Fire-prone areas in CL under DENR watch; fire control teams on red alert

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ABOUT 400,000 hectares of dry open grasslands across Central Luzon are now under tight watch by forest protection officers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in anticipation of wildfires this summer.

Fire suppression teams composed of forest protection officers and village leaders in Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) areas have already been placed on red alert as early as January this year to respond to fire emergencies in fire-prone areas, revealed executive director Ricardo Calderon of the regional DENR here.

A total of 120 DENR staff and leaders of people’s organizations underwent an intensive three-week forest fire control and management training to upgrade their skills in combating wildfires in natural forests and established forest plantations, he added.

The DENR here strengthened its fire protection capabilities in a bid to reduce destruction in natural forests and established plantations by wildfires during the dry months.

“Enhancing the skills of our fire protection officers and upland leaders in fire suppression and control is the first step to effectively address the problem of forest fire,” he explained, adding that vast tracts of grasslands in Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Tarlac and Bulacan make Central Luzon a fire-prone region.

According to Sofio Quintana, deputy director for forestry, forest fire usually breaks out as early as December and peaks from March to April.

“Grassland is very dry during summer and makes for a highly combustible fuel,” he explained, adding that a spark is all that is needed to create a raging inferno in these areas.

He said strong winds worsen the situation as fire is fanned out and destruction is spread even to village settlements along forest edges.

“Intense and concentrated heat from the sun can send temperature soaring beyond ignition point of tinder and set off fire,” he said.

Central Luzon has 942,387 hectares of forestlands, more than half of which are covered with natural forests and established plantations.  The remaining 429,509 hectares are either grasslands or open areas, DENR records showed.

Calderon appealed to peoples’ organizations of CBFM program and other holders of tenurial instruments in forest areas to establish fire and green breaks to prevent wildfires from crossing established plantations, and to regularly patrol their areas and watch out for fire breakouts.

 “They should be able to dispatch fire suppression teams within minutes as soon as fire is spotted. Bringing wildfires under control requires that we act swiftly, and that our teams have the tools to deal with fire emergencies,” he said.