After a hiatus of nearly six months, the haze mitigation command post at Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, Riau, will be reactivated to speed up forest and peatland fire fighting operations in Riau.
Haze Emergency Response Task Force commander and chief of the Wirabima Military Command Brig. Gen. Prihadi Agus Irianto said initially a helicopter would observe the condition and spread of hotspots across the regencies and cities in Riau.
Three hundred Indonesian Army (TNI) soldiers have been deployed to a number of regencies, including Bengkalis, Meranti Islands, Siak and Pelalawan, to help the respective regional administrations' land fire-fighting operations.
'We have mapped out the priority areas, focusing on those with a lot of hotspots,' Prihadi said.
'Land fire fighting is underway until the National Disaster Mitigation Agency's [BNPB] fleet are set for the aerial operation. Currently, the task force is using borrowed helicopters, but it is not possible for us to depend on them all the time,' added Agus.
During aerial observations, nine hotspots were detected in a biosphere reserve inside the concession area of PT Arara Abadi, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Forestry.
'The company will be asked for verification as the fire has affected a vast area in its concession and caused dense haze. As a concession holder, it should be accountable,' said Prihadi.
In response, Sinas Mas Forestry spokesman Nurul Huda did not deny the fire had taken place in its concession area in Bukit Batu district, Bengkalis. He claimed the fire occurred in the concession area of PT Bukit Batu Hutani Alam (BBHA) and PT Sakato Pratama Makmur (SPM), but not PT Arara Abadi.
'BBHA and SPM are not subsidiaries of Sinar Mas, but partners, or suppliers,' Nurul said, adding that the fires originated outside the concession areas. 'Those who started the fire remain unidentified, but they must have been forest clearers because the neighboring areas are dominated by squatters.'
'The fire only spread to our area in the past three days. Firefighters have been on standby for a long time but wind made the task of putting out the fires difficult,' said Nurul, adding that an additional 200 firefighters had been deployed.
Separately, Riau Police chief and deputy head of the task force's law enforcement affairs Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono said there was no indication that the fires were intentional.
'But, we will dig deeper,' Condro said. 'So far, the teams have received 31 reports from various regions. As many as 26 people have been named suspects. All of them acted alone and none were connected to corporations,' said Condro.
Separately, BNPB spokesman Agus Wibowo said BNPB had drawn up an aerial fire fighting plan, which would involve two BE 200 amphibious planes, two Kamov helicopters, two Sikorsky helicopters and four Bolco helicopters.
'Locations that are difficult to reach by land and lack water sources will be the target of the aerial operation,' Agus said.
'Mitigation efforts are currently focused in Riau and West Kalimantan. The condition in West Kalimantan has improved thanks to rain, but Riau still needs attention because it is still dry. Neighboring provinces, such as Bengkulu and West Sumatra, have complained about the haze from Riau,' he added.