Indonesia sends choppers to fight fires choking Singapore

Indonesia sends choppers to fight fires choking Singapore

JAKARTA - Indonesia Friday dispatched helicopters to create artificial rain in a desperate bid to fight raging fires that have choked Singapore, as smog cloaking the city-state hit record-breaking levels that pose a threat to people's lives.

At a late-night emergency meeting, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered disaster officials to "immediately mobilise all the country's resources" to extinguish the fires on Sumatra island that have created vast palls of smoke.

Singapore's worst environmental crisis in more than a decade has seen the acrid smoke creep into people's flats and cloak residential blocks as well as downtown skyscrapers, and the island's prime minister has warned it could last weeks.

Indonesia's national disaster agency said that two helicopters with cloud-seeding equipment were sent early Friday from Jakarta and Borneo island to Riau province, where hundreds of hectares (acres) of carbon-rich peatland are ablaze.

"Hopefully, we will be able to create artificial rain today," said agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

He also said water-bombing helicopters could be dispatched, although gave no timeframe. Firefighters on the ground have struggled to put out the blazes, which are burning under the surface of the peat.

As Indonesia stepped up its fire-fighting efforts, Singapore's smog index hit the critical 400 level, making it potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly people, according to a government monitoring site.

The all-time record level was reached at 11:00 am (0300 GMT) on Friday after a rapid rise in the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

According to Singapore government guidelines, sustained PSI average levels above 400 on a 24-hour basis "may be life-threatening to ill and elderly persons".

Haze continues to hover at dangerous levels on June 20
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, TNP, The Star, AFP, Reuters)

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