An aerial view of forest fire hotspots in Petuk Katimpun, Jekan Raya, near Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan on Sept. 29. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Peat Wildfires in Central Kalimantan
BY :YUDHA BASKORO
OCTOBER 04, 2019
Smoke and haze caused by forest and peatland fires in Kalimantan were beginning to fade last week. The Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT), the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Indonesian Air Force have managed to create artificial rains to extinguish fire hotspots near Palangkaraya and Sampit.
There were fewer patients suffering from haze-induced breathing problems and upper respiratory tract infections at Sampit's Dr. Murjani Hospital and at the Indonesian Red Cross shelter after artificial rains soaked the city.
According to the Central Kalimantan Provincial Health Office, more than 9,000 people contracted acute respiratory infections (ARI) in August alone.
Forest and peatland fires have nearly destroyed the main road in Ganepo, a village in Sampit, Central Kalimantan. Reconstruction can start only after the peatland fires have been extinguished completely.
The problem is, extinguishing peatland fires can be very difficult. A water injection tool is needed to loosen the peat so the fire underneath can be completely extinguished.
Peatlands can be very dry – and flammable – up to incredible depths. Peatlands in Palangkaraya usually have a depth of up to two meters, more than the height of the average Indonesian adult.
Peat contains fuel (dead plants and animals that have not decomposed) up to the subsurface, so fire on peatlands can spread below the surface of the soil. This kind of fire is very difficult to detect.
Peatlands can continue to burn without a flame and still create clouds of thick smoke. New hotspots will suddenly appear when branches and trees are exposed to the heat rising up from the peat.
Since a large housing estate near Palangkaraya narrowly escaped being consumed by a forest fire last week, the Indonesian Air Force has continued to employ helicopters to conduct water bombing and fire patrols in remote areas such as the Sebangau National Park, Katingan Hilir and around oil palm plantations near the district of Kapuas.
The BNPB is preparing more firefighters to combat forest and peatland fires in Central Kalimantan. Posters urging residents to put on N95 masks are still noticeable on main roads. There were also more road signs urging people not to throw away their cigarette butts carelessly since they could easily start off another forest fire.