The Jakarta Post
The Riau provincial administration has kick-started the Haze Disaster Command Station at Roesmin Nurjadin Airport in Pekanbaru as the number of hotspots and forest and land fires has increased and is predicted to keep rising until next month.
Acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi 'Andi' Rahman said the reactivation of the station was aimed at preventing the forest and land fires from further expanding and causing a haze disaster as occurred early last year.
'Forest and land fire mitigation will be carried out in a cross-sectoral manner and coordinated under a command. The mitigation measures will be jointly discussed and evaluated at the station on a daily basis,' said Andi on Friday.
Despite the further spread of hotspots in Riau, Andi had yet to consider it necessary to raise the status of the mission to the emergency-response level. 'We remain in a state of caution. Every regency and city is equipped with a standard forest and land fire mitigation team involving the Indonesian Military, police, prosecutor's office, Fire Awareness Community and companies, all of which are moving to the field,' said Andi.
He also said it was yet to be necessary for the provincial administration to ask for help from the central government in firefighting efforts. However, he said he would continue to coordinate with the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to anticipate emergency situations that might arise.
Andi called on all plantation and forestry companies in Riau to protect their concession areas and immediately put out any fires.
'The Riau provincial administration is never tired of appealing to every element of society to be aware and active to eliminate every potential fire in their respective surroundings because the weather in Riau will be further be dry from February until March,' added Andi.
Based on the latest satellite images issued by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) on Friday, the number of hotspots in Riau had reached 65.
The majority were detected in Bengkalis regency with 43 hotspots, followed by Indragiri Hilir (9), Siak (6), Pelalawan (4), Meranti Islands (2) and Rokan Hilir (1).
'As many as 29 of them have been indicated to be fire spots, with a credibility level of over 70 percent,' said Pekanbaru BMKG information and data division head Slamet Riyadi.
'Despite the increase in the number of hotspots, so far haze has yet to appear and visibility at a number of observation posts still remains at around 6 kilometers, which is normal,' said Slamet.
The weather in Riau is predicted to be bright and cloudy in the next few days with low rain intensity, with rain in the afternoon or evening in the eastern, southern and western parts of the province.
Bengkalis dominates with the highest number of hotspots in the past two weeks, while more than 100 hectares of forest have been razed in regencies directly facing the Malacca Strait.
To maximize firefighting efforts, the Bengkalis regency administration has raised its alert status to the level of forest and land fire emergency alert.
'The fires have been taking place for a month. They have razed a large area and spread to a number of spots so the firefighting teams are facing a big challenge to put them out,' said Bengkalis Regent Herliyan Saleh.
He urged the police to take legal action as the fires were believed to have been started intentionally, to make way for plantations.
Separately, Riau Police chief spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Aryo Tejo said at least 80 personnel had been sent to Bengkalis to help firefighting efforts as well as to investigate whether the cause of the fires was intentional or natural.
Haze from forest and land fires in Sumatra has been an annual problem for almost two decades. In the past few years, haze has begun to move toward Singapore and Malaysia, causing tension between the Indonesian government and its neighbors.
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