Fires destroy land, close schools in West Aceh

An Indonesian soldier fighting a fire in a peatland area in Suak Raya village, West Aceh province, on July 25, 2017.
An Indonesian soldier fighting a fire in a peatland area in Suak Raya village, West Aceh province, on July 25, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA - Fires over carbon-rich peatland in Indonesia's West Aceh regency have destroyed some 69 hectares of land, including plots that belong to the local community not companies, said National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Nugroho.

The thick smoke from the fires has forced some schools to close in the regency capital of Meulaboh.

Dozens of people, including children are suffering lung infections from the haze.

"The fires were caused by people who clear their land using the traditional slash-and-burn method, so the fire spreads," said Dr Sutopo yesterday (July 27).

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Satellites have detected more than 180 hotspots, mainly across Indonesia, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent days.

The numbers, however, were far lower than in 2015, when raging fires burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra led to a transboundary haze crisis that was not only the worst on record, but had also pushed Indonesia to the verge of a national emergency.

The choking haze led to widespread efforts by the government to prevent and suppress land and forest fires early. This has kept the number of hot spots in Indonesia low since them, although experts have said favourable weather conditions also helped.

But Dr Sutopo said the dry land conditions and blistering weather in Riau islands have prompted fire-fighting task forces to intensify their patrols to prevent indiscriminate land burning.