Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Acrid smoke from raging ground and forest fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra blanketed the city of Pekanbaru Thursday, stinging eyes and reducing visibility, a meteorology official said.
“The smoke is visible and it stings the eyes. It is especially felt when riding a motorcycle,” Anwar from the meteorology office in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, a major source of the haze in recent years, was quoted by AFP as saying.
The latest report on the fires released by the Indonesian Space and Aviation Agency Wednesday showed that a total of 28 hotspots were detected in Sumatra, 25 of which were in Riau. Seven others were burning in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island.
Anwar said that since dawn visibility had been at less than 1.5 kilometers (one mile).
“We’ve also only had weak winds in the past few days … not strong enough to drive away the smoke,” Anwar said.
Haze caused by burning in Indonesia and some parts of Malaysia to make way for crops causes an annual haze that afflicts countries in the region including Singapore and Thailand.
Some 1,500 firefighters have been deployed this month to help battle the blazes, Indonesian officials have said. Most fires appeared to have been started to clear land in commercial timber or palm oil plantations.
While the government has banned the practice of using fire to clear land enforcement remains weak.
In 1997 and 1998 choking haze caused mainly by Indonesian forest fires enveloped parts of Southeast Asia for months, losing the region some nine billion dollars due to a disruption of air traffic and other business activity.
Malaysia and Indonesia agreed last week to join forces to stamp out fires in palm oil plantations, which are contributing to the annual problem.