Surigao forest fire hits watershed area

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/ 5 Sept) – A forest fire here last week razed down 14 hectares, parts of it were trees inside the watershed where this city primarily gets its potable water supply, belated reports said.

Foresters who visited the Parang-parang Watershed said origin of the Aug. 26 forest fire could not yet be established, though water district officials suspect that it can be attributed to the illegal settlers inside the 967-hectare forest reserve.

Randy L. Tanguihan, a forester of the Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD), said that based on accounts provided by residents of Barangay Mat-i, the forest fire started at the trail side going to Magtangale area in San Francisco town. The area, he added, is replete with highly-combustible cogon and agsam grasses.

In less than an hour, Sitio Brazil area in Barangay Mat-i and parts of Surigao Watershed Forest Reserved were reportedly engulfed by fire.

Although Tanguihan would not comment on the cause of fire, he pointed out that this city had been experiencing a month of drought when the fire occurred. With the dried up grasses and trees, a month without rain is a magnet for fire, he stressed.

He said that using GPS (Global Positioning System) instruments, the total area damaged by fire is 14.376 hectares, 4.989 has. of which form part of the Surigao Watershed Forest Reserve, said Tanguihan in the report.

A total of 1.532 has. of the reforestation project of the Surigao Economic Development Foundation, a non-government organization, surrounding Parang-Parang Watershed were also devoured by fire, said Tanguihan’s report.

He said that at least 493 mangium trees, with sizes ranging from10 to 30 centimeter in diameter, were razed to the ground. The trees were planted by SMWD employees and representatives of non-government organizations and few years back.

Some 62 trees of falcata, which were planted by private individuals, were also burned down.

Tanguihan said forest guards tried but failed to control the fire due to strong winds and intense heat.

SMWD general manager Benjamin R. Ensomo Jr. blamed the forest fire to the people illegally settling near the watershed, stressing that the watershed and its buffer zone, as mandated by law, should be free from inhabitants.

Ensomo was referring to the small-scale miners who have grown in number over the years.

The Nagkahiusang Gagmayng Minero (Nagami), a group of small scale miners operating at the watershed’s buffer zone, has over a thousand members.

Non-Nagami members also illegally mine the area, inflating the threat to the integrity of the watershed, said Ensomo.

Ensomo said they will be forwarding the damage report to the Protected Area Management Board, hoping the said office will act to ensure protection and preservation of the city’s only source of potable water.

Ensomo said the damaged area was once burned in 1992 in a fire that lasted more than a month and razed 100 hectares of forest lands. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)