Indonesia: Fires destroy land, conservation areas as people pray for rain

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb The Jakarta Post 24 Oct 16;

Massive land and forest fires in Limapuluh Kota regency, West Sumatra, over the past 20 days have destroyed 300 hectares of area, including 70 hectares of conservation forest.

Of the devastated conservation forest, 40 hectares were found in the Lembah Harau protected area and 30 hectares in the Air Putih Taram conservation area.

“The fire degraded the animal habitat and reduced biodiversity in the conservation areas,” said Zaidi, head of the Region I section with the West Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

He said the fire could also lead to a drought that could threaten the people’s water supply.

Local firefighters found it difficult to extinguish the fire due to the hard terrain of the area, forcing them to ask the central government to send a helicopter to ease their work.

By Saturday, the firefighters said they had extinguished the fire entirely following the deployment of the Bell PK-Puv helicopter belonging to the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

As a result of the massive forest fire, the tourist site Lembah Harau, which is also popularly known as the “Yosemite National Park of Indonesia” with giant rocks soaring up to 150 meters high, has lost some of its beauty.

The area was named a conservation site in 1926. The status was renewed in 1982. “Harau looks arid now,” said Zaidi, adding that young men used to go rock climbing at the site.

He also expressed the hope that the fire would not influence the animals in the forest, known as a habitat for golden cats and gibbons.

He added that based on the procedure of handling conservation areas, no reforestation program would be conducted in the burned conservation forests.

“We will continue monitoring the area to make sure that the plants grow naturally,” said Zaidi, adding that the forest was predicted to recover in two to three years.

He also said the planting of local trees could be undertaken by the monitoring officers while they conducted patrols around particular spots in the conservation forest.

Separately, R. Pagar Alam, the West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) emergency and logistics division head, said the forest fire in Limapuluh Kota had been completely extinguished.

He said the 20-day fire had affected four districts in the regency, namely Harau, Mungka, Luhak and Kapus Sembilan.

“The big fire spots have been extinguished, but smaller ones, especially those whose locations could not be reached, might be still smoky,” he said.

The fire was alleged to have been triggered by uncontrolled land clearing activities using slash-and-burn methods.

Although heavy rainfall has been pouring over the provincial capital of Padang and its surroundings, Limapuluh Kota and Payakumbuh are still experiencing a prolonged dry season.

This moved the Payakumbuh administration to mobilize thousands of civil servants and students in the region to Poliko Square on Wednesday to participate in a mass Istisqa prayer to ask for rain.

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