Forest fires worsen in Riau and West Kalimantan

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) says forest fires are becoming uncontrolable in Riau and West Kalimantan provinces.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said satellite images on Tuesday revealed 143 fires in Riau and 268 others in West Kalimantan.

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," Sutopo said as quoted by Antara news agency.

BNPB head Syamsul Maarif said he had ordered the deployment of helicopters to Pontianak 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 2 kilometers, he added.

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

Fires recorded in Riau include 46 in Rohil, 24 in Bengkalis, 35 in Dumai, six in Indragiri Hilir, three in Indragiri Hulu, two in Kampar, seven in Kuansing and 10 in Pelalawan, according BNPB data.

In West Kalimantan, there were 15 fires in Bengkayang, 25 in Kapuas, seven in Kayong Utar, 19 in Ketapang, 15 in Kubu Raya, eight in Landak, eight in Melawi, 19 in Pontianak, 65 in Sambas, 33 in Sanggau, five in Sekadau, two in Singkawang and 47 in Sintang.

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.