Indonesia: Forest fires in East Kalimantan spread to coal deposits

Forest fires in East Kalimantan spread to coal deposits
Source: The Jakarta Post, 26 August 2004
By Rusman

East Kalimantan forestry office firefighters are on high alert as forest and cropland fires spread to coal deposits. As the situation becomes worse by theday, the provincial administration has increased fire watch patrols and field monitoring, and moved in more fire-fighting equipment to fire-prone locations.

“Starting this week, our teams have been observing the situation around the clock and carrying out fire fighting activities at every hotspot,” said thehead of the Forest Fire Management Unit at the East Kalimantan Forestry Office, Kusnadi Katam.

“Weather conditions in East Kalimantan are hot and windy right now. If this kind of weather persists, the forest fires could intensify into as big adisaster as in 2001,” he told The Jakarta Post.

He added that the danger of the fires spreading rapidly was exacerbated when the fires met with coal deposits, as had occurred recently in the BukitSoeharto Community Forest located along the main highway between Balikpapan and Samarinda, as well as in Malinau regency.

Forest fires have also broken out in conservation areas in the Kutai National Park in East Kutai and the Talisayan protected forest in Berau regency.

“Most of the forest fires have occurred along the main highways between the regencies,” Kusnadi said. The area destroyed by fire thus far this season isestimated at 32 hectares.

Kusnadi said that there had been no reports of fires being deliberately set in forest concessions. Rather, they were caused by people engaging in landclearance. The fires had spread rapidly in areas with coal deposits.

Based on 12 satellite photographs taken by the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) on Aug. 23, 11 hotspots were detected in four regencies inEast Kalimantan; one in Berau, four in Kutai Kertanegara, five in East Kutai and 1 in Pasir.

The highest number of hotspots in August was recorded on Aug. 19, with 103 hotspots. No hotspots were found on Aug. 20. Twelve hotspots were detected onAug. 21 and 62 hotspots on Aug. 22.

The satellite also located a number of hotspots in Kalimantan. On Aug. 21, 115 hotspots were found in West Kalimantan province, 35 in South Kalimantanprovince and 141 in Central Kalimantan province. Meanwhile on Aug. 22, 35 hotspotswere detected in Central Kalimantan and 15 in South Kalimantan. None were detected in West Kalimantan.

According to Kusnadi, the big variation in the number of hotspots detected from day to day was due to a lack of maximum satellite coverage. For thatreason, his office had requested regental and municipal administrations to monitorand report on the situation on the ground.

So far, the haze from the forest fires has covered Samarinda, Balikpapan, Kutai Kertanegara and East Kutai, but the East Kalimantan provincialadministration has yet to pronounce the situation hazardous, and has not warned the publicto use masks. “The haze has yet to affect visibility or human health. The situation is within the normal range,” he said.

The haze has also not affected flights to and from Temindung Airport in Samarinda. An official from the local air traffic control, Ucok, said that pilotshad been informed about the haze covering the province, but that flights had not been affected thus far. Flight visibility was 8 kilometers as of Tuesday.

“Flights could be disrupted if visibility was to be reduced to between 1 and 5 kilometers. It also depends on each pilot. Conditions are still normal atthe moment,” said Ucok. 


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