Albay on high alert for potential wildfires

Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has placed all forest and fire protection officers in Albay province on high alert against threat of potential wildfires due to the impending eruption of Mayon Volcano.

Paje warned that volcanic eruptions and wildfires pose serious hazards not only to human population but also to the surrounding natural ecosystems, which the DENR is duty-bound to protect and preserve.

“We have to be ready for potential wildfires, including whatever intervention may be needed to protect natural ecosystems that are highly vulnerable to catastrophic damage the volcanic explosion may cause,” Paje said.

Paje also ordered local forestry officials to ensure the protection of the seedlings to be planted at the foot of Mount Mayon under the Aquino administration’s National Greening Program (NGP), particularly those within the 76,770-hectare Quinale watershed that traverses the base of the volcano and includes some areas within the six-kilometer permanent danger zone.

According to the environment chief, the watershed area is an NGP priority in Albay due to its importance to the province’s irrigation needs and agricultural activities, as well as in terms of flood prevention especially in the towns of Oas, Polangui and Libon and the city of Ligao.

There are at least 81 NGP sites in the province covering some 5,269 hectares of forestland, which are being maintained by the DENR in collaboration with civil society groups and host communities in the cities of Legazpi, Tabaco and Ligao, and the towns of Camalig, Daraga, Guinobatan and Sto. Domingo.

Paje has also directed the executive director of DENR-Region 5 to tap the various Regional Forest Fire Respondent Teams (RFFRTs) “should the situation calls for their services.”

RFFRTs are composed of special units called “Leatherbacks” coming from DENR field offices, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and volunteer groups. They are tasked to conduct round-the-clock monitoring and initiate quick response during wildfires.

These teams underwent intensive trainings and are placed on standby near areas of the region that are vulnerable to forest fires.

The DENR is now preparing thematic maps, and the profile of timberlands and protected areas in the region that will serve as guide in the posting of the RFFRTs. The maps will include trails and access roads, location of water sources and forest ranger stations.

Paje said the DENR will also tap beneficiaries of the community-based forest management projects in Albay to establish fire and green breaks.

“Stakeholders such as forest-based communities are better able to deal immediately with fire emergencies. Their services will help us respond quickly when fire breaks out in remote places,” Paje said.

He said the DENR provides science-based fire management training to members of people’s organizations.

The creation of RFFRTs is a result of an agreement forged last July between the DENR-Region 5 office and the BFP.

The DENR-BFP anti-forest fire partnership “underscores the pro-active stance the DENR is aggressively pursuing in forest fire prevention which is central to sustaining the gains we have achieved so far in NGP,” Paje said.

The NGP, which was created in 2011 under Executive Order No. 26, aims to plant 1.5 billion trees within 1.5 million hectares of forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservations, and urban areas by 2016.

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