Indonesia: Choppers sent to fight forest fires in Riau, Kalimantan

Rizal Harahap and Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 14 Jan 17;

Central government to send choppers to Riau, Kalimantan Climatologists warn of more forest fires in Kalimantan due to rising temperatures

The central government will deploy helicopters to Riau and Kalimantan to help local administrations fight forest fires, which have begun to appear in some areas, an official has said.

“We are currently waiting for the helicopter. Other than Riau, reports say another helicopter will be deployed to Kalimantan,” Riau Environment and Forestry Agency head Yulwiriati Moesa said during a coordination meeting with the Riau governor’s office on Friday.

She said the Riau administration had requested assistance from the Environment and Forestry Ministry in Jakarta to address the forest fires.

She said the chopper would help them put out fires found in Riau’s 12 regencies and municipalities.

“I visited the location where the forest fires occurred inside the Bukit Betabuh protected forest in Kuantan Singingi regency a couple days ago. The firefighters there experienced difficulties reaching the hot spots in the hilly area. That is when a helicopter is needed,” she added.

The province is planning to form a joint patrol to anticipate forest fires in addition to building canals and a hot spot monitoring center.

“Not to mention, we will also increase monitoring of private companies in the forests. We have demanded they report their inventory of equipment and facilities to prevent and mitigate forest fires,” Yulwiriati added.

Although hot spots have been detected this week in some Riau regencies, including in Rokan Hulu, Rokan Hilir, Siak and Meranti Island, the province has yet to issue an emergency alert, a status that is needed for the provincial adminismantan tration to start deploying all equipment to areas prone to forest fires.

“It needs at least two regencies or municipalities to declare an emergency alert in their areas [before we can issue a provincial emergency alert],” Riau administration regional secretary Ahmad Hijazi said.

Ahmad said his office was currently pushing for some regencies such as the Kuantan Singingi regency and Rokan Hilir regency to increase their status so that Riau province could announce the emergency alert aimed at “anticipating haze in the early stages”.

Military Region Command (Korem) 031/Wira Bima commander Brig. Gen. Nurendi called on all stakeholders to increase preparedness amid predictions that say the province might face a harsher dry season this year.

“The sooner these things are handled, the better that will be. Patrols and education is necessary and so is the effort to spread posters banning slash-and-burn practices,” said Nurendi, who last year led a task force to fight forest fires.

He also expressed support for all related stakeholders engaged in making sure the existing canals, built last year to maintain the wetness of peat land in the province, worked well.

“All elements should work handin-hand to fight forest fires. We must end annual haze,” he added

Meanwhile, climatologists have warned that the decrease in rainfall, followed by lower humidity and higher temperatures in West Kali- from the beginning of this month, would increase the potential for forest fires in the province.

Head of the Climatology Station in Mempawah, Wandayantolis, said analysis of climate conditions in the province over the last five days showed that rainfall intensity had continued to decline, especially in the west coast all the way through to the north beach.

Air humidity has also decreased, due to the loss of vapor layers. This has caused a rising intensity of sunlight reaching the ground, thus taking the temperatures higher.

“The increasing temperatures on the ground will make land and forests more prone to fires,” he stressed. “The decrease in rainfall intensity is predicted to continue during the following week. Midway through this month, the 10-day intensity of rainfall will only be between 21 to 100 milimeters, or categorized as low to medium intensity.”

Officers at the Meterology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency in Supadio, Pontianak, said that as of Jan. 12, monitoring through NOAA satellites showed 7 hot spots. The hot spots are located in four regencies out of the total 14 regencies throughout West Kalimantan.

The four regencies are Pontianak, Kubu Raya, Mempawah and Sintang.

The West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) recorded that the number of hot spots in 2015 reached 2,271. The regency with the highest number of hot spots was Sintang with 778, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency head of emergency Bosman Hutahaean.

In 2016, the number of hot spots in the province decreased to 1,575, mostly located in Sanggau with 342.

In Pontianak, the BPBD and private firefighters conducted joint efforts to extinguish the fires.

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