Thick haze shrouds the Siak River in Pekanbaru, Riau province, on Tuesday. Forest fires have raged out of control for the past several days in much of Sumatra. (Antara Photo/Rony Muharrman)

Forest Fires, Haze Crisis Returning to Sumatra With a Vengeance, Disaster Official Warns


SEPTEMBER 02, 2015

Jakarta. Satellite imagery picked up more than 600 fire hot spots across Sumatra on Wednesday, with the provinces of Jambi, Riau and South Sumatra accounting for most of the sightings.

Indonesia’s weather agency, the BMKG, detected 229 hot spots in Jambi, 189 in South Sumatra and 178 in Riau, fanning fears that a particularly acute dry season this year could result in a worse-than-usual haze threat from the annual forest fires that blight Sumatra.

“Sumatra is burning up,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter on Wednesday in response to the BMKG’s report.

He argued that the numbers indicated that the fire season in Sumatra this year would be worse than last year or in 2013, when choking haze from forest fires in Riau sent air pollution indexes in Singapore and Malaysia to record hazardous levels.

Sutopo said that Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, was likely also suffering from an inordinate number of fires, but satellite images were not yet available as of Wednesday.

Citing reports from local offices of the BNPB in the fire-hit regions, Sutopo said visibility had deteriorated considerably, while schools in Jambi and Riau had been ordered closed as the air pollution index reached dangerous levels.

“The index [in many regions] has reached dangerous levels. More people will suffer from lung problems,” he warned.

Several airports – including Sultan Syarif Kasim II in Pekanbaru, Hang Nadim in Batam, Riau Islands, and Supadio Airport in the West Kalimantan capital of Pontianak – reported disruptions to scheduled flights as a result of poor visibility brought about by the haze.

“The visibility at Supadio is only 200 meters. It’s very thick,” Sutopo said.

Fires in Jambi, meanwhile, are threatening oil pipes that run through the forests there.

“Half of the fires along the oil pipelines in Betara Jambi have been put out, but [a comprehensive solution] obviously requires firm action from the government,” Sutopo said.

In Riau, water-bombing efforts to fight the fires were halted after the operating licenses of three helicopters rented by the BNPB for that purpose expired over the past couple of days.

Authorities were forced to rely solely on land-based operations to put out the fires, reported.