GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 5 Apr) – At least 25 families in an upland village in Polomolok town in South Cotabato have evacuated due to the grass and forest fires in parts of Mt. Matutum.
Engr. Jonathan Pabulare, head of the Polomolok Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO), said Tuesday residents in portions of Barangay Kinilis were forced to leave their homes as the raging fires continued to spread in the last several days.
He said the evacuees, who came from Puroks 7 and 8, are currently taking temporary shelter at the barangay hall grounds of Kinilis.
“They decided to evacuate mainly for safety reasons and most of them could no longer stand the thick smoke and haze coming from the fires,” he said in a radio interview.
Pabulare said the local government has initially provided food and other relief items to the evacuees.
He said the provincial government has also delivered food packs through personnel from the Philippine Red Cross.
As of Tuesday morning, Pabulare said the fires already destroyed around 100 hectares of grass and forest areas in Barangay Kinilis, which is part of the 14,000-hectare Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape.
The first major fire in the area started last March 23 in Purok 7 and destroyed around 10 hectares of grass lands.
Officials earlier noted the fires appeared to be man-made and likely caused by the illegal activities of forest poachers and “kaingineros” or slash-and-burn farmers.
Another fire broke out in another portion of Kinilis last April 2 that spread to around 90 hectares of grass and forest areas.
Pabulare said the situation in Barangay Kinilis remained volatile as the grass and forest fires have not yet been totally extinguished.
“The fires are continuing as of the moment. They sometimes slow down and then blow up again,” he said.
The official said personnel from the Bureau of Fire Protection, MDRRMO and the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office as well as local volunteers are presently trying to put out the fires.
He said they dug up trenches in portions of the area to serve fire lines and prevent the fires from further spreading.
Aside from Barangay Kinilis, another fire erupted last Saturday in Sitio Datal Ngisi of Barangay Kablon in Tupi town, which is also a part of the Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape.
Insp. Eugene Mangilaya, Tupi fire marshal, said the fire has so far destroyed around five hectares of mostly grassy area in Sitio Datal Ngisi.
Last week, about one-fourth hectare of a forest area in Purok Bong Datal of Sitio Glandang in Barangay Kablon was destroyed by a fire that was believed to have originated from a camp site of forest poachers.
The Mt. Matutum Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) ordered the closure of the entire area to trekkers starting on Thursday last week as result of the grass and forest fires.
Mt. Matutum, which is South Cotabato’s highest peak, straddles the towns of Tupi, Polomolok and Tampakan.