Wildfire destroys 60-ha of peatland and forests

Wildfire destroys 60-ha of peatland and forests

10 April 2013

published by www.thejakartapost.com

Indonesia — A haze has blanketed Bukit Kembar, Bengkalis, Riau, as around 60 hectares of a total of 300 hectares of peatland in the area have been destroyed by fire in the last few days.

Bengkalis Disaster Mitigation and Fire Agency (BPBD-Damkar) acting chief Jaafar Arief has blamed the wildfire on land clearing of the unattended peatland, which has been the center of a dispute between local residents and an agriculture company.

“People usually clear and burn peatlands for agricultural purposes and development needs. The land clearing has caused fires and uncontrolled haze,” said Jaafar on Tuesday.

“But we still have no idea who did this because in this kind of situation, nobody wants to confess and they blame each other instead. I keep pleading with the people who live here and with the agribusiness not to burn the peatlands because it is against the law,” he added.

The land clearing, by slash and burn, started wildfires on Saturday, which are destroying forests and the nearby oil palm plantations which belong to local people.

It was reported on Tuesday that the fire almost reached the acacia plantation which is owned by PT Arara Abadi, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Forestry.

“The problem is that this is a peat swamp area and it will take some time to put out the wildfire. The fires spread so fast in this kind of terrain,” Jaafar went on.

BPBD-Damkar, who is struggling to control the devastating blaze, has deployed more than 100 firefighters, alongside with additional firefighters from PT Arara Abadi.

The teams tried to block the fires as they raged through Pelintung, but failed to do so.

“We cannot take all necessary heavy equipment with us as the locations are so inaccessible. The weather is so hot and dry. The wildfire spreads quickly out of control. It is only the rain which can put out this kind of wildfire,” he said.

PT Arara Abadi spokeswoman Nurul Huda declared that her company’s plantations were still safe from the wildfire, so far.

“We have sent around 100 firefighters to help extinguish the blaze and to assist with situation any way they can. The wildfire has poses a serious threat to our acacia plantations,” she added.

The smoke has also affected residents of Bengkalis Island.

Budi Suprayitno, an islander, claimed that the haze appeared in the morning and it lasted until evening.

“The sky looks cloudy, even though it is scorchingly hot. We cannot see the sun. The haze hurts our eyes. Many of us prefer to stay at home to avoid the haze,” said Budi.

“Sometimes we cannot even see the Bukit Batu area, which is only just across bay, as it is covered by the thick miasma. Normally, we can see it clearly from the island,” he added..

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