Clearly, El Niño, dry vegetation, and fire don’t mix.
Mt. Apo, the country’s highest, Mt. Kanlaon, tallest of all Visayan peaks, and Bud Bongao, the holy mountain of Tawi-Tawi – are up in flames.
Mt. Apo and Bud Bongao are burning because of errant campfires while Mt. Kanlaon discharged superheated rocks to ignite vegetation baked dry by El Niño. Mt. Apo has lost close to 350 hectares, with Mt. Kanlaon losing over 400 hectares. In April 2015, Mt. Kanlaon already lost 29 hectares due to an errant campfire.
Dry weather and wind can quickly spread fire to adjacent areas. The consequences are dire – in Indonesia, uncontrolled forest fires consumed millions of hectares of forest and have taken years to quell. So what can be done to save our summits?
The first solution is to quickly create firebreaks when a brushfire begins. Firebreaks are unbroken lanes from six to ten feet wide, cleared of all vegetation. Looking like dirt roads, firebreaks can greatly reduce the ability of fire to spread further.
The next solution is to enforce the ban on kaingin – the controlled but illegal burning of land which during El Niño spells, usually prove very hard to control. Wind can pick up embers and cause fires far away from kaingin plots.
The third solution is for mountaineers and trekkers to police their camps. Campfires should be immediately banned and stoves used only in open ground, at least six feet from dry vegetation. Spilled fuel or a knocked-over stove is all it takes to ignite dry tinder and turn a mountain into a giant pyre.
Smoking must be banned on mountains as cigarette butts smolder long after being snubbed out. Leave No Trace principles must be the lifeblood of all mountaineers: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
What must be done when a brushfire abates? Reforest the area right before the rains come in, usually in June. Plant only native Philippine trees – species already naturally found in the area. Don’t introduce foreign tree species or biodiversity will be affected.
The summer has just started and already, three of the most famous Philippine peaks are ablaze.
Local government units, management bodies and communities must immediately look into firebreaks and education before more peaks join the conflagration.
SOS: Save Our Summits! For more information, please call +63917 833 4734.
Native tree species like Dau, Tindalo and Apitong can revive burnt areas. The saplings should be planted right before the monsoon season enters, usually in June. Many saplings do not survive when planted in the middle of summer. Shown are representatives from Republic Cement and WWF at a well-managed tree planting site in Rizal. (Gregg Yan / WWF)