Rains end Mt. Banahaw fire

Posted at 03/21/2014 11:52 AM

MANILA – Rains have finally put an end to the forest fire in Mount Banahaw in Sariaya, Quezon, an official said Friday.

Dr. Henry Buzar, head of the Quezon Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the fire that hit a portion of the mountain last Wednesday ended around midnight Friday due to rains.

The fire, which erupted Wednesday afternoon, razed an estimated 30-hectare patch of forest in the protected mountain.

Five people, including a minor, were rescued Thursday after being trapped on the mountain. The four adults rescued were Loreto Alpapara, 60; Bryan Alpapara, 27; Blessilda Clapano, 45; and Melina Anikal, 27.

The rescued people were allegedly members of the group "Hiwaga ng Mt. Banahaw Inc."

Six other pilgrims are still missing. A team of mountaineers from Tayabas, Quezon has been deployed to search for them.

Buzar said the people who went up the mountain might face charges for violating Republic Act No. 9847 that sets Mt. Banahaw off limits to the public.

They may also face charges of environmental damage, he said.

Backpackers have been banned from the 2,158-meter (7,080-foot) peak since 2004 to protect the mountain.

Several small sects that worship at caves and springs on its lower slopes continue to have access there.

Wildlife officials of the environment department told AFP Banahaw's forests, including a 10,900-hectare protected zone, are home to scores of animal species found only in the Philippines, including a species of cloud rat discovered only in 2004.

Ivan Herzano, project officer of the non-government group Foundation for the Philippine Environment, told AFP that despite access restrictions, forest rangers lacked the capability to track all persons who may be illegally entering the protected area.

"Most likely it was a man-made fire," he told AFP.

Hunters illegally looking for game could have lit dry litter on the forest floor by carelessly discarding cigarette butts, he added.

The foundation has recently completed a 60-hectare reforestation project on the mountain, which has protected zones that are off limits to human habitation as well as "multiple-use zones" on its lower slopes reserved for locals, Herzano added. -- Reports from Junry Hidalgo and Johnny Glorioso, dzMM; Doris Bigornia, ABS-CBN News; with Agence France-Presse