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. 

Helicopter MI-8MTV-1 releases water to extinguish forest fires in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan on Sunday (30/09). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Water bombing: an MI-8MTV-1 helicopter drops water to a burning forest in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on Sept. 30. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Two fire fighter infuse water inside peatlands at Ganepo Village in Sampit, Central Kalimantan on Wednesday (02/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Firefighters inject the soil under the upper crust of peatlands with water at Ganepo village in Sampit, Central Kalimantan, on Oct. 2 to prevent fires from spreading. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A motorist passes through a smoke and haze in Katingan, Central Kalimantan on Tuesday (01/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Dangerously low visibility caused by haze and smoke is the new normal in Katingan, Central Kalimantan. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Firefighters have been joined by Army soldiers and volunteers to try to put out the fires in Katingan, Central Kalimantan on Tuesday (01/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Army soldiers and volunteers join firefighters to put out forest fires in Katingan, Central Kalimantan, on Oct. 1. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Tjilik Riwut Monument covered by haze due to forest fire in Palangka Raya on Thursday (03/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Palangkaraya's Tjilik Riwut Monument covered by haze from forest fires on Oct. 3. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
The forest in Katingan Hilir started to emit smoke and became a new hot spot in Kapuas Regency on Tuesday (01/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
New fire hotspots in Katingan Hilir, Kapuas district, on Oct. 1. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) personnel extinguishes the fire on burned peatland and forest in Katingan, Central Kalimantan on Tuesday (01/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) personnel tries to extinguish peatland fire in Katingan, Central Kalimantan, on Oct. 1. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Residential complex near burnt-out forests in Kapuas District, Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A residential complex narrowly escaped a forest fire in Kapuas district in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, last week. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
The main road in Ganepo Village was damaged by a forest fire in Sampit, Central Kalimantan on Wednesday (02/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
The main road in Ganepo village, Sampit, Central Kalimantan, was destroyed by a forest fire on Oct. 2. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A volunteer washed his face with fresh water after putting out the peatlands fires near Tjilik Riwut Airport at Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan on Sunday (29/09). (JG Photo / Yudha Baskoro)
A volunteer washes his face after putting out peatlands fires near the Tjilik Riwut Airport in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on Sept. 29. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Kaja Island, home to Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), is not covered by smoke and haze due to forest and peatlands fires in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan after the rain fell on Palangka Raya on Wednesday night (02/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Kaja Island, home to the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), has so far been spared from the smoke and haze that have blanketed many areas in Kalimantan. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A new hotspot appears after the rain fall in Jalan Raya Buntok, Kapuas Regency near Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan on Thursday (03/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A new hotspot appears after the rain in Kapuas district near Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on Oct. 3. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

 

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