Peatland fires destroy 69ha of land in West Aceh

Indonesian firefighters battling a peatland fire in Meulaboh, Aceh province, on Wednesday. Satellites have in recent days detected more than 180 hot spots across Indonesia, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but the number remains far lower than in 20
Indonesian firefighters battling a peatland fire in Meulaboh, Aceh province, on Wednesday. Satellites have in recent days detected more than 180 hot spots across Indonesia, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but the number remains far lower than in 2015.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Fires raging across carbon-rich peatland in Indonesia's West Aceh regency have destroyed some 69ha of land, including plots that belong to the local community and not companies, said National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho.

The thick smoke from the fires has forced some schools to close in the regency capital of Meulaboh.

Dozens of people, including children, are suffering lung infections from the haze.

"The fires were caused by people who clear their land using the traditional slash-and-burn method, so the fire spreads," said Dr Sutopo yesterday.

Satellites have in recent days detected more than 180 hot spots across Indonesia, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The number, however, was far lower than in 2015, when raging fires burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra led to a transboundary haze crisis that was not only the worst on record, but had also pushed Indonesia to the verge of a national emergency.

The choking haze led to widespread efforts by the government to prevent and suppress land and forest fires early.

This has kept the number of hot spots in Indonesia low since then, although experts have said favourable weather conditions also helped.

But Dr Sutopo said the dry land conditions and blistering weather in Riau islands have prompted firefighting task forces to intensify their patrols to prevent indiscriminate land burning.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2017, with the headline 'Peatland fires destroy 69ha of land in West Aceh'. Print Edition | Subscribe