CL ready for forest fires

OLONGAPO CITY, Zambales - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is on high alert for possible forest fires in Central Luzon following the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) declared recently the official onset of this year's summer season.

More than 2,000 DENR forest and fire protection officers and upland farmers who are active members of people's organizations throughout Central Luzon gear up to combat the threats of wildfire in vast tracts of dry grasslands in the provinces of Zambales, Tarlac, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, revealed Maximo Dichoso, executive director of the regional DENR here.

"Forest fire incidents peak in summer, usually from February to May, when arid conditions become more pronounced," he explained adding that rainfall during these months is less than 200 mm, down from the national average of more than 2,300 mm.

Close to 200 hectares of forest plantations and reforestation projects were scorched last year by wildfires that spread from adjacent grasslands, he reported, adding that Pagasa has warned that the warm dry spells of El Nino will continue this year.

Amid threats of El Nino, 120 people's organizations with community-based forest management projects with the DENR race to establish fire and green breaks in some 21,000 ha of forestlands under their stewardship.

"Forest villagers and local governments are better able to deal immediately with fire emergencies. Engaging their services will help DENR respond quickly when fire breaks out in remote places," he said.

The DENR regularly provides science-based fire management trainings to active members of people's organizations to enable them to respond quickly to fire alerts.

"Forest fire prevention is essential to sustain the gains of the National Greening Program (NGP) so that government investments don't go to waste," forestry deputy director Sofio Quintana explained.

More than 12,000 ha of new forests have been established throughout Central Luzon since Pres. Benigno Aquino III launched the NGP in 2011.

DENR statistics showed that Central Luzon has more than 400,000 ha of grasslands and other open areas.

Forest fires release carbon dioxide and sulfur into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming and climate change.