Indonesia: More than 230 Hot Spots Observed in East Kalimantan

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 13 Sep 12;

Samarinda. The number of fire hot spots detected in East Kalimantan this month has increased to more than 230, with most found at Suharto Hill forest park, which is also known as Tahura.

“Based on our observation earlier this week, 236 hot spots have been detected and most of them are at Suharto Hill forest park and Kutai Kartanegara,” said Eddy Yudjar, an official at the East Kalimantan Forestry Agency’s municipal technical unit for forest fire and land control.

Eddy said the hot spots were observed using a satellite from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The municipal team will be deployed to an area if NOAA detects a high number of hot spots so the local authorities can swiftly contain the situation, Eddy said, adding that conditions in East Kalimantan were normal for now.

The fires captured by the satellite were set off by local residents for planting, he said.

To prevent forest fires, the agency has set up task forces in several areas that are prone to fires. The agency has also trained local residents to help contain forest fires.

“We have to admit that our team [members] are limited. That’s why we’re working with local residents. They will be the ones to go into the fields with assistants to see the conditions,” Eddy said.

The agency has put several personnel and fire fighters on a standby in Tahura due to the high probability of fire, especially during the dry season.

“Tahura is a high priority due to the high number of hot spots,” Eddy said. “We’ve dispatched a team and other supporting devices. Coordination with the regional administration has also been done.”

Sutrisno, head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) for Samarinda said East Kalimantan is expected to start its rainy season between late September and mid-October.

Masks Distributed as Haze Shrouds Central Kalimantan
Jakarta Globe 14 Sep 12;

East Kotawaringin, Central Kalimantan. Authorities in East Kotawaringin are distributing 6,000 free masks to residents as haze caused by ground brush and forest fires has thickened in the area in recent days, an official said on Thursday.

The haze could get thicker still in the coming days as more and more fire hot spots have been detected, while officials have said rains are not likely to come for another two months.

“The targets of this mask distribution are primarily road users, motorcyclists, car drivers, cyclists or pedestrians,” said Johan Wahyudi, the head of the district disaster mitigation unit.

He said it was hoped that the distribution of the masks would reduce the number of respiratory tract health complaints that have surged in the past two days.

The local chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) worked with youth organizations to assist in the distribution of the masks, Johan said, setting up posts at several strategic locations across Sampit, the East Kotawaringin district capital.

He said that after the 6,000 masks were all distributed, authorities would wait to see whether the haze continued to worsen, at which point more masks would be distributed for free.

He added that his office still had a stock of some 7,000 masks.

“These masks will not be distributed all at once, but gradually, in line with the situation and conditions,” he said.

He also called on road users to use extra caution because the smog had resulted in substantially reduced visibility.

Ground brush and forest fires, most caused by outlawed but cheap land clearing by fire ahead of the new plantation season, is common across Indonesia toward the end of the dry season.

Although the practice of land clearing by burning is illegal, the lack of enforcement has allowed it to continue unabated.

In neighboring provinces, such as East Kalimantan, officials reported on Wednesday an increase in fire hot spots to more than 230, with most found inside the Bukit Suharto community forest, ostensibly a protected area.

The fires, captured by satellite, were set off by local residents to clear land for planting, an official said.

To prevent forest fires, the local administration has set up task forces in several areas prone to blazes. The East Kalimantan Forestry Agency has also trained local residents to help contain forest fires.

Meanwhile, forest fires in Sumatra last week were blamed for the worst air pollution levels recorded this year in the neighboring city-state of Singapore.

Local media reported that the city-state’s Pollutant Standards Index ranged from 65-75 on the morning of Sept. 7 after a night of thick, choking haze over the island, before clearing up later in the day.

A PSI reading of 65-75 is still in the moderate range. Anything above 100 is considered unhealthy.

Haze caused by the fires affects tourism and contributes to health problems across the region.