Russian planes begin dousing Indonesian fires

Russian planes begin dousing Indonesian fires

3 November 2006

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Indonesia — Two Russian planes have begun dropping water bombs on land-clearing fires in Indonesia in a bid to curb the smoke haze that has engulfed the region, an official saidWednesday.

Rains have now started to fall on Sumatra island, but haze has persisted across Indonesian Borneo after last month, smothering parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

“The two Russian planes arrived yesterday (Tuesday) and were immediately sent to help fight the fires in peatlands in Ogan Komering Ilir district,” said an official at the fire fighting coordination post in South Sumatra.

The official, who identified herself as Elfa, said the planes could carry up to 300 tonnes of water each.

They have been rented for 45 days and will also be used in Borneo, she said.

In Palangkaraya, the capital of Borneo’s Central Kalimantan province, visibility was just 50 metres (yards) at nearly midday, with no rain or wind forecast, an official from the province’s Environmental Impact Control Agency said.

In South Kalimantan’s Banjarmasin, visibility of 200 to 300 metres caused several delays at the airport, an official at its operation briefing centre told AFP.

The outlawed practice of clearing land by fire for the upcoming planting season has been blamed for the extensive fires that have sent smoke over parts of Indonesia and neighbouring countries in recent years. Weak enforcement of the law has allowed it to continue.

The situation has been aggravated by the abundance of peat land in Borneo and parts of Sumatra, which allows fires to smoulder underground for long periods of time before re-emerging.

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