Pangkalan Kerinci. Forest fires are notorious in Riau, where poorer farmers still practice slash-and-burn agriculture that requires little technology to clear land for new farmlands.
These man-made fires often get out of control. Almost every month firefighters struggle to extinguish them and save the province's forest areas.
Sulaeman, deputy head of fire operations at RAPP, has been with the company for more 32 years. With Widi Santoso, development and fire prevention coordinator, for 15 years he has been patroling the forests of Pangkalan Kerinci, where RAPP's concessions and factories are located. They also train villagers in fire prevention.
The firefighting team is among the best equipped and funded in the region. It has 82 groups, consisting of 1080 people, who operate 492 fire pumps, surveillance cameras and drones.
"Every year we analyze the fires that occurred and why they did. Most of them were caused by villagers who wanted to clear land for farming. Wildfires then spread to our concessions," Sulaeman said at the team's headquarters on Tuesday (13/02).
In the beginning, despite huge funding — approximately $6 million — which went mainly for training and equipment, forest fires seemed inevitable. Only when the team started to engage with local residents and offer fire prevention training to them, wildfires became less frequent.
"Ever since RAPP's firefighting team introduced programs to work together with nearby villages, organize patrols with them, distribute tools and incentives, had the number of fires decreased," said Widi, who is also responsible for the training.
He explained that they measure the likelihood of a fire by taking into account the number of days in a row without rainfall, relative humidity, the amount of detritus in the air, and how heavy the precipitation was in the last 15 days.
When asked if they sometimes become frustrated by their job, Sulaeman answered: "I would never call it frustrating. It's in my blood, I love nature. The joy I get from my job surpasses all hardships."