Drought fuels fires in Indonesia’s wildfire capital | News | Eco-Enterprise

Fires are breaking out in Indonesia’s Riau province, the perennial epicenter of Sumatra’s fire season, as the dry season sets in.

By the end of March, the fires had scorched nearly 169 hectares (417 acres) of land in Riau, where large swaths of forest and peatland were burned to make way for oil palm and pulpwood plantations.

Since then, however, the scale of the fires has escalated, with more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of land scorched – an area three times larger than New York’s Central Park – according to agency data. Provincial Disaster Mitigation, or BPBD .

In response to the escalating fires, more than half of Riau’s 12 districts and cities have declared a state of forest and ground fire emergency. To prevent new fires from forming and spreading the current fires, the BPDP called for cloud seeding efforts to induce rainfall, as well as patrol helicopters and water bombardments to combat. flames.

The coordinator of cloud seeding efforts in Riau, Tukiyat, said there had been an increase in the number of hotspots in the province since early July.

“That’s why weather modification is happening again in Riau,” he said, as quoted by local media.

Our commitment is clear. Riau must be safe from the disaster of the mist.

Mohammad Iqbal, Chief of Police, Riau

One of the areas most affected by the fires is Rokan Hilir, where more than 100 hectares (250 acres) are ablaze. Rokan Hilir Deputy District Chief Sulaiman said firefighting during the dry season was proving difficult.

“It’s a headache,” he said. “Besides the forest, the water has also disappeared.”

Sulaiman said he received reports from firefighters that some of the fires were happening inside plantation concessions.

Another district suffering from the current outbreak is neighboring Rokan Hulu.

Dedy Nofery Samosir, a military officer stationed there, reported a recent fire burning across 7 hectares (17 acres) of forested hills in Suka Maju village in the district.

“At first we saw plumes of smoke coming from the hilly area,” he said, as quoted by local media. “After our arrival [to the scene]forests [there] were already burning.

Dedy said there were indications the fires were set deliberately, including the discovery of jerrycans in the burned areas and the fact that vegetation there appeared to have been cleared before the fires.

Due to the hilly terrain and the lack of a nearby water source, firefighters struggled to extinguish the flames as there is no nearby water source, Dedy said. He added that there were a lot of shrubs, which are easily flammable.

“We can only fight the fires manually because there is no water source,” he said. “Access to the location is also extreme.”

The province’s meteorological agency, BMKG Pekanbaru, said the dry season in Riau will be mild due to La Niña, the weather phenomenon that is expected to bring increased rainfall in the second half of the year. The BMKG said the dry season will last until August.

“There will be a transition [from the dry to the rainy season] from September to October,” said BMKG Pekanbaru Data and Information Coordinator Marzuki. “Maybe the rainy season will start at the end of October.”

In response to the fires, Riau police arrested nine individuals suspected of arson. Most of the fires they have been linked to are considered small, less than 5 hectares (12 acres) in size. But two of the individuals are believed to be responsible for 107.5 hectares (266 acres) of fires in Indragiri Hilir district.

“Our commitment is clear. Riau must be safe from haze disaster,” said Riau Police Chief Mohammad Iqbal.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.