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Despite mobility restrictions resulting from the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) remains on guard against forest fires that usually occur during the dry season.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu gave this assurance after he instructed all DENR regional and satellite offices to continue their efforts to prevent, monitor and fight forest fires even with the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) prevailing in Luzon and other parts of the country.

“As the dry season sets in and even during this COVID-19 pandemic, our personnel from our regional and satellite offices will all the more continue with their duty to protect our forests from fire and illegal activities,” Cimatu said.

The statement came on the heels of a grass fire that has affected a portion of the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve at Barangay San Andres in Tanay, Rizal on April 5.

The fire swept through 10 hectares of bush and grassland that served as a site for the National Greening Program in 2013 and was planted with pioneering species of kakawate, more commonly known as madre kakaw. The area is now dominantly covered with grass.

According to Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Isidro Mercado, the grass fire occurred within the 550-hectare property of the provincial government of Rizal under its “Palayang Bayan” project within the Kaliwa Watershed.

Initial investigation showed that the six-hour grass fire may have been caused by the practice of residents to smoke honeycombs on trees to collect honey. It was also possible that passersby intentionally set fire the area since no kaingin activity was seen in the periphery of the grass fire.

Mercado said his office is now in the process of identifying the culprits and assessing the cost of the damage.

Patrol operations in the area are also being intensified to prevent a recurrence of the incident, he added.

Cimatu, meanwhile, said the DENR prioritizes strict monitoring for potential outbreak of forest fires in protected areas given their importance in ensuring sufficient water supply and which also function as habitat for endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.

“Protected areas are essential to biodiversity conservation,” Cimatu pointed out. “Our quick response workforces are constantly on alert to protect these homes of our threatened and endangered species from illegal activities that benefit a few.”

Cimatu said that while the dry season creates favorable conditions for forest fires, starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.

Even before the entire island of Luzon was placed under ECQ to stop the spread of COVID-19, the DENR had already mobilized its workforces for quick response law enforcement, especially against forest and wildlife crimes. ###