Firefighters use a helicopter to put out a forest fire in Musi Banyuasin district, South Sumatra, in this Aug. 21 file photo. (Antara Photos/Wahdi Septiawan)

Jambi Chokes on Smoke From Sumatra Forest Fires


AUGUST 23, 2019

Jakarta. Residents of Jambi have been advised to wear respiratory masks while outdoors after widespread forest fires caused air pollution to reach critical levels in the city on Sumatra Island late last week.

The fires have spread to about 340 hectares since June, but it is still well below the 115,000 hectares that went ablaze in 2015. About 90 percent of the burnt areas are peatland, which ignites easily, especially in the dry season.

"The peatland fires have resulted in smoke spreading to the city and other subdistricts, causing many people to experience breathing problems," Col. Elphis Rudy, commander of the forest fire task force, said in Jambi.

The level of particulate matter in the air in Jambi reached 228 parts per million, which is categorized as very unhealthy. At such level, the elderly, children and people with respiratory or heart disease are advised to remain indoors, while everyone else should reduce their exposure to outdoor air, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

"When we extinguish the fires, our personnel usually find cigarette butts, which we believe are the primary cause of most fires in Batanghari. The unusually hot weather we are currently experiencing makes it easy for a small spark to cause a forest fire" Nazhar, head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) in Batanghari subdistrict, said on Sunday.

BMKG data shows that there were 584 active fires on Sumatra Island on Saturday, with 272 in Riau, 128 in Jambi, 99 in South Sumatra, 41 in Bangka Belitung, 18 in Lampung, 11 in West Sumatra, 11 in Riau Islands and four in Bengkulu.

There were 50 percent more active fires in Indonesia in January-July 2019, compared with the corresponding period last year, affecting some 135,000 hectares, according to the BNPB.

"The worst fires are in six provinces: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan," BNPB head Lt. Gen. Doni Monardo said.

He said 90 percent of forest fires are the result of human activity.