Grassfire on Mt. Kitanglad as Mt. Apo still on fire after a week  

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 02 April) — Another mountain is on fire in Mindanao, exactly a week after a fire that started at the peak of Mt. Apo on March 26, is still raging.

Fire broke out in at least three places in the Mt. Kitanglad range in Bukidnon on Saturday morning, the Office of Civil Defense in Northern Mindanao said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has called on volunteers to dig fire breaks to prevent the fire from spreading to villages, farms and the posh Dahilayan Mountain Resort.

OCD region 10 information officer Titus Velez said the grassfire has spread to at least three places in the towns of Impasug-ong and Libona which are located at the foot of the 27,420-hectare mountain range.

Bukidnon Vice Gov. Alex Calingasan told MindaNews in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon that at least 50 hectares of the forest in the Libona town side of Mt. Kitanglad have been eaten by fire on what he said is the third day of the fire there.

Velez, who was traveling to Cagayan de Oro  from Malaybalay City, said the smoke and fire were visible along the Sayre Highway.

“It is a fire with multiple heads spread across two municipalities. Smoke and fire are very visible from the highway,” Velez told MindaNews.

Velez said residents reported that the grassfire started four days ago and spread to nearby forests.

Michael Jan Pizarro, an employee of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said he went to Barangay Sil-ipon in Libona town and saw the fire had gutted more than 60 hectares of the mountainside.

Pizarro said if the fire is left unchecked, it could spread to the lower Barangay Kape and the Dahilayan mountain resort in Barangay Dahilayan, Libona.

He said the DENR office in Malaybalay is hiring at least 50 residents to dig fire breaks to prevent the spread of the flames.

Jerome Garcia of the De Oro Mountain Explorers said the idea of hiring fire firefighters among local residents is good since mountaineers are not trained to fight grassfire.

“The local residents know the terrain better than us and they can move quickly,” Garcia said.

Velez said the OCD is mustering the resources of government agencies so personnel and equipment can be deployed in the affected areas in Mt. Kitanglad.

Vice Governor Calingasan, father of Libona mayor Genesis Calingasan, blamed the forest fire on the very dry condition in the area.  Fire has also been reported also in nearby Brgy. Capehan also in Liboina; in Sanggaya, Dalwangan, Bukidnon and near Brgy. Kevinton, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon.

Merly Tabamo of the Protected Area Superintendent’s Office of Mt. Kitanglad Range said the fire was reported in Barangay Kibenton, Impasug-ong, Barangay Capehan and Sil-ipon, Libona and Sitio Sanggaya, Barangay Dalwangan in Malaybalay.

The fire incidents happened a couple of days after park management announced on its Facebook page the suspension of eco-tourism activities due to the El Nino phenomenon.

“It is better to prevent the occurrence of forest fires. A notice will be posted if the park will be open soon (during rainy season),” the notice said.

Calingasan said forest fire broke out in a small patch in Sitio Magantol, Brgy. Sil-ipon, in Libona town late Thursday night. Calingasan said members of the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers rushed to the area to help kill the fire.

There are a total of 28 barangays straddling Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon. In each barangay, there are at least 10 volunteers. A staff of the Protected Area Superintendent in Bukidnon said there are at least 300 volunteers from these areas. She said it is standard operating procedure that all volunteers in the area proceed to the fire incident. It was not known, however, if all the KGVs have been deployed to the area. PASu Daniel Somera cannot be reached as of 4pm.

Calingasan called on volunteers to help fight the fire because Magantol is in the boundary of Libona and the town of Lantapan’s side of Mt. Kitanglad.

Merlita Tabamo, staff of the PASu office said as 3:50p.m. fire had been put out in the area within the ancestral domain in Sitio Sanggaya Dalwangan, Malaybalay City, by the Bukidnon Daraghuyan tribal guards.

But she clarified that outside the ancestral domain, fire is still on going in several patches past noon Saturday.

Tabamo said they were in contact with Bae Inatlawan Adelina Tarino, one of the leaders of the tribe, who mobilized the tribal guards. She said they have initiated preparations for a ritual to appease the spirits following the fire incident.

According to the website of the natural park, Mt. Kitanglad range dominates the north-central portion of the Bukidnon Plateau in Region 10. It falls within the political jurisdiction of the seven municipalities and one city, namely: Lantapan, Impasugong, Sumilao, Libona, Manolo Fortich, Baungon, Talakag and Malaybalay City.

The range covers a total land area of 47,270 hectares and plays a vital role in the socio-economic development of North and Central Mindanao. According to the site, of the total land area, 31,236 hectares is considered under protected area and about 16,034 hectares is considered the park’s buffer zone.

Calingasan said the fire could have been avoided had the Department of Agriculture done its job to conduct cloudseeding to induce rain.. He said the delayed response did not affect only the agricultural production of the province but also the forests.

In the country’s highest peak, Mt. Apo, more volunteers are needed to build more fire lines or firebreaks to stop the spread of fire, Harry Camoro, chief of Davao del Sur’s Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) told MindaNews. (Froilan Gallardo and Walter Balane / MindaNews)