Forest fires expected to worsen in extreme weather

Forest fires expected to worsen in extreme weather

07 March 2015

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Indonesia — It is feared that extreme weather, human error and limited fire extinguishing facilities will worsen forest fires in Batam, Riau Islands province, with fire frequency predicted to increase this year.

Data from the Batam Free Trade Zone Authority (BPK FTZ) fire department show that there were 102 cases of forest fire from January to March 6 this year, while the total number of forest fires last year was 336 cases, each covering over five hectares of forest.

“The fires were due to human actions and the extreme dry season,” fire department head Slamet Riyanto said.

Moreover, given that his department had only 16 fire engines, he said, the number of forest fires would probably be higher this year.

The latest reported case occurred in a forest in Tiban Kampung Batam. As of Friday, over five hectares of forest had burned down, spreading thick smoke across the area.

Meanwhile, in Riau province, efforts to extinguish forest and land fires with artificial rain using weather-modification technology have been halted for several days after the Cassa 212-200 aircraft used in the program experienced an engine problem.

Head of the artificial rain technical managing unit (UPT) at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), Heru Widodo, said that an engine problem had been spotted on the left wing of the aircraft that his office had rented from Pelita Air Service.

“The oil is leaking. For safety reasons, we decided not to force the aircraft to fly,” Heru said over the phone from Jakarta on Friday.

The damage was found as the aircraft was about to take off on a second cloud-seeding sortie on Wednesday afternoon. The plane was taken to the haze post at Roesmin Nurjadin airport in Pekanbaru.

Heru explained that BPPT technicians had tried to fix the problem but had failed because the necessary spare parts had to be brought from Jakarta. Because of the damage, salt-based cloud-seeding has halted temporarily.

“To help reduce hotspots for the time being, we are conducting water-bombing using two helicopters,” Heru said.

The last cloud-seeding operation was reported to have caused rain to fall over the Dumai, Indragiri Hilir and Pelalawan regions, he said.

“Hopefully the Cassa can be repaired soon so that more artificial rain can be made,” he said, adding that natural rain was falling, but not equally over all regions.

Based on observations from the Pekanbaru station of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) using the Terra and Aqua satellites on Friday morning, Riau still has the most hotspots in Sumatra.

Of the 58 spots detected across the island, according to the observation, 32 were detected in six regencies in Riau. The highest number of hotspots — 18 — was detected in Bengkalis regency, followed by Pelalawan (five spots), Meranti Islands (four), Siak (two), Indragiri Hilir (two) and Rokan Hilir (one).

“Twenty-two of them have an at least 70 percent likelihood of being hotspots,” said agency spokesperson Slamet Riyadi.

He predicted that rain would not fall on most of Riau’s eastern coastal regions for the next few days, meaning peatland would remain dry.

“In Meranti Islands, eastern Bengkalis, Pelalawan and Siak, there’s a more than 70 percent chance of rain,” Slamet stated.

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