ONLY two months into 2010, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Northern Mindanao has already recorded 60 fire incidents, which is a 25 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

Records show that from January to February of 2009, there were only 48 fire incidents registered in the region, burning some P10.4 million worth of properties.

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The cost of damage this year is over twice that figure, with the BFP reporting some P26.7 million in properties razed to the ground in the past two months.

BFP-Northern Mindanao Director Eleuterio Iturriaga described the increase as “very alarming.”

He blamed the rise in fire incidents to the El Niño phenomenon, which he said has led to the increase in the use of lighted candles and other lighting materials during brownouts.

These lighting materials, he said, are commonly dangerous and have been blamed for the most number of fire incidents.

“Unattended lighted candles are among the most common cause of fire, especially during brownouts. The massive use of this type of lighting device will continue as long as power interruptions occur,” Iturriaga told reporters during Talakayan at the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) on Tuesday.

With El Niño affecting the country, the fire department appealed to the community to be extra cautious and take the lead in protecting their houses and properties from fire.

Iturriaga said the public must be involved in ways to prevent conflagrations to help BFP do it effectively.

One of these, he said, is the maintenance of fire safety devices in homes and workplaces.

With the drought affecting water supply, the BFP official said city and municipal fire departments have been ordered to determine alternative sources of water in their area, such as swimming pools and riverbanks.

More than 100 Filipinos die in home fires every year, according to the BFP website, while thousands more suffer with the loss of house and valuables, and hundreds are injured by fire.

Some of the agency’s fire prevention tips are:

* Put phone numbers of fire department near phone.

* Eliminate fire hazards through good housekeeping. Dispose waste paper, rubbish, and other flammable materials regularly.

* Keep matches out of children’s reach.

* Oil or gas lamps and candles should be placed away from curtains. Do not put them where the wind, children or pets may topple them. Put out the flame before going to bed.

* Do not keep flammable materials like gasoline, alcohol, and paint inside the house.

* Regularly check your electrical installations, and have all frayed wirings and electrical fixtures changed or repaired by a licensed electrician.

* Do not overload electrical circuits by putting additional lights and appliances.

* Blown fuses should not be replaced with coins, wires, or any metal.

* Never leave a lit cigarette/cigar/pipe unattended-it may fall on flammable materials which could start a fire. (ALR)