Indonesia–– Wildfires continue to strike Balis most sacred mountain, Mount Agung in Karangasem regency, east Bali, sweeping through more than 60 hectares of reserve forest on the slopes of the mountain.
The fires started Sunday morning. It is the second time they have hit the islands most active volcano; in early September, fires affected 200 hectares of Mount Agungs forest.
I Nyoman Sutirtayasa, head of Karangasem Disaster Management Agency (BPBD), told Bali Daily that the wind blew very strongly, creating new hot spots around the affected areas.
The rescue team has tried to extinguish four hot spots, but new ones are expected to emerge because of the drought and strong winds, said Sutirtayasa.
The team also found that the cause of the fires was not merely the weather and natural conditions. Some local villagers were found burning dry leaves spreading the fires everywhere, he added.
The fires have currently hit Banjar Puragae, Pempatan and Rendang villages.
The fires are reaching areas adjacent to two Hindu templesPura Dalam and Pura Puseh in Pule traditional village, explained Ketut Prama Budartha, secretary of BPBD Karangasem.
Hundreds of volunteers and residents worked hand-in-hand with the rescue team to try and extinguish the fires using simple equipment.
Mount Agung is sacred to the Balinese people, who believe it is the replica of Mount Mery, the central axis of the universe.
The islands mother temple, Pura Besakih, is located high on the slopes of Mount Agung.
The volcano last erupted during 1963-1964 and is still active.
In addition to its religious importance, Mount Agung is also an excellent habitat for the islands Bali Starling, which is an endangered species, as well as other animals and medicinal plants.
I Gde Made Jaya Serataberana, head of the provincial BPBD agency, said that that the severe drought over the last few months, human error and strong winds had contributed to the series of wildfires on Mount Agung and in other forests in Bali.
The locations of the hot spots are very difficult to reach by helicopter or fire truck. Therefore, we have to try to extinguish the fires manually, he said.
A helicopter sent by the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) had already arrived at the location, but only to monitor the condition of the hot spots.
Data from Bali Forestry Agency said that there were 22 forest fires in Bali in 2011 affecting 240 hectares. Forest destruction caused by illegal logging and wildfires reached 700 hectares.
Serataberana said that Karangasem, Buleleng and Bangli were the most vulnerable sites for forest fires. Most of forests in the three regencies contain homogeneous plants. To make it worse, the regencies are the driest and hottest places in Bali.
A few weeks ago, wildfires also hit Mt. Batur Volcano in Bangli regency burning 50 hectares of forest areas. Mt. Batur and Lake Batur have just recently been declared as a Geo-park by UNESCO for their historical, geological, archaelogical, cultural and natural importance.
The wildfires in Mount Agung in Karangasem and Mount Batur, both active volcanoes in Bali, occured during the transition between the dry and wet seasons.