Indonesia: Land, forest fires continue to spread in Sumatra, Kalimantan

Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 8 Jul 15;

Land and forest fires have continued to spread in Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past several days in the midst of the dry season, prompting local authorities to go all-out to curb the impact of the fires on local people and the environment.

In Jambi, local conservation initiative Muarojambi Bersepakat Movement (GMB) reported on Tuesday that fires had started in Pematang Damar forest in Maro Sebo district, Muarojambi regency, over the past several days, burning some 10 hectares of the forest, which serves as a conservation area for various rare orchid species.

GMB deputy chairman Adi Ismanto said the flames came from a number of areas around the forest, including Jambi Tulo, Mudung and Bakung.

“Pematang Damar forest is surrounded by fire. Unless something is done about it, the forest will be burned to the ground in just a few days,” he said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Jambi on Tuesday spotted 29 wildfires across the province, 14 of which were detected in Muarojambi, six in East Tanjungjabung regency, five in Tebo regency and four in Sarolangun regency.

“Of the 29 hot spots, 14 have a confidence level of over 70 percent, meaning that they are almost surely on fire,” Jambi BMKG officer Dian Anggaraini said.

In anticipation of haze, East Tanjungjabung Regent Zumi Zola Zulkifli said his administration had prepared 20,000 face masks to be distributed to local residents.

“We have also prepared paramedics,” he said, adding that he had instructed all district chiefs in the regency not to leave their respective jurisdictions and to anticipate land and forest fires.

The dry season normally takes place between April and September. The BMKG, however, recently warned that the dry season could last longer this year as a result of the El NiƱo weather phenomenon, whose effect will last until November.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, many people in the city were seen donning masks to prevent them from inhaling haze-filled air triggered by forest and land fires from several areas in three neighboring provinces, including Jambi.

“I’m wearing a mask because the air is not fresh as it is polluted with smoke from land fires,” 57-year-old Idral, a local resident, said on Tuesday as quoted by Antara news agency.

Acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has also called on locals to join hands in preventing land and forest fires as the dry season could last until the end of the year.

In Pontianak, West Kalimantan Police chief Brig. Gen. Arief Sulistyanto has instructed local police chiefs to deploy personnel to help local people extinguish land and forest fires that have began to occur in a number of regencies over the past week.

He said that based on his own observation, no district or subdistrict administration agencies were participating in ongoing fire-fighting efforts.

West Kalimantan Provincial Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) data showed that six hot spots had been spotted by Saturday.

The number increased to nine on Sunday, four of which were spotted in Kubu Raya regency. The remainder were in Sambas, Bengkayang, Landak and Melawi regencies.

Agency head Sustyo Iriyono earlier said that, as of Monday, the four fires in Kubu Raya had not been extinguished.

“A plantation company has also asked us to help extinguish fires on its plantation over fears that it would not be able to do so,” he said as quoted by Antara.

Haze blankets parts of Sumatra
Zubaidah Nazeer Straits Times 9 Jul 15;

Forest fires in Sumatra have intensified, with a thick haze enveloping parts of the island, prompting local officials to distribute masks.

"The acrid smell is getting bitter this evening. We feel like the haze is coming stronger on us. It is worse now than hours ago," Pekanbaru resident Didik Herwanto told The Straits Times yesterday evening.

Visibility at the Pekanbaru airport in Riau province yesterday morning was as low as 600m, resulting in one flight being diverted to Batam.

Said Mr Sugarin, head of the meteorological office at the Pekanbaru airport: "A flight was diverted to Batam this morning as we had fog and haze. Visibility at 7am was 600m, but it gradually recovered to 1,500m at 8am, and to 9km at around noon."

The situation seems to have worsened, ahead of a government effort to expand cloud-seeding operations to southern parts of Sumatra today. Cloud-seeding over central parts of Sumatra have been ongoing for over two weeks.

The forest fires come as Indonesia enters its dry season, with concerns that an El Nino phenomenon could worsen this. Rainfall is expected to be minimal in provinces like Riau.

Meteorologists say the wind direction determines whether the haze will be blown to Singapore.

In this case, winds are blowing from south to north, causing Singapore's PSI reading to climb into the moderate range.

While Mr Sugarin notes that the situation in Riau is improving, he blames neighbouring provinces for the haze, saying most of it was due to fires burning in southern provinces like Jambi and South Sumatra.

However, South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin refuted this.

"There is a lot of the blame game going on, but we prefer to tackle the problem and talk less," he said, adding that he would officiate the beginning of cloud-seeding over his province today.

Hot spots in South Sumatra dipped to 27 from 34 a day earlier, though he admits this is no guarantee there will be no fires or haze.

The governor was speaking on the sidelines of an event held in Jakarta, where he announced that he is working with Asia Pulp and Paper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in South Sumatra.

In Jambi, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency spotted 29 wildfires across the province on Tuesday, reported the Jakarta Post. Local conservation initiative Muarojambi Bersepakat Movement (GMB) said fires had started in Pematang Damar forest in Muarojambi regency, burning some 10ha of land.

The forest serves as a conservation area for various rare orchid species.

"Pematang Damar forest is surrounded by fire. Unless something is done about it, the forest will be burned to the ground in just a few days," GMB deputy chairman Adi Ismanto was quoted as saying.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency, said the authorities will step up water-bombing operations to help douse fires, as a way of complementing the cloud-seeding efforts.

"Water-bombing operations have been carried out using two helicopters from private plantation companies. We will soon rent helicopters to beef up the operations," he told The Straits Times.

•Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja