Haze from forest and ground fires that blanketed parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra reduced visibility in one of the island’s cities to about 300 meters (yards).
Pollution index readings classified as unhealthy the air quality in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, Khairul Zainal, head of the local environment office, was quoted as saying by the state Antara news agency.
Riau governor Rusli Zainal said he was considering closing schools temporarily to prevent students from being exposed to the hazardous smoke.
“We are still waiting for a recommendation from the provincial health office,” he said Wednesday.
Such fires are often blamed on farmers and other landowners setting fire to scrubland and forest to clear them for cultivation, but the cause of Wednesday’s fires was not immediately clear.
In 1997 and to a lesser extent in 1998, haze from forest fires in Indonesia enveloped parts of Southeast Asia for months, causing serious health problems and traffic hazards.
Sumatra and Borneo islands — which border Singapore and Malaysia — are the areas usually hardest hit by the choking haze, an annual hazard in parts of Indonesia, usually during the dry-season.
Zainal said his office and the local government on Tuesday managed to put out fires that had razed 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of peat areas.
Satellite images showed nearly 200 hotspots, each representing a fire, in one area, Zainal said.
Flights from and to Pekanbaru airport were not disrupted even though visibility was as low as 300 meters early on Wednesday, airport official Sabar Tarigan said.
Officials handed out 2,000 masks to motorcycle users on Tuesday to protect people from the thick, choking fumes.