging the Philippines landscape in recent months prompted government officials there to request help from United States fire experts. A delegation of wildland fire specialists from the Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service, through a request from the USAID / Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, examined suppression efforts and offered recommendations to the Government of the Philippines.
Roy Johnson, a fire management specialist with the BLM National Office of Fire and Aviation in Boise, Idaho, was selected to lead the team because of his education and experience in wildland fire behaviour and operations.
The area of greatest concern was Palawan Island, which “represents the country’s last frontier for natural beauty, is home to significant numbers of endangered species, and contains the Philippines’ last remaining virgin rain forest,” said Johnson. On Sunday, 5 April 1998, Johnson’s team arrived in Manila where they established their headquarters.
Following rain on Sunday that helped slow the spread of fire and clear the smoke, the improved visibility enabled them to assess the situation. They discovered conditions were not as severe as earlier reports described. Johnson said firefighting efforts were successful in keeping the fires out of the virgin rain forest, and praised the Filipino officials for their early detection and response.
By Wednesday, 8 April 1998, the Philippines government determined that foreign assistance was no longer required, and by 9 April Johnson and his team were on their way home.
The team was successful in providing expert advice for handling fire situations and made these recommendations for the future:
Determine the role of fire in managing the land and it’s social, political, and economic impact.
Develop educational programs that recognize the need for fire in managing fields, define accepted practices, and emphasize under what conditions fire is not acceptable.
Conduct risk assessment to determine high priority areas and required mitigating measures.
Cooperate with The Association of South East Asian Nations for support in abnormal conditions.
The BLM and USDA Forest Service routinely respond to international requests for assistance through the Forest Service’s International Programs, Disaster Assistance Support Program (DASP). In 1997, federal employees travelled to Indonesia to assist during fires and help develop a drought assessment. The DASP has also provided assistance to Mongolia and Congo-Brazzaville in 1996 and 1997, and helped coordinate the Rwanda refugee relief effort in 1994 to 1997.
From: Janelle Smith Address: BLM Fire and Aviation National Interagency Fire Center 3833 S. Development Blvd. USA – Boise, Idaho USA