LEGAZPI CITY: An environment official on Monday expressed alarm on the forest fire which struck the island town of Rapu-Rapu and is now threatening the lives of 14,000 residents if not immediately contained.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional forester Lemuel Sori–ano estimated that the blaze will reach nearby towns in two days time.
“Two days from now, the bush fire will be reaching the communities of Morocborocan, Mananao and nearby areas. But with the strong wind and progressing forest fire it might even hit the residential areas one or two days from now,” Soriano told The Manila Times.
The forest fire that began over the weekend turned into a wild fire due to strong winds brought by habagat or monsoon.
Soria said the fire was first spotted in Poblacion and quickly spread in Morocborocan, Mana–nao, Guadalupe, Buenavista and Sitio Ical. Areas on San Ramon Batan Island and Sitio Minto were also affected.
To contain the fire, the Philippine Air Force Tactical Operations Group (PAF-TOG) led by Lt. Col. Luisito F. Angeles Jr. and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) led by Director Bernardo Alejandro employed the helicopter bucket operations.
But the single Huey bucket operations all day long here is not enough to stop the fire that has affected three areas in Rapu-Rapu covering two separate sites of timberland where the DENR reforestation project was totally damaged while the other site is classified as alienable and disposable.
Cedric Daep, chief of Albay Public Safety Emergency Management Office (Apsemo), went to Rapu-Rapu and had a meeting with DENR Regional Director Gilbert Gonzales and Rapu-Rapu Vice Mayor Nora Oniate to identify safer evacuation areas for the affected residents.
Oniate said that even the public school that could serve as evacuation site is threatened by the fire.
Daep said 6,000 hectares of forest were destroyed by the fire as of Monday. He suspected that the possible cause of the ongoing forest fire is unchecked kaingin practices of the residents.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda asked the PAF to augment the helicopter bucket operations to stop the fire. “The protocols and fundamentals for handling were just formulated based on the Mayon forest fire experience. Now, it is being tested in Rapu-Rapu. We would like to thank OCD and PAF TOG 5-505th for the prompt response to our request,” Salceda said.
He also instructed disaster responders to work and mo- nitor around the clock operations to ensure the safety of the islanders.