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Fire rages on Mt. Apo

Inquirer Mindanao @inquirerdotnet 12:34 AM March 28th, 2016 THE VIEW of Mt. Apo’s slopes in Bansalan town in Davao del Sur province are obscured by a thick haze from a forest fire that started on Saturday. ELDIE AGUIRRE / INQUIRER MINDANAO KIDAPAWAN CITY—About 1,000 trekkers and climbers had been evacuated from a camp site and areas near the peak of Mt. Apo after a massive fire broke out on the country’s highest peak on Saturday and burned more than 100 hectares of forest cover there as of Sunday afternoon.

THE VIEW of Mt. Apo’s slopes in Bansalan town in Davao del Sur province are obscured by a thick haze from a forest fire that started on Saturday. ELDIE AGUIRRE / INQUIRER MINDANAO

Firefighters from towns and cities surrounding Mt. Apo continued to battle the fire that had been raging for more than a day.

Reports from disaster response officials in Magpet, Makilala and this city on the mountain’s North Cotabato side; Bansalan, Digos City and Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur; and Davao City showed that no one among the about 1,000 trekkers, eight of them foreigners, was hurt in the fire that started around 1 p.m. Saturday.

But a trekker from Talomo, Davao City, identified only as Noemi Nicole, 20, was hurt when she tripped during evacuation on Sunday, said Jojit Cabato, a rescuer from the Bansalan town disaster risk reduction management office.

Noemi Nicole was among several climbers who left Mt. Apo via the Bansalan trail on Sunday as the fire continued to spread.

Lake Venado

Joey Recimilla, Kidapawan City tourism officer, said most trekkers had been evacuated as early as Saturday night when the blaze was approaching the camp site.

Recimilla said the fire was spreading toward Lake Venado on Sunday noon, noting that firefighters were finding it difficult in putting out the fire.

Lake Venado is fed by runoff water from Mt. Apo’s higher areas. It is the country’s highest lake at 2,194 meters above sea level (masl), after Bulalacao Lake on Mount Tabayoc in Benguet province.

The area around Lake Venado is a popular camping site.

Recimilla said the fire was expected to reach the Kidapawan and Magpet sides of Mt. Apo.

A report from Agence France-Presse said firefighters dug ditches that were 2 meters (7 feet) deep to contain the blaze.

Philippine Air Force helicopters were sent on Sunday to survey the damage, provincial disaster official Harry Camoro told AFP.

Camp site

Recimilla said initial reports showed the fire started from the camp site at the peak of Mt. Apo, but it was not certain if campers had started it.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Southern Mindanao said the fire broke out on the Davao side of Mt. Apo.

Edward Ragaza, DENR’s park operation superintendent based in Davao City, his agency had yet to determine what started the blaze.

Digos City Mayor Joseph Peñas said responders from the city disaster risk reduction and management office had been sent to Mt. Apo to help trekkers evacuate as soon as the fire was developing into a major problem on Saturday.

Dionie Tenorio, one of the responders from Digos City, said out of the 200 climbers who went to Mt. Apo via the Kapatagan trail, 150 had been evacuated and were on their way home. Others, Tenorio said, were on their way to the Baras station in Kapatagan proper as of 2 p.m. Sunday.

Nilo Cobrado, a reporter of Bombo Radyo Davao who climbed Mt. Apo a few days ago, said operations by firefighters and rescuers were slowed down by thick smoke on the trail from Kapatagan.

Tenorio confirmed Cobrado’s information. “The fire continues to rage but the heavy smoke along the Digos trail was preventing us from entering the affected area. Other responders had decided to go to Kidapawan and climb from there,” Tenorio said.

Peñas said representatives of local governments near Mt. Apo had been called on Sunday to discuss ways to address the situation.

These local governments had agreed to regulate the number of climbers and allowed only 1,000 people to go to the country’s highest peak to prevent forest and grass fires amid the drought.

Officials had prohibited the use of firecrackers, burning of debris and setting up of campfires. Wood, logs and charcoal used for cooking meals had been banned to prevent fires.

Earlier, Davao City businessman Philip Dizon, who has a coffee farm on the mountain, had warned of forest fires in Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak at 2,956 masl, due to slash and burn farming (kaingin) by people who were expanding their farms.

Mt. Apo was also hit by forest fires in the past but the more serious incidents happened in 1998 and 2003, damaging large portions of the mountain.

Last week, Recimilla said Mt. Apo may be closed to climbers after the Lenten season trek until the rainy season. Williamor Magbanua, Allan Nawal, Eldie Aguirre and Orlando Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao, and AFP



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