Fires escalate, alert status imposed

EoF News / 23 January 2009

PEKANBARU (EoF News)— Efforts to distinguish escalating forest and land fires in Riau faced tough challenges as the Riau Provincial Government imposed Alert I status against the disaster yesterday and deploy 200 firefighters as fires hit seven districts and municipality in the province.

Pekanbaru city, capital of Riau Province, was blanketed by haze this morning (23/01/2009) which is worsening than that of previous days. Despite this, the visibility in Pekanbaru airport still normal, local media reported.

While, in Bengkalis district, 7 houses and one car raged by fire burned down in Bengkalis regency on Wednesday, where most of land raged by fires is palm oil plantations, local media reported.

Land fires occurred in Dusun Baru of Tanjung Leban village, in Bukit Batu, Bengkalis regency is deteriorating on Wednesday, Riau Pos reported Thursday (22/01/2009).

It is the fourth day the area in the district hit by land fires where a local official estimated there is 1,000 hectare raged by fires that occurred mostly in palm oil plantations, Riau Pos reported (22-23/01/2009).

Despite several teams of firefighters from BBKSDA Riau (natural resources agency), pulpwood plantations, and other stakeholders have made efforts to put out the fires, hotspots remains escalate.

An official from Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG) of Pekanbaru said that on Thursday there were 92 hotspots detected by NOAA 18 satellite, which is more than that of previous day with 82. Bengkalis is the most hotspots found in the province.

While in Sumatra, totaling hotspots detected 106, Marzuki, analyst staff of BMG of Pekanbaru said, Riau Pos daily reported Friday (23/01/2009). Tribun Pekanbaru daily (23/01/2009) reported that monitoring by NOAA 18 satellite between 2-20 January 2009 found 339 hotspots.

Escalating forest and land fires since last two weeks have brought to thick haze pollution in Riau province which the local government worried this issue could turn out to be national and regional concern, EoF learned.

Fires occurred due to land clearing practice in plantations which is usually conducted by burning the area. Drought and peatland type would escalate the flames and hinder the efforts to put it out.

Deputy Mayor of Dumai City, Sunaryo, said that around 40 hectares of peatland still raged by fires and it’s hard to extinguish it.

On Tuesday, media reports said forest and land fires in Dumai caused thick haze and disturbed flight schedule in local airport, Bandara Pinang Kempai.

Meanwhile, Zulkifli, spokesperson of Riau Police Office, urged the police at district and sub-district levels to take stern action against those who are involved in arson. He said Riau Police and timber and plantation companies had signed agreement not to set fires on the land or forest, Tribun Pekanbaru reported (23/01/2009).

Susanto Kurniawan, coordinator of Jikalahari, Riau’s NGOs network, said that the forest and land fires occurred in the province this year had proved the provincial government failed to tackle the problems, the daily reported Friday.