Extreme weather, water shortage impede fire extinguishing efforts in Riau

JAKARTA - Manggala Agni fire-fighting team from the Riau Natural Resource Conservation Center (BBKSDA) has been overwhelmed in attempts to prevent raging peatland fires across some areas in Riau province, due to extreme weather and lack of water.

"The most we can do is to prevent the fires from spreading. But to fully extinguish the fires, it is very difficult as there are many challenges in the field," said the head of BBKSDA Riau's forest fire control division, Isbanu, on Wednesday as quoted by Antara news agency.

He said two Manggala Agni teams had been deployed to help extinguish peatland fires in Sepahat in Bengkalis regency and Pelintung in Dumai City. Two other groups were being prepared in anticipation of fires in conservation areas.

"Two other groups will be deployed to anticipate fires in conservation areas," he said.

Isbanu said that fire extinguishing efforts in Sepahat and Pelintung had involved many institutions, which included the Manggala Agni, the Society Concerned about Fires (MPA), the local fire-fighting teams and companies in nearby areas.

He said the available human resources were not enough because extinguishing fires in peatlands was exceptionally difficult.

Currently, the peatland fires in Pelintung and Sepahat cover around 550 hectares.

The fires in the three-metre-deep peatlands, which had previously been used for palm oil plantations owned by local people, started last weekend.

Very hot and dry weather has aggravated the situation and complicated the fire extinguishing as water sources have gone dry.

"The peatland fires can be fully extinguished only if rains fall," said Isbanu.