GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 5 Apr) – The municipal government of T’boli in South Cotabato has restricted trekking activities to the famed crater-lake Holon following the occurrence of two major forest fires in the area in the last three days.
T’boli Mayor Dibu Tuan said Tuesday about 9 to 10 hectares of a forested area near the lake’s main outlet have been destroyed due to the fires, which were first monitored on Sunday afternoon.
He said that as of Monday afternoon, it was already totally extinguished, thanks to the effort by 100 volunteers composed of local residents and elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion.
But on Monday night, he said another fire erupted at a portion of Sitio Kutong Busaw in Barangay Salacafe, which is part of the trail to Lake Holon.
“Our volunteers are still trying to put out the fire there (Kutong Busaw) and we’re hoping that it will not further spread to the other areas,” Tuan said.
The mayor said he has sent a special team to the area to investigate the cause of the twin forest fires near the lake, which is nestled at the peak of Mt. Melebingoy.
He said the lake’s outlet, which is connected to tributaries of major rivers in the province, is quite far from the area’s designated camp site.
It is also not accessible to trekkers and no communities are situated within the site, he said.
The forest fires came a month after Lake Holon was reopened to visitors following a nearly two-month closure.
Tuan ordered the temporary closure of the entire 304-hectare lake and portions of Mt. Melebingoy from Jan. 11 until March 5 or a total of 55 days.
It covered the three main entry points to the lake in Barangay T’bolok and Sitios Kule and Nabul in Barangay Salacafe.
The closure is the second for the lake since it was initially declared off-limits to visitors for nine months starting June 2014 to March 2015.
The move was aimed to allow the lake to recuperate after hosting more than 700 visitors during the Christmas season.
Tuan assured that they are taking all the necessary measures to totally put out the fires and prevent them from further spreading.
He said they will immediately lift the restriction for trekkers or climbers to the lake once the fires are completely extinguished.
“We already have thousands of bookings there for this summer so this is our top priority at the moment,” he said.
Lake Holon is a declared protected area endowed with rich flora and fauna.
In 2003 and 2004, the lake was named as the cleanest inland body of water in the entire country.