Riau, South Sumatra issue alert for fires ahead of dry season peak

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JAKARTA : Riau and South Sumatra, two provinces on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, have declared an emergency alert 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, had also declared an emergency, Environment and Forestry Ministry land and forest fire control official Radian Bagiyono said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency had estimated some fire-prone regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan would face the peak of the dry season between July and August.

"Some regions have passed the first phase of the (wildfire) crisis from February to April.

" They are now bracing for the second phase, which will last between July and October," Mr Radian was quoted by news portal as saying.

"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 observation in the first six months of the year, there was a 40 per cent drop in the number of hot spots compared with 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 with 1,493 hot spots last year.

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

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

The authorities and private companies deployed dozens of personnel and five helicopters to put out the fires, which they did after two days.

Forest Fire Control Brigade head Ismail Hasibuan said a fire broke out at 2 pm on Monday, burning 2ha of land in Medang Kampai, 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... also helped put out the fire through water bombing," Mr Ismail said.

He said firefighters were working towards cooling down the peat to prevent another fire. - JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK