Commendable collective efforts: Putting off grassfires in Mt. Kanla-on
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
It was a relief when we finally learned late last week that the grassfire in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island was finally contained and put out. Firefighters braved the scourging heat of both the summer and fire, while also risking their lives from possible volcanic eruption just to make sure that the fire will no longer spread in other areas of the MKNP. The blaze was triggered after the Kanla-on Volcano spewed fiery materials on the night of March 29, affecting the grasslands surrounding the active crater.
The Kanla-on Volcano is still under alert level 1, as raised by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, because it continues to indicate unrest. The possibility of phreatic explosions still remains. Phreatic explosions are steam-driven that usually occur when magma, lava, and hot rocks, or new volcanic deposits heat the water beneath the ground, or on the surface, the PHIVOLCS described. Ash falls occurred in several instances due to phreatic explosions of the volcano during the past months.
Negros Occidental Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andre Untal said the fire out was made possible because of the concerted efforts of various national and local governments, with support from numerous volunteers. The Negros Island Region of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, with regional director Al Orolfo at the helm, was on top of the situation. Untal and MKNP Protected Area Superintendent Joan Nathaniel Gerangaya and their personnel were at the ground for the firefighting operation, while other DENR units in the region came to the rescue, too.
Untal acknowledged the support of the provincial government, particularly Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., who immediately allocated P3 million to support the curtailment of grassfire from spreading in forested areas of the MKNP. The governor mobilized the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Unit, and the Bureau of Fire Protection and Office of the Civil Defense in the province to assist the task in putting out the grassfire.
What is also inspiring was the support, not only of the local government unit of La Castellana, where the fire was happening within its administrative jurisdiction, but all other LGUs in Negros Occidental, when they sent their fire officers, personnel, and rescue teams to assist in putting out the flame. At the time of the incident, the Kanla-on Volcano was still on alert level 1 for possible phreatic explosion, and entering at the four-kilometer radius from the crater, where the fire was occurring, was strictly prohibited. Untal said the PHIVOLCS provided the necessary guidance in the firefighting efforts by closely monitoring the volcanic activity. About 300 hectares of grasslands were torched because of the said volcanic activity.
It can be told once again that surrounding communities of the volcano are the most reliable frontliners and partners in disaster responses, like firefighting, when they joined forces with other groups in securing the MKNP from destructive fire. I am particularly proud of the Kanla-on Green Brigades that, through time, have never hesitated to risk their lives to protect the MKNP, which they call their very own home. In his thank-you message posted on Facebook, Untal singled out the efforts of KGBs in the firefighting operation.
During the Holy Week, similar incident of grassfire happened just below the crater. With the timely response from communities, the grassfire was immediately put out. Untal claimed that illegal trekkers, who forced their way to the crater during the Holy Week in spite of the imposition of the trekking ban at that time, might have caused the fire, which scorched about 100 hectares of grasslands. Under existing regulations, the MKNP is close to trekking activities once PHIVOLCS declared volcanic alert level in this mountain known as one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. The trekkers have already been identified and may face legal charges, Untal added.
There is no doubt that the fire-affected grasslands will immediately recover at the onset of the rainy season. But it is also important to note that the grassland surrounding the volcano is a natural ecosystem. Given the soil condition at the vicinity of the volcano, only grasses will thrive in the site. However, since it is a natural ecosystem, it also plays crucial roles for other organisms that are thriving in the area. In fact, two species of grasses available at the surrounding area of the crater require further studies because they are suspected to be endemic only in the place. Grasses also help in the prevention of soil erosion.
These laudable efforts in curtailing the recent fires that occurred in the MKNP showcased the collective and tireless efforts of both government and nongovernment institutions and even individuals in making a difference regardless of how difficult and challenging the task at hand. It would have been a more tragic event when those grassfires were not prevented from spreading to nearby forested areas of the MKNP.
I could only hope further that similar serious efforts will be in place in Negros to finally protect the remaining natural ecosystems, without compromise, and rehabilitate and restore the denuded ones. After all, our natural ecosystems are our life support systems. My heartfelt appreciation and congratulations to all firefighting volunteers for a job well done in putting out the fires in the MKNP, and, indeed, your efforts are worth sharing, since conservation matters. Kudos to all of you!*
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