LA CASTELLANA - The fire raging near the crater of Kanlaon Volcano that destroyed about 400 hectares of grassland was put out late yesterday, Negros Occidental Provincial Fire Marshal Supt Rodolfo Dinaga said.
The 69 fire fighters who worked all of yesterday on the blaze at the 4-kilometer radius permanent danger zone of the volcano have been directed to pull out of the area that is a dangerous place to be in, he said, as Kanlaon could have a phreatic explosion anytime.
Kanlaon, after spewing fiery objects Tuesday night that triggered the fires, appeared calm yesterday. Residents used to its intermittent minor phreatic eruptions were going about their business in nearby villages.
But the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology warned that dangerous phreatic eruptions could still occur.
"The earthquakes in Mt. Kanlaon and this volcano's continuing tremor indicate such eruptions are still possible in forthcoming days," Phivolcs volcanologist Paul Alanis said in Manila.
He reminded the public to steer clear of Mt. Kanlaon's 4-kilometer permanent danger zone, warning phreatic eruptions cause ash fall and could even trigger the deadly flow of pyroclastic materials as hot as 600°C to 800°C and moving down "very fast like storm surges."
Phreatic eruptions also occur without warning, Alanis said.
"There's no precursor for such eruptions so these are difficult to predict," he added.
Phreatic eruptions are steam-driven explosions that occur when water beneath the ground or on the surface is heated by magma, lava, hot rocks or new volcanic deposits.
Alanis noted such eruptions are among Mt. Kanlaon's usual manifestations when this volcano is in a state of unrest.
"Mt. Kanlaon has been registering phreatic eruptions since November last year," he said.
Meanwhile, Dinaga, who heads the unified command post based in La Castellana tasked to put out the blaze, said 69 personnel from the Bureau of Fire Protection, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, provincial government and other local government units, as of late yesterday had swatted out the fire at the volcano before it could reach forest lands.
Swatting means beating the fire out, he said.
The fire that hit 300 hectares of grassland on the La Castellana side of the volcano was caused by incandescent objects and fiery rocks spewed by the volcano Tuesday, he added.
The 100-hectare adjacent fire was suspected to have been caused by trekkers who illegally entered the park on Holy Week. Five of the trekkers have been identified based on a Facebook post, Negros Occidental Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andres Untal said.
He, however, withheld their names.
Of the five one is from Cebu City, while the others are from Canlaon City, including a local guide, Untal said, adding that they will face legal action for illegal trekking and possible arson.
He said the bulk of the destruction from the fire was caused by the volcanic explosion Tuesday. He said the fire caused alarm that it could reach forest lands, but luckily there had been some rain over Negros Occidental and the moisture in the ground has helped prevent the fire from creeping forward, Untal said.
Dinaga said they had two options, to swat the fire out, but if it was really big to dig a forest line to prevent the fire from crossing to the forest.
But he said when their team reached the area about two to three kilometers from the crater they saw that the swatting method was enough.
The men working to put out the blaze were within the 4 kilometer Danger Zone set by Phivolcs but have been granted permission to enter to do their work, Mari-Andylene Quintia of the Phivolcs La Carlota station said.
As of 8 a.m. yesterday, a Phivolcs advisory said that in the past 24 hours, four volcanic earthquakes and a long volcanic tremor were recorded at Kanlaon.
The ongoing tremor is accompanied by a weak to moderate steaming at the active vent, producing a 700-meter high steam and ash plume that drifted south-southwest.
Traces of light ash intermittently fell on Barangay Sag-ang, La Castellana, barangays Ara-al and Yubo in La Carlota City, and Barangay Ilijan in Bago City, Phivolcs reported.
A slight inflation of the Kanlaon edifice has been noted since December 2015.
Alert Level 1 raised by Phivolcs on November 24 remains in effect over Kanlaon Volcano, which means it is currently in a state of unrest probably driven by hydrothermal processes that could generate more minor eruptions, Quintia said.
Entry into the volcano's 4-kolmeter radius Permanent Danger Zone continues to be strictly prohibited due to further possibilities of sudden hazardous steam-driven on minor ash eruptions, she added.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. reiterated that the provincial government has allocated P3 million for personal services and other logistical support for those fielded to prevent the grassfire from spreading to the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park forest.
He said an evacuation plan is in place for residents living in the area in case it becomes necessary in the future. For now they are out of danger, he said.*CPG, with a PNA report
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