FIRE gutted at least two hectares of the Busol watershed Wednesday night incinerating both young and mature pine stands and setting back citywide efforts at revegetating one of Baguio City’s remaining pine forests.

The fire occurred on both sides of the Ambiong and Tiptop ridge of the watershed about a hundred meters from the Baguio Water District (BWD) operated steel reservoir.

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The alarm was raised at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday and was put under control at 2:00 a.m. Thursday.

A composite BWD crew, however, was still putting out pockets of embers eight hours after the fire was declared under control to prevent the fire from re-igniting.

Because the area is inaccessible to fire trucks, fire suppression was undertaken mostly through the pick and shovel method by responding BWD crew as well as the Sunshine volunteer fire brigade and the Camp John Hay fire station.

The Baguio Fire Department was unable to respond to the alarm because the forest fire occurred just as when the City Government were conducting a clean-up drive at the City Market in preparation for the flower festival and required the facilities of the fire department in the clean-up activities.

While an investigation on the cause of the fire is still ongoing, BWD general manager Teresita P. de Guzman said it is unlikely for the fire to have occurred simultaneously on both sides of the Ambiong-Tiptop ridge.

She said a deliberate burning of the watershed is tragic since it obliterates the efforts of the Baguio community to reforest the watershed.

The fire occurred in the area of the watershed where a number of tree planting activities have been conducted even as some burned portions have been adopted by civic groups and academic institutions as their reforestation sites.

Busol watershed has been a showcase reforestation for Baguio City and is even a site chosen for regular eco-walk activities. While it has been declared a protected area, it is also a flashpoint for contentious issues especially with ancestral land claimants.

Environmental advocates say though that Busol watershed should be free from human occupation since it is a major source of water supply.

The BWD operates at least five deep wells in the area with an average combined production capacity of 5,450 cubic meters per day.

It is a major water source for residents of the northern parts of Baguio including Aurora Hill, Pacdal, Sanitary Camp, Trancoville, Magsaysay extension up to Camdas.

The Busol watershed is important in groundwater retention called “recharge” and its forest cover plays a vital role in this recharge process.

The protection of watersheds is made even more apparent considering the adverse effects of the El Nino phenomenon on water supply.

Destructive and invasive practices on watersheds threaten crucial water reserves needed to weather the effects of El Nino.

The 336 hectare Busol watershed straddles the Baguio City and La Trinidad municipality.

One-third or 112 hectares is within the jurisdiction of Baguio City and is the part where its forest covers as well as water sources remains.