China set to help fight forest fires

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) with TNI chief Gatot Nurmantyo (far left) and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya yesterday as they reviewed the handling of forest fires at the Long Rimbo village in Kampar regency, Riau province.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) with TNI chief Gatot Nurmantyo (far left) and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya yesterday as they reviewed the handling of forest fires at the Long Rimbo village in Kampar regency, Riau province.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia planning to fly drones over fire-prone areas to offer real-time status reports

China has emerged as the latest nation to extend a helping hand to Indonesia, promising to "try its best" to help it put out forest fires raging across Kalimantan and Sumatra.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the country is in talks with Indonesia and is preparing to deploy rescue forces to the affected areas, after the Indonesian government sought its help, the official Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

The news comes after Indonesia announced earlier in the day that it plans to fly drones over fire-prone areas to offer emergency workers real-time alerts on hot spots.

This would help them respond faster to the fires and put them out before they spread to other areas, said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan yesterday.

For a start, two drones owned by state-owned aircraft manufacturer Dirgantara Indonesia will be deployed to South Sumatra on Monday. The specifications of the drones were not revealed but The Straits Times understands that Indonesia has drones that can operate up to a range of 200km.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who was visiting Jambi province yesterday, said some 1.7 million hectares of land, of which more than a third are on peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been burned.

"Efforts to tackle these forest fires will take some time because the areas affected by fires are huge due to severe dryness caused by El Nino," said Mr Joko.

South Sumatra is now the focus of firefighting operations, with most of the 25-strong fleet of aircraft - mostly helicopters and planes with water-bombing capabilities - being sent to the province.

A Bombardier water-bomber from Malaysia and a Chinook helicopter from Singapore with a 5,000-litre water bucket, among other assets being offered to Indonesia by its two closest neighbours, are standing by.

A joint Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) response team will be deployed for fire-fighting operations today.

Indonesia has said they will be deployed in Cengal, Ogan Komering Ilir regency and Medak, Musi Banyuasin regency, where the concentration of the hot spots was detected.

A Russian Beriev Be-200, one of the world's largest water-bombers, will be stationed in Pangkal Pinang.

"Don't use just one chopper but use two to three on one fire so it can be put out completely," said Mr Luhut, adding that, with the decision to accept foreign aid, Indonesian will soon have the additional resources to conduct more water-bombings in the coming weeks.

President Joko also said yesterday that Indonesia plans to procure three water-bombers similar to the Russian-made Beriev Be-200.

So far, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and now China have committed to offering assistance to Indonesia.

Mr Luhut said that the Indonesian government has so far deployed about 6,000 men.

Yesterday, he surveyed the damage caused by fires in Ogan Komering Ilir, one of the worst-hit areas in Sumatra. "The conditions are very bad, the intensity of the fires is high, the weather is very dry, the winds are strong," he said.

But he believes that, in three to four weeks, many of the fires should be gone once the joint water-bombing operations begin.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'China set to help fight forest fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe