Fires burn down protected forest in west sumatra

Fires burn down protected forest in west sumatra

07 October 2016

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Indonesia —   As many as four hectares of forest have been burnt down in Limapuluh Kota regency, West Sumatra, from forest fires that have ravaged the Lembah Harau conservation park and tourist site since last week.

The forest in the conservation area is under threat as firefighters face rough terrain and soaring cliffs.

The West Sumatra Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said the firefighters were having difficulties and were awaiting further assistance.

BKSDA forest ranger head Zulmi Gusrul said the firefighters had been working hard to contain the fire that had eaten up four hectares of the protected forest, which was used as a tourist site.

The firefighters consist of 100 personnel from the conservation agency, the local disaster mitigation agency, the firefighter unit, the military and the police. With the existing equipment, they could not do much.

“Only helicopters and heavy rain can extinguish the fire,” Zulmi said Wednesday.

He said his office had asked the Environment and Forestry Ministry for one helicopter unit on Tuesday, but it took time to send the helicopter to the site. He said the chopper might arrive on Thursday.

“The chopper will be able to drop water from above the burning cliffs and valleys, but the water has to be taken from Kotopanjang Dam located over 10 kilometers from the site,” he said.

Zulmi said the fire could have come from burnings in people’s fields that flared uncontrollably due to strong winds.

“On the hill there are piles of dried leaves and branches some 30 centimeters thick, which easily burns. What we can do is just block the spread of the fire by making trenches,” he said.

Zulmi added the flames from the fire also fell into the foot of the hill, threatening at least 10 housing units and the tourist facilities.

Around 25 officers had been deployed to extinguish the flames using two units of fire: trucks and water pumps.

“Although rain fell over the West Sumatra coastal areas such as Padang today, it did not fall here,” he said.

Padang Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) spokesperson, Budi Iman Samiaji, said the potential rainfall over Lembah Harau until Sunday would not be significant enough to extinguish the fire in the area.

“The potential is there but it is more over the western parts of Limapuluh Kota regency and it is just light rain, not even, and with a short duration,” he said.

Meanwhile, Antara news agency reported that the South Sumatra administration was working to prevent forest fires from spreading massively by coordinating with related agencies, including local military and police offices.

Administration secretary Mukti Sulaiman said the joint effort had led to the decline in the number of hot spots in the province.

The administration also organized a familiarization program with the villages and the construction of canals to prevent the fires from spreading.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, the BMKG said 15 hot spots were found in Sumatra as of Thursday morning. BMKG head Slamet Riyadi said the number of hot spots tends to increase.

“The number of hot spots was higher than that on Wednesday that stood at three in the afternoon,” he said.

He said of the 15 hot spots, seven were located in Riau. Five hot spots were seen in North Sumatra while South Sumatra, Riau Islands and Bangka Belitung each saw one.

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