Haze source 'may be' fire on Riau land parcel 4 times size of Ang Mo Kio

DUMAI (Riau) - A patch of peat land in Riau province that is four times larger than Ang Mo Kio estate and which started burning nearly two weeks ago could be a major source of the the smog in Singapore, an Indonesia official said on Thursday.

The land stretches over 3,000 hectares in Bengkalis Regency in Riau, and is located just 1km off the Malacca Strait; it was set ablaze on June 9, said Mr Jaafar Arit, head of Bengkalis' disaster management agency. Ang Mo Kio estate is about 680 ha in size.

It is not known what started the fire originally, he said. Even an unextinguished cigarette butt tossed into the peat land could quickly produce a fire spreading as far as 500m away from its source.

He told The Straits Times that as the land is located near the sea, strong winds helped to spread the fire fast and also carried the smog to nearby countries like Singapore and Malaysia during the current dry season.

"It happens every year," said he said.

"The owners of this land kept changing, so are the investors. These investors would come and they would leave after the fire destroys their crops. This piece of land has always been transacted at a low price. The price is always attractive to new investors who do not know of the fire."

Mr Jaafar said that he has not been home for 10 days, as the fires would resurface after they were put out.

"The fires are trapped under the peatland. There is no way we can get rid of it entirely. We have given up and waiting for the rain-seeding to happen," said Mr Jaafar.

Peat soil, which is made up of decomposed plant material, burns easily and often smoulders underground - making it tough to put out completely.

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