Sumatra sees jump in fire hotspots

PEKANBARU (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - Hotspots from forest and land fires have continued to spring up in provinces across Sumatra as the island enters a dry period, the Pekanbaru chapter of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Monday.

Satellite data collected by the Pekanbaru BMKG showed 67 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Monday, 26 of which were in Riau and 20 others in North Sumatra.

Hotspots also sprang up in Aceh and West Sumatra - two regions previously free from hotspots - with eight and seven hotspots respectively. South Sumatra reported six hotspots.

"We identified only 15 hotspots in Sumatra yesterday. The jump occurred because of low rainfall on the island," Pekanbaru BMKG analyst Yudhistira Mawaddah said on Monday.

He said in Riau, the Sumatran province most susceptible to land and forest fires, hotspots had spread from seven to 12 regencies and municipalities.

"The number of hotspots in Riau has grown by more than 100 percent as of yesterday, when only 12 hotspots were detected, which were spread in four regencies," said Yudhistira.

Based on the satellite reports, it was "70 percent likely" that 13 of the total hotspots in Riau were fires, he said.

He added that areas affected by land and forest fires had not yet experienced smog, although hotspots there continued to spring up.

He said the visibility in four observation spots was within a range of between 5 to 7km, still within normal range.

Land and forest fires have caused persistent environmental problems including recurring haze in Indonesia for 17 years, especially in Riau province. The haze also affects Singapore and Malaysia almost every year.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has vowed tough law enforcement to fix the problem, including extending a moratorium on the granting new licences for concessions in primary forests and peatlands that started in 2011.