Helpless vs fire

Airforce assets already deployed; fire still rages
THE PHILIPPINE Airforce Huey rescue helicopter that flew in from Cebu City dumped drums of water over Mt. Apo’s Sta Cruz trail, but hardly made a dent to extinguish the flames of the raging inferno.

“We already created fire lines along with the Central 911, mountaineering groups, DENR and other volunteers,” Fire Insp. Donald Concepcion, incident commander, said in an interview.

“After pouring 10 buckets, the Air Force pilots went back because of the fog,” he said.

Fire lines, or fire breaks, refer to the gap deliberately created to prevent the fire from spreading further.

Based on the latest aerial survey conducted by PAF-Tactical Operations Group at around 4 p.m. on Monday, the fire is worst along the Sibulan trail.

“Up to this time, they are still in the area,” he said, referring to volunteers. “In terms of area, Digos City is not affected because of the boulders so our focus now is Sta. Cruz.”

“Our men haven’t had rest just to put out the fire.”

Although various reports claimed that the fire already consumed 200 to 300 hectares of forest land and vegetation, the rescue groups and government agencies still have to give an official estimate.

In an interview with Emmanuel Jaldon, head of Central 911, he said they have deployed 61 strike teams, along with two ambulance vehicles and a fire truck, to augment the force already working non-stop to fight the fire.

“We have basic manual firefighting equipmment and its role is to establish fire lines to prevent movement at the site,” he said.

The Central 911 team brought nine personal protection equipment, shovels, rakes, three big tents and rope, six seta of camp lights ,four cutting saws  and communications antenna,frying pans plastic basins and tables.

“It would take five hours of walking before they could reach the fire site, so our strategy is to create shifts,” he explained.

Timely response

The city government of Kidapawan City, with the help of fire and rescue volunteers, was able to stabilize and control the spread of fire that razed Mt. Apo over the weekend.
In a press statement, City Tourism Officer Joey Recimilla confirmed the said development in a radio interview yesterday morning.
“We are able to control the grass fire at the Cotabato side of Mt. Apo due to the immediate decision-making of Mayor Joseph Evangelista in mobilizing fire and rescue volunteers and providing logistical needs to do the job,” Recimilla stated.
Reports said that a grass fire started at the Santa Cruz Davao del Sur side of the mountain at past 1 in the afternoon on Black Saturday.
The incident still occurred despite a strictly regulated number of climbers being imposed by LGU’s surrounding Mt. Apo due to El Nino.
The city government immediately coordinated with its counterparts from neighboring municipalities of Makilala and Magpet together with agencies such as the DENR Protected Areas Management Board, the Office of the Civil Defense 12, Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Energy Development Corporation in an effort to contain the grass fire.
Evangelista then mobilized the City Call 911 personnel, Mt. Apo Porters and Guides to conduct rescue and clearing operations to help evacuate climbers still left behind and establishing a ‘fire lane’ area that will prevent the spread of the conflagration.
The Mandarangan trail of Kidapawan City is now utilized as escape and exit point for climbers left behind in the mountain.
Though the said undertaking has helped control the spread of grass fire in the trails of the Kidapawan, Makilala and Magpet Area, the grass fire has already developed into a forest fire along the Davao del Sur side of Mt. Apo, Recimilla revealed.

Investigation underway
An incident command post was already established by local authorities at Lake Agco to monitor the situation and supervise the ongoing operations.
A thorough investigation is expected to be led by the DENR PAMB soon to determine what caused the grass and forest fire at Mt. Apo.

A tourism officer in Digos City has proposed to indefinitely close off Mt. Apo to climbers to rehabilitate the country’s highest mountain as the inferno continues to rage across swathes of forest land.

“As for our local government unit, we are strictly imposing the rules and policies to the mountaineers. We keep on informing them the dos and don’ts but sadly there were still some who violate it,” Edgado Elera, head of the Digos City Tourism Office, said.

Some of the prohibitions include cigarette smoking and open fire while climbing Mt. Apo. The Kapatagan trail in Digos City is among the active trails going to the peak along with Sta. Cruz, Bansalan, Makilala, Kidapawan City and Magpet.

Meanwhile, the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council XI headed by OCD XI Regional Director Liza R. Mazo have already activated the Regional Incident Management Team (RIMT).

They will be deployed accordingly to the incident site at Kapatagan, Digos City, Davao del Sur effective yesterday to provide assistance in the response operations of the Local Incident Management Team headed by the Davao del Sur PDRRMC together with Digos CDRRMC, Sta.Cruz MDRRMC, BFP, AFP, PAF-TOG 11, PNP, Philippine Red Cross, Digos City Tourism, DENR, and other concerned national agencies and volunteer response teams.