KIDAPAWAN CITY: A fire that gutted the forested lands at the peak of Mount Apo here since Saturday forced hundreds of people to flee as citizens and government agencies continue to contain the blaze that entered into its second day on Monday.
Firefighters dug ditches of about seven-feet (two metres) deep in their battle to contain the three-day fire, which local leaders viewed as a culpable act.
Region 12’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-12) Parks Operations superintendent Edward Ragaza, said they are evaluating the situation with priority to immediately contain the fire.
The blaze started at about 1 p.m. on Saturday in an open field near the mountain’s peak facing Davao del Sur that quickly spread to nearby areas.
About 200 trekkers who climbed the mountain for the Holy Week and another 1,000 tourists were safely evacuated.
The fire already gutted about two hundred hectares of grass and forest lands.
Ragaza said strong winds fanned the blaze and could spread more if affected areas are not fully contained.
Philippine Air Force’s helicopters were sent in the area on Sunday to examine the affected-areas but no details were provided yet.
Some setbacks to immediately stop the fire were attributed to Mount Apo’s height – 3,142 meters above sea level – making it the highest peak in the Philippines.
Towering over the main southern island of Mindanao, Mt. Apo is home to forest reserves and the breeding ground for the country’s national bird, the endangered monkey-eating eagle.
Meanwhile, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza urged the public to immediately help control the on-going fire and identify the culprits behind the irresponsible act.
“The fire that recently hit and is currently raging in Mt. Apo Natural Park is reprehensible,” Mendoza said in a statement.
She said the fire happened despite enforced policies, rules and regulations on tourism destinations to protect them from hazards, especially amid the El Niño phenomenon that had dried up grasses and trees which could be easily gutted by fire.
It was not yet established whether some trekkers were responsible for the incident.
City Tourism Officer Joey Recimilla said numerous reports on the cause of the fire were being validated.
Last January, forested land in “Sleeping Lady” mountain range located at the boundaries of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and North Cotabato was razed by fire twice which was initially blamed on animal hunters.
WITH AFP REPORT