Indonesia: Haze blankets Dumai and Pelalawan in Riau

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 24 Jun 14;

The number of hotspots in Riau province has risen as the dry season approaches, creating a debilitating haze in Dumai and Pelalawan regency.

“The further increase in the number of hotspots has caused Pelalawan regency and Dumai city to be covered by haze,” data and information head at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo said on Monday.

Agus added that as many as 236 of the 290 hotspots in Sumatra were located in eight of the 12 regencies and cities in the province, with the highest concentrations found in Dumai (29); Rokan Hilir (97); Bengkalis (46); Pelalawan (19); Kampar (17); Rokan Hulu (11); Kuantan Sengingi (10); and Siak (7) regencies.

According to Agus, the haze had cut visibility in Pelalawan to 5 kilometer (km), while maximum visibility in Dumai in the morning reached just 3 km.

Two days earlier, the number of hotspots in Riau reached 250, but by Sunday the number had dropped to 109.

According to Agus, the increase in the number of hotspots on Monday was due to temperatures that reached 35 degrees Celsius combined with humidity of just 40 percent.

“The weather conditions in Riau are hot and dry, which makes the province prone to forest and peatland fires. Therefore, extreme caution needs to be taken by those engaged in any activities that could spark a fire,” he said.

Based on annual data, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Riau predicted that hotspots in Riau would appear between June and October, with the peak period falling between August and October.

The Riau Health Agency has yet to receive reports on the impacts of haze recurring in a number of regions.

According to Agus, each of the regencies and cities in Riau was equipped with face masks available free of charge to community members who needed them.

Separately, Riau Governor Annas Maamun expressed anger and regret over arsonists who caused hotspots to flare up in a number of fire-prone regions. He urged law enforcers to be firm and fair in dealing with persons connected to forest and peatland fire cases.

“Currently, the number of hotspots is enormous. I urge the Riau Police chief to immediately arrest perpetrators, from the lowest levels all the way to the financiers. Village, neighborhood and community unit chiefs must catch those responsible for starting the fires,” said Annas.

Separately, Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono said he had deployed a patrol helicopter and 30 Mobile Brigade (Brimob) units to help the forest and peatland fire teams in every police sector charged with clamping down on arson and illegal logging.

“Besides daily patrols and campaigning, they are also tasked with securing and monitoring areas that are prone to forest and peatland fires. They have the ability to read GPS devices to aid in the mapping of locations,” Condro said.

“If they find burning areas, the GPS information will help the team coordinate with the nearest police station and local Disaster Mitigation Agency [BPBD] office so that fire-extinguishing operations can be carried out immediately,” he added.