By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
The regional and satellite offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are on alert for forest fires that usually occur during the dry season.
“As the dry season sets in, and even during this COVID-19 pandemic, our personnel from our regional and satellite offices will all the more continue with their duty to protect our forests from fire and illegal activities,” DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said.
On April 5, a grass fire burnt a portion of the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve at Barangay San Andres in Tanay, Rizal.
The fire swept through 10 hectares of bush and grassland that served as a site for the National Greening Program in 2013 and was planted with pioneering species of kakawate, more commonly known as madre kakaw. The area is now dominantly covered with grass.
According to the Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources officer Isidro Mercado, the grass fire occurred within the 550-hectare property of the provincial government of Rizal within the Kaliwa Watershed, which is under its “Palayang Bayan” project.
Initial investigations showed that the six-hour grass fire may have been caused by the practice of residents to smoke honeycombs in trees to collect honey.
It’s also possible that passersby intentionally set the area on fire, since no kaingin activity was seen in the periphery of the grass fire.
Mercado said his office is now in the process of identifying the culprits and assessing the cost of the damage.
Patrol operations in the area are also being intensified to prevent a recurrence of the incident, he added.
Cimatu said the DENR prioritizes strict monitoring for potential outbreak of forest fires in protected areas given their importance in ensuring sufficient water supply, and because they also function as habitat for endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.
“Protected areas are essential to biodiversity conservation. Our quick response workforces are constantly on alert to protect these homes of our threatened and endangered species from illegal activities that benefit a few,” he said.
Cimatu said that while the dry season creates favorable conditions for forest fires, starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.