Fire in Mt Banahaw: 50 hectares destroyed, 6 pilgrims missing
QUEZON, Philippines – A fire on Mount Banahaw in Quezon province reduced 50 hectares of one of the mountain’s 3 peaks to ashes.
While the fire has died down, 6 pilgrims still remain missing.
Pia Ranada reports.
Dusty ashes, flaky cogon grass and skeletal tree stumps are all that remain of the 50 hectares of forest.
A fire razed one of the peaks of Mount Banahaw that sits between Quezon and Laguna. The blaze began Wednesday March 19 and only died out Thursday night. But on the foothills of the legendary mountain, a mission is still underway to find 6 more pilgrims still on the slopes. The going may be rough because rain has started to fall. But that’s not all the team is worried about.
SALUD PANGAN, PROTECTED AREA SUPERINTENDENT: Doon sa anim na tatlong babae at tatlong lalaki, may kasama silang 73 years-old. Napaka lamig sa taas. Baka mamaya magkaroon ng hypothermia. At tsaka kung kokonti lang yung dala nilang pagkain, yun isa pa, tsaka tubig. (Among the 6 composed of 3 women and 3 men, they are with a 73-year-old. It’s very cold up there. They might get hypothermia. And they might have limited food and water.)
Five companions of the missing 6 are safe in the police station of Dolores, Quezon. They did not want to be interviewed on camera but they told Rappler they were going up the mountain to set up an altar and say prayers. The pilgrims belong to a spiritual group called Hiwaga ng Banahaw. Armel Amparo, a member of another group explains why they’re drawn to the mountain.
ARMEL AMPARO, SAMAHAN NG TATLONG PERSONA SOLO DIOS: Ang aming samahan ay may pagkamakalikasan. Nagpapahalaga po tayo sa kalikasan sa pamamagitan ng paghahandog dalangin sa mga banal na lugar na alam natin nandirito yung mga alaala, mga gunita ng ating panginoon. (Our group is close to nature. We value nature by offering prayers in sacred places like this where we can find the memories of our Creator.)
Officials say the fire was likely man-made. Search and rescue teams found a candle and cooking implements in a part of the mountain off-limits to climbers and pilgrims. The 5 pilgrims were found outside the restricted zone.
SALUD PANGAN, PROTECTED AREA SUPERINTENDENT: Yung 6 na hinahanap pa namin na inise-search, malamang may violation na silang na-commit kasi umakyat sila sa restricted area. (The 6 we are searching for, certainly they have a violation because they climbed in the restricted area.)
There are only 5 forest rangers in charge of watching over Banahaw’s 10,000 hectares. It’s no wonder determined climbers are able to get through.
SALUD PANGAN, PROTECTED AREA SUPERINTENDENT: Kaunti lang talaga yung manpower namin. (We have very limited manpower.) Two forest rangers were assigned for Laguna side, 3 forest rangers for Quezon side. Total of 5 forest rangers, then yours truly, the PASU and assistant PASU.
Banahaw is close to visitors since 2004. It’s popularity as a Holy Week pilgrimage site wreaked havoc on its ecosystem.
SALUD PANGAN, PROTECTED AREA SUPERINTENDENT: Ang tubig, source of life ay naapektuhan at nagkaroon ng positive coliform bacteria which is nanggaling po ito sa lahat ng dumi ng basurang nanggaling sa trekkers. (Water, the source of life, was affected by the coliform bacteria which comes from the waste of trekkers.)
After the fire, the government is thinking of closing it for good. It’s worrisome for the religious groups who live on the mountain’s foothills and practice their faith in the mountain’s bosom.
ARMEL AMPARO, SAMAHAN NG TATLONG PERSONA SOLO DIOS: Karaniwan diyan mga nakaputi, nagtitirik kami ng kandila tapos sama-sama kami nananalangin o nagdarasal sa pangunguna ng aming mga babaylan at doon sa mga pagdarasal na iyon sinisikap naming maging taimtim at connected sa kalikasan. (Typically we are in white. We light candles and together offer prayers led by our priestess. In those prayers we establish a connection to nature.)
The heart-breaking destruction underscores the need for more effective protection of the country’s natural parks, places of pride and for a few, a sacred place of worship.
Pia Ranada, Rappler, Manila. – Rappler.com