Four Indonesian provinces, including Riau, declare disaster alerts for forest fires

Smoke rises up from a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau on Feb 1, 2018. It is one of 73 detected hotspots causing haze on the island of Sumatra.
Smoke rises up from a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau on Feb 1, 2018. It is one of 73 detected hotspots causing haze on the island of Sumatra.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Four Indonesian provinces - including one that sits at Singapore's doorstep - are officially on disaster alert after a rising number of hot spots were detected within their boundaries.

Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan provinces have declared disaster alert status, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman at the country's disaster management agency (BNPB), in a press statement on Wednesday (Feb 21). All four provinces are located around the equator, with Riau being closest to Singapore.

The disaster alert status means that the national government in Jakarta will be able to step in more easily and with less red tape to deal with raging fires, deploy troops and provide logistics and funds, Dr Sutopo said.

Indonesian provinces located near the equatorare now in their first phase of dry season, which usually runs from early in the year to some time in March. The rainy season then sets in at these provinces in March and lasts till May before another, more intense dry season from June to September.

"Forest and plantation fires usually pick up in the second (June-September) dry season there," Dr Sutopo said.

The authorities are stepping up their efforts to manage forest and plantation fires. There will be more land and air operations, regular patrols and tighter law enforcement, Dr Sutopo said. Public campaigns against slash-and-burn tactics and on public health are also being ramped up, he added.

Indonesia is deploying joint forces from BNPB's provincial branches, the armed forces, forestry agency fire fighters, city fire fighters, and civil security officers, among others, Dr Sutopo added.

BNPB has also keptaircraft ready for cloud seeding and helicopters for water bombing.