P5-M spent to contain Rapu-Rapu fire

Heavy rain and the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) simultaneous bucket operation in the gold-rich island-town of Rapu-Rapu in Albay saved about 10,000 people who were threatened by a forest fire that had cost the government some Php5 million.
Rapu-Rapu fire
Photo: Joey Sarte Salceda
The fire was blamed on the "kaingin" (slash-and-burn) farming practice of the impoverished communities.

Two helicopters from the 505th PAF Search and Rescue Group equipped with buckets were deployed by the government to curtail the wild fire in three separate sites -- timberland areas, alienable land and disposable land -- where 14,000 inhabitants live.

The incident took place on Friday but was reported late by barangay officials to the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office and the Office of Civil Defense-Bicol when the inferno-like fire was already about to engulf thousands of residents, including school buildings, during the five-day bush conflagration.

Lt. Col. Luisito F. Angeles Jr., commander of Tactical Operations Group 5-Philippine Air Force based here, said six PAF pilots -- Lt. Col. Robert Bitas and Majors Jay-R Macasil, Jeff Guerra, Salvador C. Dee Jr. and Christian Manglicmot, and 1st Lt. Aarjayee G. Escote -- worked together as they dropped buckets of water since Sunday to contain the forest fire.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda requested the PAF to deploy helicopters equipped with buckets to save the lives of the islanders from clear danger.

Salceda mobilized all government forces from land, sea and air defense systems to control the spread of the fire.

Personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) were also on hand to do their share of rescue operation.

From the usual kaingin fire, it became a continuing forest conflagration that escalated rapidly due to strong winds brought by the southwest monsoon or "habagat."

On Monday night, heavy rainfall brought by bad weather disturbance poured and helped control the blaze.

“It's a miracle. Crisis is over. PAF dropped 45,000 liters of water but could not control it. We asked for cloud seeding but no plane was immediately available. So, God answered our prayers. God is good. He took care of cloud seeding. It rained hard enough,” Salceda said.

OCD Regional Director Bernardo Rafaelito “Raffy” Alejandro, Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council chair, said the government spent Php5 million in using air, land and sea assets -- including manpower -- to curtail the "inferno."

But even with heavy rain on Monday night, the blaze was still continuing, simmering down only on Tuesday morning.

Salceda had earlier ordered the suspension of classes in affected areas such as in barangays Poblacion, Morocborocan, Mananao, Guadalupe and Buenavista.

Some 3,000 people were also evacuated to safer grounds.

Barangays Batan, San Ramon, Bagaobawan, Dapdap and Bogtong were designated as temporary shelters.

The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office sent 200 bags of rice and canned goods as relief assistance to the affected residents of Rapu-Rapu.

Salceda also directed the Provincial Health Office to look into the after-effects of the forest fire.

The provincial government is looking at the secondary anticipated health hazards brought by the forest fire like the aggravation of upper respiratory infections, especially for people with co-morbidities like asthma; the old and the young secondary victim to the smoke produced; water-borne diseases like diarrhea due to possible contamination of some of the area’s water source; vector-borne diseases brought about by mosquitoes displaced; and bites of animals like snakes, displaced by the fire, among others.

This was the second time that Albay experienced a forest fire but this last one was bigger as it happened sporadically wherein the forest dry leaves and twigs in the mountainous portion of the town easily sparked spontaneously. It followed the onslaught of typhoon "Glenda" which, according to APSEMO chief Cedric Daep, aggravated the situation. -- by Rhaydz B. Barcia (PNA) LGI/FGS/RBB/CBD