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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, April 1, 2016
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Fighting forest fires

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This week's fires that have hit Mt. Apo in Mindanao and Mt. Kanlaon in Negros have highlighted the general inability of Filipinos to fight forest fires if and when they do break out in areas that are often sensitive, protected, and of great ecological and cultural importance to us.

The Mt. Apo fire that started on Black Saturday has affected more than 100 hectares of forest cover on the nation's highest peak, has been traced to a mountaineer's camp. It is not clear if the blaze was triggered by trekkers but what was pretty clear was our nation's inability to combat forest fires. Volunteers who had to clear areas and create a fire line to prevent the fire from spreading were ill-equipped and the lack of help from airborne units made their task a monumental one.

Fortunately for us, local fire fighters and volunteers were able to put the Mt. Kanlaon fire out this time. Will they always be able to do this?

The grassfire near the crater of Mt. Kanlaon was believed to have been triggered by the fiery stones and other incandescent materials spewed by the volcano when it erupted Tuesday night. Authorities feverishly worked to contain the fire, with the provincial government allocating P3 million from the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund for personal services and other logistical support to prevent the grass fire from spreading to the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park forest.

Forest fires are notoriously difficult to control and contain. To be fair to the way we have responded, even prosperous nations such as the United States and Australia have trouble containing such fires. But the difference between them and us is that they have the specialized equipment and personnel for dealing with forest fires while all we have are volunteers with shovels and hatchets and prayers for rain.

Forest fires have been relatively uncommon in this country. But with the changing climate bringing more droughts and dry spells than before, it is something our government has to prepare for. Investing in equipment and the training of personnel might prove to be too much for provincial governments to handle so this is something the national government should seriously look into because we cannot lose the forests that we have painstakingly fought to either protect or reforest every time an extended dry season makes them vulnerable to irresponsible acts of man and uncontrollable acts of nature.*


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