Six Indonesian provinces issue emergency alerts over forest fires

Six Indonesian provinces, located on the islands of Sumatera and Kalimantan, have issued forest fire alerts, the National Disaster Management Agency said  Tuesday.  

Officials fear a repeat of last year’s catastrophic blazes which cost the country 16 billion dollars and caused severe air pollution which also affected neighbouring countries.

“September is the middle of the dry season when incidents of forest fires are expected to be at their peak,” said Sutopo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

“The emergency alert status means it is easier for BNPB to mobilize its resources,” he said.

Emergency alerts have been declared in the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatera, West Kalimantan,  Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, Sutopo said.

Sutopo said the agency had sent eight helicopters, two water-carrying aircraft and two cloud-seeding aircraft to Sumatra and Borneo.

In Riau, firefighters have extinguished fires covering nearly 3,000 hectares of forest, according to the spokesman.

At least 79 people had been arrested for allegedly starting forest fires this year, he added.

Forest fires are an annual hazard in Indonesia and the resulting haze often affects neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, driving air pollution to hazardous levels.

Last year’s fires ravaged 2.6 million hectares of forest and farmland across the Indonesian archipelago from June to October.

Haze pollution caused by the fires also left more than 500,000 people sick, BNPB said.

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