Indonesia: Forest, land fires reappear in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 12 Jan 17;

Forest and land fires have begun to threaten Riau again this week following the increasing number of hot spots detected across the province.

Pekanbaru Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) head Sugarin said the hot spots were first detected by Terra and Aqua satellites on Sunday afternoon.

“At that time, six hot spots were detected. The following day the number increased to seven, with hot spots in Siak, Pelalawan and Kuantan Singingi,” Sugarin told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

He said more hot spots were detected in Rokan Hulu (three), Rokan Hilir (three), Siak (two) and another on Meranti Island.

“Four of the hot spots were indicated as fire-linked hot spots with a reliability level of over 70 percent,” Sugarin said, adding that hot spots were also detected in other provinces in Sumatra, including Jambi, West Sumatra and North Sumatra.

The reappearance of the hot spots, Sugarin said, might be caused by high temperatures, which hit 34.5 degrees Celsius, and the rampant slash-and-burn practices.

He added that Riau would enter the dry season in February, which was expected to last until March. “The condition makes the forests and land prone to fires,” he said.

According to Sugarin, of the 12 regencies/cities in Riau, the most fire-prone regions were Rokan Hilir, Siak, Bengkalis, Dumai and Meranti Island in the eastern coastal area.

This does not mean that other regions are safe from forest and land fires. As for the heat in Riau, Sugarin it was caused by the minimal forming of clouds over the province in the past week.

He said an inter-agency meeting would be held on Friday to follow up on the forest and land fire developments, as well as the current atmosphere phenomena.

Riau Environment and Forestry Agency head Yulwiriati Moesa confirmed the reappearance of forest and land fires in Riau, saying that since Sunday, over 100 hectares of land inside the Bukit Betabuh protected forest area in Pucuk Rantau district, Kuantan Singingi regency was on fire and had not been fully extinguished.

“The forest is located on a hill and it’s difficult for firefighters to move around [to put out the fires]. Water resources are also very limited,” Yulwiriati said, adding that some parts of the affected areas could not easily be accessed by land.

She said the situation had been reported to Riau governor with the hope that the report would be forwarded to the Environment and Forestry Ministry for further action. She said water bombing seemed to be needed to put out the fires.

“Hopefully, the central government will send helicopters soon to Riau. Otherwise, the fires might spread [to other areas],” she said.

Separately, commander of the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base Pekanbaru, First Marshal Henri Alfiandi, said his team would look into the issue and coordinate with the Riau Police on further action to tackle the problem.

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