Indonesia: Haze begins to hit North Sumatra

Apriadi Gunawan and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 25 Feb 15;

Haze from land and forest fires in a number of regions in North Sumatra blanketed areas around the Kualanamu International Airport in Deli Serdang regency on Tuesday.

However, the haze, which was present until 8:30 a.m., did not disrupt flights as visibility remained normal.

Airport spokesman Prasetyo Dewandono said the airport had been covered by haze for the past two days. He added that the haze, which was only seen in the morning, had yet to disrupt flights.

“Despite the presence of haze at the airport, visibility remains normal ranging between 1,500 and 3,000 meters. All flights have been smooth,” Prasetyo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The weather forecast analyst at the Medan branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Dodi Syahputera, said the haze covering Kualanamu airport for the past two days was attributed to the rise in the number of hot spots in North Sumatra. He added that the haze over Kualanamu airport originated from hot spots in nearby Serdang Bedagai regency.

“We detected a hot spot in Serdang Bedagai that resulted from a land fire. The smoke was carried by wind to the northeast in the direction of Kualanamu airport,” said Dodi on Tuesday.

He added that based on satellite observations, the number of hot spots in North Sumatra over the past two days was rising; nine were detected on Monday and 11 on Tuesday.

Three of them were found in Mandailing Natal, two in Asahan, one in Serdang Bedagai, one in Labuhan Batu and four in Langkat regency.

Dodi said the growing number of hot spots was due to widespread land clearing activities in various regions. He said that no hot spot was detected in Langkat on Monday, but four appeared on Tuesday.

“This proves that land clearing activities by burning in the regions has increased since [farmers] are taking advantage of the dry weather,” said Dodi.

He added that the temperature in Medan and several other regions in the province had reached between 33 and 340C, hot enough to easily encourage local people to clear land by burning.

In Riau, the Riau Police have arrested nine suspects for alleged arson to clear land.

Police have also separately seized evidence used to set fire to plots of land in six different regencies.

Police arrested a suspect in Bengkalis, two in Indragiri Hulu, one in Indragiri Hilir, three in Siak, one in Pelalawan and another one in Rokan Hilir.

“The suspects were arrested based on public information from separate places. All of them are still undergoing intensive questioning to disclose whether of not the fires were masterminded,” said Riau Police detective chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Kaswandi Irwan on Tuesday.

Kaswandi added that he supported the central government’s decision to raise the land and forest fire warning status in Riau to emergency status.

“It was the right move in order to prevent land and forest fires from getting worse. Last year, the land and forest fires were quite severe, especially between February and April, the peak of the dry season,” he added.

On Tuesday morning, the BMKG Pekanbaru station recorded 18 hot spots in Riau, specifically nine in Bengkalis, four in Meranti Islands and five in Siak. As many as 15 of them have been confirmed as fires, with a likelihood of over 70 percent. Three of them were found in Meranti Islands, four in Siak and eight in Bengkalis.

Earlier this month, the Riau provincial administration kick-started the Haze Disaster Command Station at Roesmin Nurjadin Airport in Pekanbaru as the number of hot spots and forest and land fires increased and is predicted to keep rising until next month.

Haze from forest and land fires in Sumatra has been an annual problem for almost two decades. In the past few years, haze has begun to move toward Singapore and Malaysia, causing tension between the Indonesian government and its neighbors.

Haze blankets Bagansiapi-api, Riau
Antara 24 Feb 15;

Residents across the street in the siege of heavy smoke in the morning in the city Bagansiapiapi, Rokan Hilir, Riau, Tuesday (February 24, 2015). (ANTARA/Aswaddy Hamid)
Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Haze from forest and plantation fires blanketed Bagansiapi-api City in Rokan Hilir District, Riau Province, on Tuesday.

"Visibility rate decreases drastically to 500 meters, particularly in the mornings," Aswadi Hamid, a local resident, said Tuesday.

There were no hotspots in Bagansiapi-api; the haze came from neighboring Dumai City and the Bengkalis border areas where forest and plantation fires occurred.

Meanwhile, the government has declared a state of emergency to prevent and handle forest fires in Riau Province, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The measure is to anticipate forest and field fires in 2015," Chief of the Public Relations and Information Center of BNPB Sutopo Purwo Nugroho stated on Sunday (Feb. 22).

According to Sutopo, Riau Province bears the brunt of forest fires every year. Based on the hotspot data for the 2006-2014 period, forest fires occurred twice every year in Riau, from February to April and June to October.

The disaster continues unabated every year, despite the government identifying the reasons and purpose of starting forest fires and establishing regulations to prevent them.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has sought BNPBs assistance to take emergency steps to curb any possibility of the spread of hotspots and fires in Bengkalis District, Riau Province.

"One of the initial efforts is to carry out cloud seeding operations in the near future," Sutopo affirmed.