Central 911 rescue team deployed to contain Mt. Apo fire

SIXTY personnel of Davao City Central 911 were dispatched Tuesday morning to the country's highest peak, upon the orders of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, to help other volunteers contain the massive fire that has already affected large areas of Mt. Apo.

The fire has so far destroyed more than 300 hectares of bushlands and grasslands near the peak.

Officials, however, said volunteers from government agencies and other private organizations still have little success in stopping the fire.

This prompted Duterte to order the advanced Davao City Central 911 rescue team to respond and help quell the fire on Mt. Apo.

On Monday evening, the Central 911 team received the go signal for their deployment and prompted them to mobilize 60 of its personnel equipped with complete rescue operation gears and provide assistance to the local volunteers who have been battling the fire since Saturday afternoon.

Central 911 Chief Emmanuel Jaldon, in a phone interview with Sun.Star Davao on Tuesday, said their main objective along with the other volunteers from the Department of Environment of Natural Resources (DENR) and Bureau of Fire and Protection Digos (BFPP) present at the site is to establish the firelines and prevent the fire from spreading farther.

"We brought the needed firefighting equipment as well as shovel and other cutting tools," Jaldon said, adding that they arrived at the site in Barangay Kapatagan Tuesday afternoon.

"Ongoing pa ang ibang volunteers who were deployed to help put out the fire. The important thing is that we need to establish the fire lines to prevent the fire from spreading," Jaldon said.

Jaldon admitted that they are expected to face challenges in this situation in responding to a fire in an area where they need to walk for kilometers and adjust to the altitude.

The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC), headed by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD)-Davao regional director Liza Mazo, also activated on Tuesday the Regional Incident Management Team (RIMT).

With the activation of the RIMT, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC) has put up a command center in Barangay Kapatagan, Digos City where other involved agencies such as Tactical Operations Group (TOG), Philippine Red Cross, BFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), Digos City Tourism, and DENR gather for meeting and updates on the situation between morning and afternoon.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)'s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) also extended its support by sending one of its Cessna plane from the Aero Scout Company, to conduct Bambi Bucket or an aerial water spray.

Mt. Apo National Park Superintendent Edward Ragaza, in a separate interview, said that the chopper's aerial water spray activity was only limited due to the weather condition.

"We have bucket chopper but it only managed to fly 13 times due to weather condition," Ragaza told Sun.Star Davao in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Major Ezra Balagtey, officer-in-charge spokesperson for Eastmincom, said that the large portion of the fire was within the side of North Cotabato. But as of 5 p.m., the PDRRMC North Cotabato fireline was established as means of controlling the fire.

Large portion of the fire is now within the side of Talomo Mountain Range and Davao del Sur area, Balagtey said.

Ragaza bared that they need more volunteers while food donations are also requested for all the volunteers who have at the fire site since Saturday afternoon.

"Kulang gyud mi ug food. Unta naay maka-donate gikan sa gobyerno or private groups and individuals (We need food ration. We hope government agencies and private groups and individuals will provide us with food rations for our volunteers)," Ragaza added.

Frank Buenaflor, information officer of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro), said that there were 37 mountaineers who were deployed Tuesday to the fire site to help establish the fire lines.

He bared that there are more than 150 volunteers at the command center but don't have the necessary equipment for deployment.

"Hindi pinapaakyat lahat ng volunteers not unless complete ang gears," Buenaflor added.

Senator Loren Legarda, in her statement, renewed her call for stronger conservation and security measures on protected areas in Mt. Apo.

“It is unfortunate that we have already lost several hectares of forest cover in Mt. Apo due to this fire. It is unfortunate that even our protected areas are not safe from such tragic events. Two years ago, a forest fire that was believed to be man-made transpired at the top of Mt. Banahaw, affecting at least 50 hectares of forest land. We need to strengthen conservation measures in our protected areas so we prevent such disasters,” Legarda said in her statement.

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