By Priam Nepomuceno

FIGHTING FOREST FIRES. A Super Huey helicopter of the Philippine Air Force performs heli bucket operations to extinguish a forest fire in Benguet province in this Feb. 21, 2024 photo. The Office of Civil Defense said it plans to develop response capabilities that will allow the country to adequately respond to forest fires and other similar incidents. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Air Force)

MANILA – The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) said it is looking to develop response capabilities that will allow the country to adequately respond to forest fires and other similar incidents.

OCD administrator Undersecretary Ariel Nepomuceno, in a statement Thursday, said these upgrades are necessary in the wake of the challenges encountered by authorities in extinguishing wildfires in the province of Benguet.

“We are looking for interventions that will support the ongoing response activities and of course for those measures that will offer long-term solutions to address the challenges and pressing concerns,” he added.

On Feb. 26, OCD officials, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and Armed Forces of the Philippines officers met with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to tackle the support of the US government for firefighting operations.

A team of experts from USAID on Feb. 27 went to Baguio City to provide technical support to the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC) – Cordillera Administrative Region on combating forest fires.

The next day, USAID and US Forest Service Fire experts launched an aerial inspection.

“It is vital, especially for the responders, to learn more strategies on how to combat forest fires. We are pushing for the advancement of our country’s capabilities in handling this type of emergency. OCD is committed to facilitating and providing necessary support to realize the improvements that we need for the betterment of the overall fire preparedness,” Nepomuceno said.

Among major challenges in response operations are the locations of forest fires which the fire trucks cannot reach and the lack of equipment of responders.

As of Wednesday, out of 13 areas affected by forest fires in Benguet, five are now declared fire out, five are under control status and three areas are still under firefighting operations.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Air Force is still dumping water in areas affected by the wildfires in Benguet.

Forest fires were also reported in Mountain provinces, Baguio, and Iloilo this February, all of which have been declared out. (PNA)