Malaysia to send two aircraft to battle fires in Sumatra

Indonesian soldiers arriving at a military airport in Palembang, South Sumatra on Sept 10, 2015, before taking part in operations to put out fires in Sumatra.
Indonesian soldiers arriving at a military airport in Palembang, South Sumatra on Sept 10, 2015, before taking part in operations to put out fires in Sumatra.PHOTO: AFP

Malaysia has deployed two aircraft - a Bombardier CL415MP water bomber and an AS365 N3 Dauphin helicopter - to Palembang to help put out raging fires in Sumatra.

The decision to deploy the assets belonging to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) came after the Defence Ministry received a request from Indonesia two days ago, said the agency's deputy director-general for maritime operations, Vice-Admiral Che Hassan Jusoh, yesterday.

The Bombardier, which will be used in water-bombing operations, can scoop up to 6,140 litres of water in 12 seconds and drop its load over an area the size of a football field at an altitude of 30.5m.

"Malaysia is the only country in Asia which owns such an amphibious aircraft, thus we have to be involved and we are sending it to extinguish fires at the source," said Vice-Admiral Che Hassan.

To increase the effectiveness of water-bombing operations, the Dauphin is deployed concurrently to act as a fire spotter.

The two aircraft, along with 29 MMEA personnel, will be utilised for seven-hour operations daily over five days, which may be extended depending on the situation.

The success of the operations, which cost an estimated RM1.5 million (S$500,000)to RM1.8 million, is highly dependent on visibility.

If the Bombardier is unable to fly at an optimal height to carry out water-bombing, it will not be as effective in putting out the fires.

Asked why it took Malaysia so long to deploy its assets for the fire- fighting missions, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who made a working visit to the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang to view the aircraft before their deployment, would say only that "the important thing is it is being done".

Indonesia has been flying hundreds of sorties to drop massive amounts of water from the air over raging fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, to put them out or keep them from spreading.

The country's disaster management agency said on Thursday that foreign assets will be deployed in South Sumatra's Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies, which are among the worst affected by peatland fires this year.

A joint Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) response team will be deployed for firefighting operations today.

This comes after Indonesia on Thursday formally accepted Singapore's offer to help.

The assistance package includes a Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket for use in aerial firefighting and water-bombing operations, and a C-130 Hercules aircraft for cloud seeding - but these can take place only if cloud conditions are favourable.

A firefighting assistance team from the SCDF will provide field assessment and planning assistance. Singapore has also offered to share its high-resolution satellite pictures and hot-spot coordinates.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that if more help is needed, the SAF can also send in a Super Puma helicopter with a 2,000-litre heli-bucket.

The heli-bucket hauled by the Chinook is a collapsible container that is connected to the helicopter by a cable, and can be filled manually on the ground, or by dipping it into lakes, reservoirs or even swimming pools.

Once in the air and over a targeted hot spot, SCDF officers will remotely control a valve to release the water over the fire.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysia to send two aircraft to battle fires in Sumatra'. Subscribe