The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has commended local communities, people’s organizations (POs) and mountaineers for helping authorities put out the forest fires that hit Mt. Kitanglad and Mt. Kalatungan in Bukidnon province last weekend.

It particularly cited the members of Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGV), a group of indigenous people in Northern Mindanao, and several volunteer mountaineers who helped DENR forest rangers and personnel construct an 11-km. firebreak to contain the blaze.

DENR Region 10 Director Ruth Tawantawan said the firebreak prevented further destruction of natural forests, grasslands and areas covered by the National Greening Program in the two protected areas.

As of April 10, fire has been contained in all the damaged areas, except for one in Barangay La Roxas in Pangantucan town.

Employees from the office of community environment and natural resources officers (CENROs) in the towns of Manolo Fortich, Valencia, Don Carlos and Talakag responded to the fire.

Tawantawan said it’s a good thing the DENR had invested in training for POs on fire prevention.

“Preparedness is the key. The extensive orientations and seminars on fire prevention which have been conducted for POs last year, in anticipation of the El Niño have prepared them for this disaster,” she said.

Tawantawan also reported that the fire originated from extremely parched areas of the mountains. She said the thin canopy and dry leaves are likely to have caused the fire.

She also warned that irresponsible disposal of lighted cigarette butts, the kaingin system and hunting activities could result to fire in the densely populated areas in lowlands and grasslands.

Meanwhile, the Protected Areas Management Boards (PAMB) of Mt. Kitanglad and Mt. Kalatungan are now preparing to activate community-based Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils and draft a fire prevention master plan to harmonize all fire prevention efforts in said protected areas.

Bukidnon’s provincial environment and natural resources office serves as the central command post of command centers located in five barangays across the province.

Earlier this month, Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje has called on all PAMBs across the country to come up with their respective forest protection plan and allocate funds for the establishment of fire lines and other forest fire prevention activities like training for technical staff and volunteers in the light of the series of grassfires that gutted large areas of grasslands in protected areas in Visayas and Mindanao.

The environment chief also underscored the need to intensify public awareness campaign to prevent forest fires before the onset of the dry season, with March being declared as ‘Fire Prevention Month’ in the Philippines. ###