Riau, South Sumatra issue wildfire emergency alert ahead of dry season's peak

A firefighting team at work in Riau province, Indonesia, during the dry season in 2019. PHOTO: PEATLAND RESTORATION AGENCY OF REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Riau and South Sumatra, two provinces on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, have declared an emergency alert status for land and forest fires as the regions enter the peak of this year's dry season.

Two regencies, Siak in Riau and East Kotawaringin in the Central Kalimantan province, have also declared an emergency alert status, Environment and Forestry Ministry land and forest fire control official, Mr Radian Bagiyono said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency earlier estimated that some fire-prone regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan would face the peak of the dry season between July and August, although the rest of the archipelago would only see the season's peak in August.

"Some regions have passed the first phase of the (wildfire) crisis from February to April. They're now bracing for the second phase, which will last between July and October," Mr Radian said on Tuesday (June 30) as quoted by news portal kompas.com.

"Since the peak of the dry season will fall during the second phase, we should be extra careful and prepared to face the fires."

Based on the ministry's observations in the first six months of the year, there was a 40 per cent decrease in the number of hot spots compared to the same period last year.

This year, there were 892 hot spots where there was a more than 80 per cent chance of a fire breaking out, compared to 1,493 hot spots last year.

Mr Radian said wildfires razed 38,772ha of land from Jan 1 to May 31 - a drop of about 15 per cent compared to the 45,836ha burned in 2019.

In Riau, forest and land fires had raged across several areas in Pelalawan and Dumai regencies since Sunday.

The authorities and private companies, including the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and forestry company PT Sinar Mas, deployed dozens of personnel and five helicopters to put out the fires, which they did after two days.

Dumai Manggala Agni (Forest Fire Control Brigade) head Ismail Hasibuan said a fire broke out at around 2pm on Monday, burning 2ha of land in Medang Kampai district, Dumai.

"Putting out the fire on peatland is difficult because the fire source is located 2m under the ground. Fortunately, we had enough water. Two helicopters from the BNPB also helped put out the fire through water bombing," Mr Ismail said.

He added that firefighters were working towards cooling down the peat to prevent another fire from breaking out at the surface.

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