THE massive fire in Mt. Apo, the country's highest peak, has continued to eat up about 300 hectares of protected forestlands and grasslands, including the mini-forest of the beautiful Lake Venado.
Firefighters coming from different fire stations in the province have been dispatched to help contain the forest fire that hit Mt. Apo since Saturday noon.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined by local officials.
Mt. Apo National Park Superintendent Edward Ragaza, in an interview after the coordination briefing with the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council Monday afternoon, said the area affected by the fire has reached at least 300 hectares.
This number is still expected to go up since the fire has continued to spread.
"Mo-increase pa na siya. (The number is still expected to increase). We have organized and delegated our teams to the areas identified near the fire," Ragaza said.
He added that after the briefing they have laid out plans to prevent the fire from spreading into other areas.
Among the measures which are expected to be implemented are placement of boulders and firelines in identified areas.
An aerial assessment was launched early Monday by different agencies including Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)-Digos in coordination with the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to check on the damage caused by the fire as well implement possible measures to prevent the fire from spreading.
Ragaza also admitted that all fire volunteers and forest rangers are now in the area but only to implement preventive measures and not to put out the fire.
He added that they don't have the capacity and the necessary equipment for emergency and crisis like this.
"We don't have helicopters which could be a big help in this situation unlike in other developing countries," Ragaza said.
The fire which was reported at the Davao side was below the peak going down Lake Venado where the campsites are situated.
According to the latest update, the forest fire has already affected the mini-forest of the Lake Venado.
Ragaza said that Office of Civil Defense (OCD) has expressed their intention to also provide assistance in the on-going situation.
The fire started at the Kapatagan trail in Digos City and spread towards the side of Lake Venado.
There are fears that if the fire is not contained then it would penetrate the Kidapawan-Magpet-Makilala eco-triangle.
No injury or casualty was reported by authorities as the climbers were immediately told to evacuate after the blaze started last Saturday afternoon.
Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), has already requested an aircraft from their counterpart of Tactical Operations Group (TOG) in Cebu command that could also provide help in the Mt. Apo fire.
The request was made after one of the TOG's aircraft in under maintenance.
Huey aircraft from Mactan in Cebu was dispatched while the PDDRMC personnel arrived at the area on board a Cesna plane.
Ragaza then reminded the public that new rules and regulation may be implemented due to this incident.
But Ragaza again reiterated his message to the community and climbers alike to follow the guidelines imposed at Mt. Apo.
"We need to increase the awareness to the community and to other stakeholders," Ragaza said in the vernacular.
Otokomai Henry, a climber, who personally witnessed the onslaught of the fire at Mt. Apo last Saturday, shared the fire spread quickly due to the strong rain and admittedly the El Niño phenomenon may also have triggered this incident.
"Around 11 a.m. Saturday nag-start ang sunog grabe na ka-dry ang peak almost 30 minutes na unya halos one hectare na ang sunog. Dali kaayo ang pagdaku kay grabe kapaspas ug hangin kaayo sa taas (It was around 11 a.m. when the fire spread quickly as the peak of Mt. Apo is very dry. In 30 minutes, the fire immediately covered one hectare of damage)," Henry told Sun.Star SuperBalita Davao in a Facebook chat Monday afternoon.
Digos City Tourism Officer Edgardo Elera told Sun.Star Davao in a phone interview said they have established a boulders on their area of responsibility to prevent the fire from spreading farther.
"Naglagay na kami ng boulders para hindi na makapasok or penetrate pa ang fire dito s aating area," Elera said, adding that they are now ready to respond in case the fire situation will get worse.
Elera said that volunteers from different groups and the Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP)-Digos are just one call away to provide assistance to put out the fire in case it enters their area.
There were reports that the fire on the Cotabato side has been put out but this has been belied by Ragaza.
Ragaza said that he was part of the team who conducted an aerial assessment with the Air Force but they have yet to discuss the information with other stakeholders during an emergency meeting set Monday afternoon.
The fire in the two sides of Mt. Apo is still active, Ragaza said.
Deployment of Central 911
Davao City's Central 911 are presently waiting for deployment request and order before they provide help in the Mt. Apo forest fire.
Davao City Central 911 Chief Emmanuel Jaldon, in interview on Monday, said that they are waiting for the go signal from the management team, a unified group composed of rescue personnel from Davao Region and Soccsksargen.
“It’s a team effort, wala pa tayong pinapadala but we are waiting deployment request and order. Naay standing order from Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte," Jaldon said.
"A management team will be activated and it will be a unified command between region 11 (Davao Region) and 12 (Soccsksargen),” he added.
Jaldon said they have already activated the Incident Command System (ICS).
“The public information officer (PIO) of Digos will be giving information with regards to the severity of the fire,” Jaldon said. (With reports from KVC and CCC/Sun.Star Davao)