Forest fires in Riau getting out of control

Forest fires in Riau getting out of control
A boy covering his face with a T-shirt to protect himself from the haze, on a day when the Pollutant Standards Index reading in Dumai, in Indonesia’s Riau province, reached 463 on 22 June 2013.

JAKARTA - Indonesia's disaster agency said that forest fires are becoming uncontrollable in Riau and West Kalimantan provinces.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said satellite images showed that there were 143 fires in Riau - most of which were concentrated in Rokan Hilir district. There were 268 fires in West Kalimantan.

Fires sent acrid pollution into residential areas in Riau, increasing the risk of respiratory infections and the onset of asthma.

BNPB head Syamsul Maarif said on Tuesday he had ordered the deployment of helicopters to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, to douse the fires with water.

"In Riau, 200 military personnel, consisting of 100 from the army and 100 from the air force, and 500 police officers have been sent to help put out the forest fires," he said.

Volunteers are also helping to fight the fires in the province, he said.

In Dumai, dense smoke had reduced visibility to 2km, he added.

According to the BNPB, 848ha of forests and brushland have been destroyed by fires in Riau, but the figure was believed to be higher as there were fires that were not included in official data.

Almost every year, forest and brush fires in the two regions result in dense smoke drifting across the border, leading to strong protests from neighbouring countries, mainly Malaysia and Singapore.

BNPB asked heads of regional administrations in Riau and West Kalimantan - governors, regents and mayors - to be more proactive in preventing forest and brush fires.

"Preventive measures would be more effective than putting out fires, especially fires on peatland," Mr Sutopo was quoted by Antara news agency as saying.

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