Indonesia: Forest Fires in Sumatra – Proposals (IFFN No. 18)

Forest Fires in Sumatra:
Possible Ways and Proposals after the Experience of the
1997 Dry Season in the Province of South Sumatra

(IFFN No. 18 – January 1998, p. 40-45)

The European Union Projects

The Indonesia Forest Sector Support Programme (IFSSP) is based on two Financing Memoranda signed by the European Commission (EC) and the Government of Indonesia (GoI), which undertake to provide grants (EC) and counterpart funds (GoI) to support three projects in the forestry sector:

  • Forest Inventory and Monitoring Project (FIMP)
  • Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project (FFPCP)
  • Integrated Forestry Radio Communications Project (IFRCP) Phase II

The overall aim is to give support, guidance and enhanced technical capability, especially at the provincial level, for the rational and sustainable management of the country’s forest resources. The programme began in April 1995, will last four years and is accountable to the EC and GoI through a Programme Steering Committee.

The Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project

The Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project (FFPCP) is based in Palembang and aims to reduce fire damage, use, and risk by integrating Government, Community and commercial interests in the province of South Sumatera. Through pilot area studies the Project is obtaining a clear understanding of the causes and effects of forest fires and is developing and demonstrating practical methods for prevention and control. Activities include:

Rural Development and Social Forestry: Analysis of the occurrence of forest fires, the present institutional capacity for response, and future needs for fire prevention and control. Review, select, and recommend options to help control, reduce or eliminate the use of fire.

NOAA/GIS: Installation of a NOAA satellite fire-monitoring and early-warning system for southern Sumatera and for two eastern regions of Indonesia.

Fire Management: Development, testing and demonstration of an integrated fire monitoring, prevention and control system in three economically important forest types. The three pilot areas are (see Fig.1):

  1. Ulu Musi, upland forest in the South West of the island, 1 000 km (1 fire management centre with 39 volunteer firemen from the village of Talang Padang, 3 fire bosses from Dinas Kehutanan, fire fighting equipment, hand portable radios and a 20 m fire observation tower);
  2. Pendopo, midland forest including mainly reforestation, 4 000 km (1 fire management centre with 36 professional firemen from PT. Musi Hutan Persada, 2 fire bosses from the Provincial Forest Service Dinas Kehutanan, fire fighting equipment and hand portable radios);
  3. Pampangan, peat swamp forest, east from Palembang, 13 000 km (1 fire management centre with 18 volunteer firemen from the village of Margo Mulyo, 10 students, members of NGOs, 3 fire bosses from Dinas Kehutanan, fire fighting equipment and hand portable radios).

Fire-Fighting Organization: Selected examples of Wildfire Situations

During the forest fires of the dry season, the Fire Management Expert has directed or studied several operations in the Province of Sumatera Selatan – notably the fours fires following – and trained the fire management staff from the National Forest Service Kanwil Kehutanan. These fires are an opportunity to describe what existing resources were used by government, commercial and community sectors, and also the organisational set up and its weaknesses.

Forest fire in Subalai Conservasi Reserve MuBa (Musi Banyu Asin): 800 ha conservation area forest (Bulian, Eusyderoxylon zwageri), on 2 September 1997.

Case: criminal fire following an illegal cut (Bulian, Eusyderoxylon zwageri)

Duration of the fire: 2 days

Numbers and origin of first fire fighters (initial attack):

20 forest guards from Conservasi Reserve MuBa

Start time and equipment: long (several hours) with poor equipment

Numbers and origin of back-up fire fighters: 30 forest guards from Kanwil Kehutanan Palembang

Start time and equipment: very long (24 hours) with fire equipment of the Project

Forest fires in PT. Inhutani V (Bayat Ilir): 1000 ha production forest (Sungkai [Peronema canescens] and Mahagoni [Swietenia macrophylla]) and 300 ha virgin forest, on 1-2 October 1997.

Case: land clearing outside PT. Inhutani.

Duration of the fires: 10 days

Numbers and origin of first fire fighters (initial attack): 25 employees from PT. Inhutani V

Start time and equipment: 1 hour with poor equipment

Numbers and origin of first back-up fire fighters: 350 fire-fighters from Malaysia

Start time and equipment: 3rd day of the fires with good and adapted equipment

Numbers and origin of second back-up fire fighters: 40 forest guards from Kanwil Kehutanan Palembang

Start time and equipment: 4th day of the fires with equipment of the Project

Forest fire in PT. Sribunian (Pampangan area): 300 ha peat swamp and virgin forest on 21 October 1997

Case: land clearing outside PT. Sribunian

Duration of the fires: 4 days

Numbers and origin of first fire fighters: 20 employees from PT. Sribunian

Start time and equipment: 1 hour with adapted equipment

Numbers and origin of first back-up fire fighters: 35 employees from PT. Sribunian

Start time and equipment: 2 hours with adapted equipment

Forest fire in PT. Sepuluh and HL. Conservasi (Gunung Dempo): 35 ha conservation area forest and 15 ha of tea plantation, on 24 October 1997

Case: careless action inside PT. Sepuluh Gunung Dempo

Duration of the fires: 2 days

Numbers and origin of first fighters: 15 employees from PT. Sepuluh Gunung Dempo

Start time and equipment: 1 hour with poor equipment

Numbers and origin of first back-up fire fighters: 25 employees from PT. Sepuluh Gunung Dempo

Start time and equipment: 4 hours with poor equipment

Remarks and conclusions

Generally the start time of the first fighters is very long

The numbers of first fire fighters is very insufficient

Equipment is inadequate and insufficient…

… so, the fires are not quickly attacked, the suppression is not very effective, and the number and size of fires increase and become more difficult to extinguish.

Individual protection equipment is very often missing

Training of the fire fighters insufficient…

… so, fire suppression may be dangerous for the fire fighters.

Command structure and radio-communication system is weak or missing…

… so, management of a large fire is difficult and takes a long time (changing of tactics, request or distribution of back-up fighters, distribution of the means according to the “manoeuvre idea” of the Fire Boss).

During these forest fires, a few similarities had been observed:

  • present authorities on the field: Bupati or Camat, and a Responsible representative from Army, Police, Dinas Kehutanan …

… so, the necessary links with Army and Police cannot be forgotten inside the Indonesian fire fighting organisation;

  • the numbers of “official” fire fighters (Dinas Kehutanan or PT. Employees) are always insufficient… consequently, farmers from around the villages are “requisitioned” … always food and drink are given to them, sometime a little pay…

… so, it is permit to imagine a future fire fighting organisation based on the volunteers from the villages, thus the “requisitioned” will be already pointed out, trained and well equipped, for a best and more efficient action.

A Few Possible Ways and Proposals

  • Because of the size of Indonesia, the area to be protected from fires is enormous. Consequently, it is possible to give priority to three different zones (see Fig.1):

Zone (1): Virgin forest and conservation areas (forests or natural spaces)

Zone (2): Commercial forest areas (HPI and HTI)

Zone (3): Areas around the villages and the “places of life”

  • Inside each of these zones, it is possible to set up a particular fire management and fire fighting organisation:

Zone (1): Forest guards from Dinas or Kanwil Kehutanan

Zone (2): Private fire fighters (following the example of PT. Musi Hutan Persada in Pendopo area: 350 permanent fighters, all year long, with adapted equipment);

Zone (3): Volunteer fire fighters (following the example of FMC Ulu Musi involving 38 villagers from Talang Padang, also FMC Pampangan involving 18 villagers and 10 members of NGOs);

Important: All these organisations have necessarily to be controlled or commanded by Dinas Kehutanan.

  • It is necessary to organise a real commandment structure, through Kanwil and Dinas Kehutanan, with indispensable links with the other concerned authorities and partners: Army, Police, chain “Governor – Bupati – Camat – Kepala Desa”. The managerial staff needs higher training about forest fire management, forest fire fighting and “Tactic Reasoning Method”. The staff also needs an effective and adapted radio communication system.
  • It is indispensable to multiply and amplify the training efforts, integrating the new concept of “volunteer fire-fighters” and involving the villagers from the forest areas. These people have a large and useful knowledge about the use of fire (ancestral land clearing).

Their methods are safe and effective: before burning the chosen area, the farmers prepare the field for several weeks and then they always make a peripheral fire break.

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Fig.1. Three different fire management zones established in the Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project (FFPCP):
Zone (1): virgin forest and conservation areas (forests or natural spaces);
Zone (2): commercial forest areas (HPI and HTI);
Zone (3): areas around the villages and the “places of life”.

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Fig.2. Active fires detected on 20 September 1997 by the Palembang NOAA AVHRR downlink.

Fig.3. Theoretical and practical course with Kanwil Kehutanan in Palembang, South Sumatra. Photo: Marc Nicolas.
(will be added later)

Fig.4. (lower) Forest fire on 1000 ha in South Sumatra, Pt. Inhutani V, 28 September 1997, under suppression by local fire fighters. Photo: Marc Nicolas.
(will be added later)

The complement, it is indispensable that the fire fighters (from Dinas Kehutanan, Private sector or Villages) receive First Aid training. Knowledge about First Aid is essential for two major reasons:

  • In case of accident in the field during the fire, the fighters have to be able to rescue their injured colleagues, or other wounded civilians;
  • Another important point: “Fire Brigades” will be useful for the community all year long, even out of the fire season. That is the only way to obtain regular training and work, guarantee knowledge maintenance and regular use of the equipment. This is elementary if we want to obtain a good cohesion of the team, to benefit from gratitude and recognition of all the members of the community.

The FFPCP project has prepared three special pocket books (in Bahasa Indonesia) on first aid, forest fire ands ecurity, amd treatment of burned people. Consequently, all these topics were widely tackled during the two fire management and control courses organised jointly by Kanwil Kehutanan and FFPCP. First aid training has been officially and definitively included in the normal training plan.

  • It is necessary to quickly form a National Fire Fighting Equipment Study Group. Grouping together experienced fire fighters and manufacturers of specialised equipment will form a team that will determine and define the necessary standards about:

    • Individual protection equipment (helmets, clothes, boots, gloves);
    • Robust, simple and effective hand tools (rake-hoe), backpack sprayers;
    • Thermal motor pumps, fire hoses and junction parts (compatible with eachother);
    • Adapted fire tankers (little trucks) and new or innovator kits (slip-on tank with HP pump).

This is the only one solution to avoid the use of inadequate equipment, whose use is complex and slow, often not compatible, and sometimes dangerous for the fighters’ security.

Aerial Fire Suppression

It is necessary to explore and seriously test the aerial fire suppression component in Indonesia, with its adapted helicopters and planes. Even if this method would not solve the fire problem, it could constitute the starting point of a collective awareness and initiate a real policy of change on this subject.

A coherent programme must be based upon three keys: strategy, means, and experimental application. Aerial fire fighting has to be considered and organised as a military operation. It is possible to imagine two steps: experimentation during the 1998 dry season and, later, a national projection.

  • The experiment will tend to verify the validity of the tactical and strategic concepts of the Aerial Fighting Task Force within a real operational context. It will also tend to be a lesson for the future development of the system.

This experiment could be localised in Sumatera Selatan from Palembang. The action field could cover the three pilot areas with a possible extension to other risky sectors in the Province or neighbouring areas.

  • Later, national integration should take place, with a National Operational Centre and several Provincial Operational Centres. A National Conception, Command and Coordination Centre in Jakarta would be in charge in establishing a national strategy and to coordinate the operational activities between provinces. Moreover, a Regional Coordination and Command Centre would be necessary for each province with a particular risk of fire (in particular Sumatera, Kalimantan and maybe Java).

From: Major Marc V.J. Nicolas
Forest Fire Management Expert
Forest Fire Prevention and Control Project
Kanwil Kehutanan, P.O. Box 1229
Palembang 30000

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