A forest fire in Ilocol, smoke engulfs the St. Ferdinand Parish church, Mt Asog fire
From left: A forest fire in Ilocos Norte, smoke engulfs the St. Ferdinand Parish church in Ilagan City in Isabela Province, and a grass fire in Mt Asog, near Iriga City in Camerines Sur. Image Credit: Facebook | Zipangan Fannie Bassig | Blaremazing

Manila: A grass fire destroyed a historic church in northern Philippines on Monday, while a forest fire was reported in a mountain in southern Luzon on the same day, emergency responders reported.

The recent incidents add to more than 90 grass and forest fires already reported in the country so far since the start of 2024, according to the official Philippine News Agency (PNA).

In Ilagan City, Isabela province, officials blamed a grass fire for destroying St. Ferdinand Parish church – built in a baroque style in 1612 in Bagumbayan village. The fire torched furniture, church pews, the altar, and religious images.

This year’s dry season, exacerbated by the strong El Niño, is already causing widespread drought in the country.

Human activities, such as hunting wild boar and collecting wild honey, have been blamed as the main causes of wildfires in the province.

Forest Fire Philippines
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) stated that Negros Oriental province recorded 17 grass fires and emphasized the importance of caution in activities to prevent grass or wildfires, as depicted in this undated photo from Bayawan City, Negros Oriental. Image Credit:

Over 70 grass and forest fires had been recorded in Ilocos Norte province – in addition to the more than 20 forest fires reorted in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) since the start of 2024 until the second week of April.


Damage in Ilocos Norte alone is estimated to have reached over Php40 million.

On Monday, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) chief Victor Dabalos told local media said the estimate was based on the cost of establishing forest plantations covering more than 5,000 hectares in the areas of Solsona, Piddig, Carasi, Vintar, and Pasuquin.

The Ilocos Norte Fire Fighting Group, composed of various agencies, has been formed to curb wildfires, and has unveiled an adopt-a-forest program to replenish damaged areas.

Mt Asog fire

Parched rice field Philippines
The image displays a parched rice field in the Bicol region, a consequence of severe heat attributed to El Niño. Shared by the Department of Agriculture-Bicol, it highlights the extent of the dry spell's impact. This situation has prompted the Occidental Mindoro Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to advise the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to consider declaring the entire province under a state of calamity. Image Credit: Department of Agriculture-Bicol

Meanwhile, a grass fire broke out at the upper portion of Mt. Asog in Iriga City, Camarines Sur, about 400km south-east of Manila, overnight on Monday.

Iriga City administrators deployed 250 people to Mt. Asog as part of the incident management team.

The heat index in Iriga and many parts of Camarines Sur peaked at 45 degrees Celsius on Monday. To ensure public safety, all mountain-based outdoor and adventure activities in the area have been canceled.

Also on Monday (April 22), officials said a suspected grass fire set 19 vehicles on fire parked outside Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City. No injuries were reported.

Airport terminal grass fire

20240422 manila airport fire
A grass fire at Manila's international airport ignited 19 vehicles in a car park. Image Credit: AFP

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said the blaze started at 1:28 pm “from a small grass fire which rapidly progressed, burning several nearby vehicles parked thereat.”

In Cavite province, about an hour by car south of Manila, the heat index reached 47 degrees Celsius on Tuesday. The heat index was expected to reach the "danger" level of 42C or higher in at least 30 cities and municipalities on Wednesday, the state weather forecaster said.

The “heat index” measures what a temperature feels like, taking into account humidity. There was a 50 percent chance of the heat intensifying in the coming days, said Ana Solis, chief climatologist at the state weather forecaster.

$67.7m losses from drought

Earlier, the Philippine Department of Agriculture reported that the damage and losses to the country’s agriculture sector due to El Niño has reached more than Php3.9 billion ($67.7 million)– covering 11 regions, with Mimaropa and Western Visayas being the hardest hit.

A total of 66,065 hectares of farmlands have been affected by the phenomenon, the department said.

In Central Philippines, 21 local government units declared a state of calamity due to the impact of El Niño. In San Enrique town (Negros Occidental), home to 26,000 inhabitants, the mayor said 90 per cent of the town’s 2,884.75-hectare rice fields had already dried up due to extreme heat.

On Tuesday, the Maguindanao del Sur Governor provincial council declared the entire province in a state of calamity due to huge agricultural losses brought about by drought, which has destroyed 345.9 million pesos worth crops, affecting 5,601 local rice, corn, banana and livestock farmers.

The affected towns include Ampatuan, Buluan, Datu Anggal Midtimbang, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Datu Montawal, Datu Paglas, Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and Datu Unsay.

El Niño

El Niño, a climate phenomenon characterised by the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, can contribute to increased fire risk in certain regions. During El Niño events, certain regions experience changes in precipitation patterns. Some areas may become drier than usual due to reduced rainfall, leading to drought conditions.

Elevated temperatures, coupled with reduced precipitation, can further exacerbate dry conditions and increase the likelihood of wildfires.