The South Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has since last week been working with the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) to create artificial rain as part of an effort to extinguish forest and peatland fires across the province.
Officials said the artificial rain was being used in an attempt to combat the fires, as firefighting from helicopters was no longer enough to douse the flames. It has not rained for some time in a number of regencies in the province, and incidents of fire are increasing.
South Sumatra BPBD head Yulizar Dinoto said the artificial rain was part of wider assistance provided by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). The rain is created by cloud seeding technology; Indonesian Military (TNI) Air Force Hercules planes create water droplets that then turn into rain.
"We have carried out cloud seeding since Sunday over Ogan Komering Ilir regency and the outcome is positive, as the number of hot spots has dropped drastically," said Yulizar in Palembang on Monday, adding that during each operation, the planes will scatter 4 tons of salt over the clouds.
The BPBD revealed that there were previously 21 hot spots in Ogan Komering Ilir. After the cloud seeding operation, the number of hot spots dropped to two, according to satellite images. The BPBD is focusing on making artificial rain in Ogan Komering Ilir because the region is dominated by peatland.
"Peatland fire is difficult to put out," said Yulizar.
South Sumatra Forestry Agency head Sigit Wibowo said the current forest fires had so far destroyed more than a quarter of the total peatland area of 1,400 hectares.
"We admit that we are struggling to deal with the peatland fires because the flames aren't visible from above," said Sigit.
He said his office had applied insulation to certain ground areas to prevent the peatland fires from spreading.
Sigit confirmed that the peatland fires could only be totally doused by applying artificial rain for two successive days.
The forest fires in South Sumatra have not influenced flight activity at Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport in Palembang as the BPPT has installed a ground mist generator that changes haze into water mist. Three of the devices have been installed at the airport.
However, on Sept. 18, the haze caused a motorboat carrying 40 passengers to hit a tree on the banks of the Musi River. A passenger was killed and dozens of others injured in the accident.
Meanwhile, the South Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) urged the provincial administration to revoke the operating licenses of plantation companies that could not prevent fires starting on their estates.
"We deeply regret the annual forest and peatland fires in the plantations and it seems that the provincial administration has neglected this issue," said South Sumatra Walhi director Hadi Jatmiko.
Based on data released by Walhi, 1,173 hot spots were detected by satellite in the province from August to September 2014, of which 169 were located in plantations and 531 in industrial timber estate (HTI) concessions.
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