Indonesia — A forest fire has spread close to residential areas, Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said on Thursday (March 6) forcing residents to flee their homes in Indonesia’s Riau Province.
The province declared a state of emergency last week as haze from the fires, often deliberately set, disrupted flights and marine navigation and authorities reported a sharp rise in respiratory problems.
The national disaster mitigation agency said the province of 5 million, a major palm oil growing region, had been experiencing haze for several weeks due to illegal land clearing and prolonged dry weather.
27 families, mainly plantation owners, were evacuated to makeshift tents.
The agency reported that there are 60 hot spots at the moment, up from 48 hot spots from Tuesday (March 4).
Police on Wednesday (March 5) said they have arrested 29 people in connection with the fires and illegal land clearing, which have affected about 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of land.
Haze is a recurring problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, often caused by farmers and companies burning forests to make way for palm oil plantations.
The Indonesian meteorology agency has said winds were moving in a south-westerly direction, away from Singapore. However, a shift in wind direction, which usually occurs near the end of the Indonesian monsoon season in April or May, could affect the city-state again.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to apologise to neighbours Singapore and Malaysia in mid-2013, when those countries were blanketed with thick smog from forest fires in Indonesia Indonesia’s parliament is expected to ratify an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) haze pact soon.
The Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution pact was first adopted by ASEAN member states twelve years ago. Indonesia is the only country yet to ratify the pact.