LA TRINIDAD, BenguetEnvironment officials have braced themselves for forest fires this summer but they were shocked to learn that fires that hit Benguet recently were mostly caused by humans and not by the prolonged dry spell.
Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) told the provincial board on Monday that 469.56 hectares of forests were burned in Baguio City and in the towns of Itogon and Bokod from December 2009 to February 15.
Kabayan Mayor Faustino Aquisan said coffee plantations and forests were burned in six villages in his town recently.
He said forest fires occurred in the villages of Batad, Anshokey, Kabayan Barrio, Pacso, Gusaran and Eddet after school children played “balay-balay” (playing house).
Aquisan said two boys were trying to cook tadpoles in Barangay (village) Batan when the fire they started spread. The other forest fires, he said, were ignited by children playing near bushes.
He said he was alarmed that a fire reached Eddet, a village near Mt. Pulag, the country’s second highest peak.
In Itogon town, Norberto Pacio, village chair of Tinongdan, said three fires hit forest areas early this month.
The first incident occurred in Mt. Bidawan in the boundary of Barangays Poblacion and Tinongdan.
The second happened in Sitio (sub-village) Uling in Barangay Dalupirip. The fire, Pacio said, reached a portion of Mt. Ugo and raged for three days.
Pacio said the third incident was in Sitio Sadiatan in Barangay Lusod.
He said forest fires could have been ignited by discarded cigarette butts and sparks from damaged or dangling power transmission wires.
Guillermo Fianza, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said the DENR has been on red alert since November after the weather bureau announced a long summer this year due to the El Niño weather phenomenon.
But Fianza said the DENR continued to suffer the same problems that limited its ability to prevent forest fireslack of personnel.
“We only have 16 forest rangers to guard the province’s forests. We could not hire additional guards because of the government’s rationalization policy that barred the hiring of additional employees,” he said.
Fianza said the DENR could not, by itself, prevent forest fires unless communities help them, especially in areas that the DENR identified as prone to forest fires during summer.
Edgardo Flor, community environment and natural resources officer, said the critical areas are Mt. Sto. Tomas (Tuba); Poblacion (Kabayan); Philex Road (Itogon); Nalseb (Tublay); Gusaran, Pacso and Kabayan Barrio (Kabayan); Loakan, Tinongdan, Dalupirip, Poblacion and Ampucao (Itogon); and Nawan (Bokod).