Haze reappears, reaches Malaysia

Two areas in Malacca were hit, with Bukit Rambai recording an unhealthy Air Pollution Index (API) reading as high as 114 as of 4 p.m.

JAKARTA - Less than two weeks after the haze emergency response stage was revoked on July 10, the Riau provincial capital of Pekanbaru was once again blanketed by smoke on Monday with very low visibility.

A number of flights to and from Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II International Airport were postponed.

The airport's officer in charge, Hasnan, said visibility was very limited because the air was dense with a mixture of haze and mist.

"Visibility before 7:30 a.m. was only about 70 meters. Haze and mist appeared together so it looked very thick," he said. "This is the worst visibility this year."

Two flights to Jakarta operated by flag carrier Garuda Indonesia and low-cost airline Lion Air as well as a flight to Malacca, Malaysia, operated by Sky Aviation were delayed for more than two hours.

Meanwhile, a flight from Jakarta operated by low-cost airline Tigerair Mandala was diverted to Polonia International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra, and a Garuda flight decided to wait for conditions to get better at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, just outside Jakarta.

"The arrival and departure schedules only got back to normal at 10 a.m. when the haze was thinner and visibility improved," said Hasnan.

The reemergence of haze is believed to be the result of resumed land and forest burning. Based on observations by the NOAA 18 satellite, the number of hotspots in Riau is still fluctuating with the highest figure of 230 hotspots recorded on Sunday at about 4 p.m.

Rokan Hilir regency had the most with 138 hotspots and followed by Rokan Hulu (38), Siak (31) and Bengkalis (32). "Our latest observation shows that the number has decreased to 173 hotspots," Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) chief, Said Saqlul Amri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

He said although the haze emergency response stage had been revoked, operations to prevent and manage forest fires were still ongoing and involved volunteers from Fire Care People (MPA), Manggala Agni forest firefighters, and military and police personnel from local units down to the district level.

"The troops deployed to handle Riau forest fires returned to Jakarta on July 14," Said said.

"Patrol duties have been transferred to personnel in the local units who are required to monitor fires in their own jurisdictions and report them to their superiors."

Said maintained that the reappearance of hotspots had nothing to do with the extra troops being sent back to Jakarta.

"This is purely due to weather conditions. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency estimates that the dry season in Riau will last until October," he said.

According to Said, although Riau is currently in recovery stage, the haze main command post could be reactivated if conditions deteriorated. "We will do our best to handle all emerging hotspots," he said.

He added that personnel putting out fires on the ground would be assisted by three NBO-105 helicopters from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) for water bombing, and two C-130 Hercules and one NC-212 aircraft from the Air Force seeding the clouds.

"All the aviation assets are still on standby at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base," he said.

Said added that the BNPB had also put a Sikorsky helicopter, which is able to carry 4,500 liters of water, on standby.

The haze from land and forest fires this time around has reached the Malaysian state of Malacca, as reported by The Star on Monday.

Two areas in Malacca were hit, with Bukit Rambai recording an unhealthy Air Pollution Index (API) reading of 114 as of 4 p.m.

The reading for Malacca city rose from 70 as of midnight to 88 by 3 p.m., reducing visibility to the extent of slowing traffic.

Malaysian Department of Environment director-general Halimah Hassan said the ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Center (ASMC) detected three hotspots in Sumatra on Thursday, which spiked to 43 on Friday and 159 on Saturday.