Swathes of land still burning in Indonesia's Riau province

A fire burning in Musi Banyuasin Regency, South Sumatra, Indonesia on Aug 8, 2016.
A fire burning in Musi Banyuasin Regency, South Sumatra, Indonesia on Aug 8, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Vast swathes of land are burning in Indonesia's western Riau province and prevailing winds are likely to continue blowing the smoke eastwards towards Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesia's weather authorities disclosed this information on Saturday (Aug 27), with a warning that the fires would be difficult to put out.

Some 30 hotspots were detected in Riau province on Saturday morning, higher than Friday's figure of 17.

"Satellite imagery has shown that the distribution of smoke is quite concentrated in the western part of Riau province, indicating the presence of land fires over a wide area," the country's meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency, or the BMKG, said.

"With the winds blowing towards the east, the smoke will potentially continue to spread to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore," it added.

The possibility for land and forest fires to occur in the western part of Sumatra island, where Riau province is located, is "very easy", and controlling the blazes will be "difficult to very difficult, especially in the next five days", the statement said.

Besides Riau, other affected provinces include North Sumatra, Jambi, Aceh, West Sumatra, Bengkulu and South Sumatra.

The agency has urged the community to stop "burning activities" and for residents affected by the smoke to wear masks and stay healthy.

The satellites belonging to the National Space and Aviation Agency of Indonesia (Lapan) discovered 30 hotspots in Riau province on Saturday morning , higher than Friday's figure of 17.

Across the country, 108 hotspots were detected, Indonesia's disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

He had said previously said that a combination of dry conditions, sporadic rains and common incidents of illegal land clearing by burning in the past week has caused the spike in hot spots.

Some 7,200 firefighters have been deployed in Riau, together with six aircraft for waterbombing and cloud-seeding, and another aircraft has since been deployed to the province to help in the operations, he said.

aarlina@sph.com.sg