Indonesia deploys helicopters to fight fires in West Kalimantan

An Indonesian ranger inspecting the peat forest fire at Meulaboh, Aceh province, on July 26, 2017.
An Indonesian ranger inspecting the peat forest fire at Meulaboh, Aceh province, on July 26, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB) has deployed four helicopters to West Kalimantan province to carry out water bombing operations in areas affected by raging forest fires that have intensified in recent days amid a dry season.

Military personnel, police, the forestry ministry and local residents have also pitched in to put out the fires.

"The peak of the dry season is forecast to last until September, so the threats of forest and plantation fires could rise,” BNPB spokesman Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement distributed to reporters on Sunday (July 30) as the total number of hotspots in Indonesia rose to 239 from more than 170 last week. This is believed to be the highest so far this year.       

West Kalimantan is seeing the highest number of hotspots as fires have spread since Thursday.

As of Sunday morning, as many as 126 hotspots were detected in the province, with Sintang and Kapuas Hulu regencies recording more than half of the total hotspots.

Hotspots were also detected in Nusa Tenggara Timur province (42), North Kalimantan (35), East Kalimantan (10), South Kalimantan (5) and Riau (1), among others.

Dr Sutopo said the teams working on the ground face several challenges. These include the vast areas they have to cover, the difficulty in accessing the location of fires, a lack of a water source near the fires and a lack of fire fighting equipment.

 

The low awareness among the villagers of the need to avoid burning land is a problem that the government still has to address, Dr Sutopo added.

"We have told the people that burning is banned, have often made appeals to them, have done patrol to remote areas, but the fact is that burning of forest and land is still rampant," he said.