Mt. Apo fire responders may request for another helicopter

BRGY KAPATAGAN, Digos City (MindaNews / 30 March) – Fire responders may request for another helicopter to add to the existing Super Huey helicopter from Cebu in suppressing the massive fire at Mt. Apo.

Harry Camoro, head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) in Davao del Sur, told MindaNews Tuesday that a United States-owned helicopter that is currently on standby in Cagayan de Oro City may be tapped to assist the Bell UH-1Y Venon, or the Super Huey. The latter, which arrived in Davao City on Monday, is from the Tactical Operations Group Central Command in Cebu.

Camoro said there is no official request yet for the US helicopter, but they are planning on it. “There is an available helicopter from the US government. This is a big helicopter,” he said.

He said Super Huey is already a big help but the operations would be faster if there is another helicopter.

The Super Huey, Camoro said, had 30 sorties to and fro the peak of Mt. Apo on Tuesday, pouring 10 buckets of water drawn from nearby Lake Cometa. The last flight was aborted late afternoon due to zero visibility and the strong wind, he said.

Each bucket can hold about 600 liters of water.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 11 said it has deployed 23 personnel and provided the technical inputs such as the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) and control maps, forestry know-hows, fire-fighting tools and manpower.

Insp. Donald R. Concepcion, officer-in-charge of the Digos City Fire Station and Mt. Apo Forest Fire incident commander, said the fire was estimated to be about 800 meters away from the Century Tree as of Tuesday.

He said he could not confirm reports that the fire gutted about 350 hectares of grasslands and forests.

“Our field observers told us that the fire is about 800 meters away. Upon assessment in the field, the Century Tree is eminently in danger. That’s why we created the quick response team (QRT) and mobilized about 37 personnel to establish a fireline,” Concepcion said.

He said they can only come out with an official estimation of the extent of the damaged area after the fire.

A fireline was also established surrounding the affected area on the side of Region 11 and Region 12, he said, adding that they combined the firelines at one point. The fireline was about 10 meters wide and about 40 meters away from the treeline.

“Establishment of fire line is one option in containing forest fire. It is a gap in vegetation or other combustible materials that will act as a barrier to slow or stop the fire. To establish a fire line, vegetation must be cleared out approximately 10 meters away from the burning area. Trees and grasses are among the vegetation that could easily ignite and create fire,” said a statement from DENR 11. It added that the agency turned over food supplies and additional fire-fighting tools.

Concepcion said the responders are staying at the basecamp in Tompis and will go down to the command center in the Brgy. Hall of Kapatagan at 6 p.m.

More volunteers from various mountaineering clubs from different parts of the region are coming, plus about 50 lumads from Sta. Cruz committed to assist in suppressing the fire.

There are 36 new volunteers who started assisting on Wednesday, in addition to the existing 250 volunteers.

“The volunteers are to finish the blanketing and fireline at the Century Tree Trail (which leads to Talomo-Sibulan-Kapatagan in DavSur),” Concepcion said.

He said they need more cutting tools, most especially “lagaraw”, or machete, to help in the blanketing method that is currently done to stop the spread of the fire to other areas, especially to adjacent Mt. Talomo, a known habitat of the Philippine eagle.

The blanketing, he explained, is done by covering the burned bushes and trees with sand to prevent igniting of another fire.