Indonesia dispatches nearly 5,000 firefighters to Kalimantan, after surge in hotspots

Firefighters examine land and forest fires in Kampar, Riau province, on Aug 29, 2016.
Firefighters examine land and forest fires in Kampar, Riau province, on Aug 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

Indonesia has dispatched almost 5,000 fire-fighters to Kalimantan as the dry spell continues across the western and central parts of the island, where hundreds of hot-spots have been detected in recent days.

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said on Wednesday (Sept 14) that it has deployed 2,492 and 2,363 personnel in west and central Kalimantan respectively.

The group includes soldiers, policemen as well as officers from the BNPB, the Environment and Forestry Ministry, as well as local volunteers, said agency spokesman Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

The reinforcements were sent in after satellite data from Indonesia's meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) showed 536 total hot-spots across Kalimantan as of Wednesday.

"BNPB has also deployed four water bombing helicopters to focus on the area north of Supadio International Airport in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, to prevent the haze from affecting visibility for flights," said Dr Sutopo.

BMKG officer Giri Darmoko, who is based at the airport, said due to the lack of rain in the past week, air quality has been deteriorating although it has yet to hit unhealthy levels.

"Flights have not been affected because the haze has not travelled far from the hot-spot areas such as Ketapang, Sintang, and Sekadau," he said.

The dry spell over Kalimantan has led to fewer water-bodies near to the affected areas, therefore water-bombing aircraft will need to travel longer distances to fetch the water, said Dr Sutopo.

"There are also no potential clouds to seed to induce rain above West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan, where the weather is dry and therefore very prone to fires" he said.

Mr Giri said that the fires are caused by "intentional burning of land" particularly near to the border areas where there are fewer patrols to enforce against slash-and-burn activities.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg