By Liza Agoot

FOREST FIRE. The fire incident in the village of Alab in Boctoc, Mountain Province on March 6, 2024 is a continuation of the fire incident in Barangay Balili, as shown in this photo taken on Monday (March 4, 2024). Bontoc Mayor Jerome Chagsen Tudlong Jr. said Wednesday night (March 6, 2024) that fire lanes have been established in case the fire reignites. (PNA photo courtesy of Ahwaii YHen FB)

BAGUIO CITY – Twenty-one forest fires have been recorded in the Mountain Province since January, with the latest incidents damaging at least 24 hectares of forest in the capital town Bontoc.

“Most of the fire incidents were due to negligence, burning of grasses they (residents) removed at their surroundings and farms, burning of garbage, and kaingin (slash-and-burn farming),” Mayor Jerome Chagsen Tudlong Jr. told the Philippine News Agency in a phone interview on Wednesday evening.

A forest fire was reported in Balili, Bontoc on Monday morning and a fire-out was declared in the afternoon of the same day.

The fire reignited at dawn on Wednesday, affecting forest areas in nearby Barangay Alab.

It was declared fire-out at about noon after concerted efforts by personnel of the Bureau of Fire Protection from Bontoc, Sagada, and Sabangan, as well as residents and village officials, Tudlong said.

“We hope there will be no more reignition. The only problem we see is, the ravine part of the forest cannot be reached, and (it) was impossible to make fire lanes that will prevent fire from crawling and spreading in other areas,” he said. “Our firefighters are staying nearby watching out for possible reignition in areas we were not able to put fire lanes.”

Falling rocks and felled trees from the latest fire incident blocked parts of the Halsema Highway leading to Bontoc, and motorists were advised to make a detour to Sagada province.

Tudlong said the road was opened to vehicular traffic Wednesday night.

The mayor also attributed the recent fires to the impact of the dry spell that has resulted in pine trees and pine needles drying up and becoming highly flammable.

He said the windy condition in the province is also a factor because a small fire could spread easily because of the wind.

Thus, he said, the municipal government has requested the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the possible conduct of cloud seeding operations.

“We are waiting for their confirmation if they will come to do cloud seeding in our area,” he said. 

Tudlong added that they are still assessing the impact of the dry spell as some farmers have reported that they have no water for irrigation, affecting farmlands. (PNA)