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Dulling the flames: People use simple tools like hoes and pitchforks to put out remnants of a wildfire on Mount Papandayan in Garut, West Java, on Friday. The fire, which began on Tuesday, has razed around 40 hectares of forest in the area. JP/Arya Dipa
Local authorities are still struggling to extinguish and contain fires on Mt. Papandayan in Garut, West Java, due to a lack of human resources and proper equipment.
“The fire has razed around 40 hectares of the mountain’s forest,” said Karwin, the head of the Mt. Papandayan supervisory unit on Friday.
As of Friday, fires, which started on Tuesday, were still detected in several spots of the 2,665 meter-high mountain.
Smoke was seen rising far above the mountain, thicker than the smoke emitted from the mountain’s crater.
Two teams, consisting of a number of volunteers and motorcycle taxi drivers, were deployed to help put out the forest fire.
“Today, there are only 10 people climbing the mountain,” said Mega Kosasih, a volunteer.
Mega added that it required good physical condition to reach the areas affected, which were rocky with many gradients.
Volunteers were also aware of the danger of the smoky haze hanging over the fire causing them respiratory problems.
The volunteers carried blades to enter the forest, while using hoes and pitchforks to extinguish the fire.
They created cracks in the ground to keep the fire from spreading, explained Mega.
Ato, another volunteer, said that the forest on Mt. Papandayan was prone to fires, adding that dry weather and high winds seemed to have worsened such conditions.
“If we do not immediately stop the points of origin, it is feared that the fire will quickly spread to other areas,” said Ato.
Mt. Papandayan covers a park area of approximately 225 hectares. The area includes part of a natural reserve area of 6,807 hectares.
Separately, Garut Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Agus Saefudin said that the steep mountains had hampered their efforts to extinguish the forest fires.
“We found it hard to carry heavy tools up to the mountain,” Agus said, adding that his teams and volunteers instead used simple tools to reach rocky spots.
Despite the forest fires, Agus said that tourism sites in the mountain area, including a camping ground at Pondok Saladah, which is situated on the slopes of the mountain, were still open to the public.
“Don’t hesitate to come [to the camping ground] because the tourist spot is far from the fire,” he added.
However, the forest fire itself had become a tourist attraction for local residents.
“We can even see the fire at night, not only the smoke. It’s become a tourist attraction for visitors, but I do really hope that the authorities can immediately put it out,” said Ade, a vendor in the parking lot of Mt. Papandayan.
Meanwhile in Jambi, the administration will take the necessary measures to fight forest fires that have been clouding the region for some time.
“We have set up a post in Pekanbaru and another one in Kalimantan,” said Zubaidi AR, the head of the Jambi BPBD branch.
He said that his agency would launch a weather control program, in the form of artificial rain, to stop the forest fires and haze, adding that artificial rain would temporarily solve the problem.
“From 6 a.m, to 8 a.m., the haze did not look as thick as usual. We are keeping our eyes open to face any possibilities,” said Zubaidi.
Dalmanto, the head of the emergency unit at Jambi BPBD, said that the fires came from forests, peatlands, bushes and plantations in Jambi and other regions, like Riau Islands and South Sumatra.
There are more than 100 hotspots in both Riau and South Sumatra, while Jambi saw fewer such location, according to Dalmanto.