Choppers Needed to Fight Fires in Riau

Choppers Needed to Fight Fires in Riau

26 June 2009

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Indonesia —

Due to a sharp increase in the number of forest and peat land fires in Riau, the provincial Forest Service said on Friday that they needed helicopters to cope with the massive blazes, which have been labeled an environmental catastrophe.

“We badly need special helicopters to put out the fires,” said Said, the head of the forest and bushfire unit of the Forest Service.

Said said that Riau did not have special fire-fighting helicopters to carry and drop water on the blazes, despite the frequency of forest fires in the province.

Poor access due to the topography of the area and vast tracts of burning forest and scrubland pose a problem for firefighters, he said. “The expanse of the burned area makes it difficult for firefighters to reach the center of the location so they can only put out the fire on the fringes.”

Said said he hoped the central government, through the Ministry of Forestry, would be able to help by sending helicopters to support their efforts.

“We really hope that the central government will help with fire-fighting helicopters to aid our firefighters in battling the forest and bush fires,” he said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BKMG), based at Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru, on Friday announced that 34 fires had suddenly erupted in the province.

“As many as 34 hotspots were detected in several districts and municipalities in Riau,” said Marzuki, from the agency’s analysis team.

He said that based on the latest surveillance by the NOAA-18 weather satellite, the forest fires were spreading in eight separate areas: Siak, Rokan Hilir, Rokan Hulu, Pelalawan, Indragiir Hulu, Kampar, Bengkalis and Kuantan Singingi.

The weather agency also predicted very little chance of rain in the province over the next few days.

Marzuki said burn-offs were the most probable cause of the fires.

The fires are an annual problem at the end of the rainy season when farmers and plantation companies clear land for new crops. Although the practice has been banned, enforcement has been lax, with officials citing a lack of funding and manpower for proper policing.

Indonesia has been routinely criticized by environmental NGOs for failing to prosecute offenders and watchdog groups point to large plantation companies as the biggest problem.

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