Forest Fires Rage in Central Java, East Kalimantan

Forest Fires Rage in Central Java, East Kalimantan

27 September 2012

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Indonesia – Solo/West Kutai. Forest fires have razed thousands of hectares of land in Central Java and East Kalimantan as an unusually intense and protracted dry spell drags on, officials reported on Wednesday.

In Karanganyar, Central Java, more than 500 hectares of forests and tree nurseries on the slopes of Mount Lawu have been torched since Monday, with the fires still raging as of Wednesday.

Aji Pratama, head of the Karanganyar Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), said the extremely dry conditions and strong winds were fueling the flames and making it hard for firefighters to douse them.

“The fires started in Ngawi district [in East Java] and have spread here because of the winds,” he said.

“It’s not just the brush and shrubs that are getting burned, but also trees, especially pines.”

Much of the affected area on Mount Lawu consists of logging concessions that include pine, acacia and eucalyptus trees.

Sunardi, a resident of Ngargoyoso subdistrict further down the slope, said the ash from the burning vegetation was raining down on residential areas. He added residents were afraid that the fire would reach their homes.

“We’re 25 kilometers away from the fires, but you never know with the way the wind’s blowing,” he said.

Maryono, coordinator of the district emergency response unit, said the size of the scorched area was increasing by the hour, with the fire now encroaching on a community forest.

Rina Iriani, the Karanganyar district head, said fires were not an uncommon problem on Lawu’s slopes, but this year’s blaze was worse because of the dry conditions and strong winds.

She said she had ordered all hiking routes in the area to be temporarily closed and called on resident’s living on the mountain’s slopes to help in putting out the fires.

In West Kutai, East Kalimantan, forest fires have razed more than 1,500 hectares of land since Monday. A harsh dry spell has also been blamed for the extent of the disaster there.

Yustinus A.S., head of the district forestry office, said the fires were not believed to be man-made. He said the affected area, on the periphery of the Kersik Luway orchid park, a forest conservation area, had previously experienced severe fires lasting several months in 1987 and 1997.

“Both those previous times we lost around 5,000 hectares of forest. This time it’s only around 1,500 hectares, most of which was forest area that was replanted after the 1997 fire,” Yustinus said.

He added that firefighters and residents alike were trying to put out the flames and prevent the fire spreading to the orchid park.

Haze from the fire is also causing problems at West Kutai’s Melalan Sendawar Airport, where visibility was down to one kilometer on Wednesday, well below the usual three kilometers.

The conditions forced the airport to freeze operations from Wednesday. Suparno, the airport manager, said scheduled flights to Samarinda and Balikpapan had to be canceled because of the haze. “We don’t know yet when we can reopen the airport,” he said.




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