Indonesia battles forest fire on Sumatra island

Indonesia battles forest fire on Sumatra island

13 May 2011

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Indonesia — Indonesia has sent 120 firefighters to battle blazes from peatland areas that are causing unhealthy levels of pollution in neighbouring Malaysia, an official said.

Authorities in Kuala Lumpur said on Thursday air quality had reached 104 in Port Klang, on a scale which rates 101-200 as unhealthy. Elsewhere in central Selangor state, 29 areas had “moderate” readings.

“The smoke comes from fires in peatland areas in Riau province,” forestry ministry fire control official Deni Haryanto told AFP.

The fires are used to clear land for palm oil plantations, he said.

“Our satellite monitoring shows that the fires in Rokan Hilir of Bengkalis district have been on and off since they started on Monday,” Haryanto said.

Fires on peatland can burn for days and release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Even when extinguished on the surface they can continue burning underground and reappear days later.

Indonesia’s government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

Indonesia is widely considered the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, largely due to deforestation from forest fires and logging.

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