The Jakarta Post
Riau authorities were warned on Sunday to increase efforts to prevent land and forest fires as 29 hot spots have been detected in the province, the highest number among all provinces in Sumatra.
'The number is far higher than other provinces in Sumatra,' The Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency's (BMKG) data and information division head Slamet Riyadi said.
Slamet said that the Terra and Aqua satellites had detected eight hot spots in Aceh, and one each in North Sumatra and South Sumatra.
He said the number of hot spots in Riau jumped to 29 on Sunday, from six on Saturday and eight on Friday.
According to satellite data, 16 hot spots were detected in Meranti regency, 10 in Bengkalis regency and one each in Indragiri Hulu, Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir regencies.
'Based on a temperature analysis, there are indications that 21 of the hot spots are fires, with a confidence level of 70 percent. Eleven of them are in Meranti while 11 are in Bengkalis,' he added.
Slamet suggested that all stakeholders increase their efforts to prevent land and forest fires in eastern coastal Riau, since the area is dominated by peatland, which is highly flammable.
'The potential for rain is also minimal, there is only the possible of rain in the central, west and south Riau,' he added.
Separately, Bukit Barisan Military Commander Maj. Lodewyk Pusung said he had received a report that claimed that the number of fire hot spots increased during weekends due to land-clearing activities.
'It seems that arsonists are reading the situation and increasing their activities on weekends when security officers take a rest or day off. On working days, they ease their operations,' Lodewyk said.
Meanwhile, the Riau Natural Resources and Conservation Agency's regional division head Supartono said his agency had deployed firefighter teams in 89 villages that were prone to forest fires.
'Starting this year, we are conducting coordinated and measurable patrols. Earlier, patrols were conducted sporadically,' Supartono said, adding that his agency had set up 69 forest-fire posts with a six-member team at each post.
He said his officers had been patrolling 20 of the 89 villages to monitor and extinguish fire spots.
In related developments, the police have arrested 41 people suspected of burning land in the province. 'Dumai and Pelalawan Police are handling the most cases, with 12 cases and five cases, respectively' said Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Aryo Tedjo, adding that the number of suspects might increase.
Meanwhile, hot weather has hit Gorontalo province in the past few weeks, with temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius every day.
BMKG Gorontalo forecaster Fatuhri said that hot temperatures were the result of the El Nino phenomenon, which was still being felt in the province, as well as a lack of rainfall.
Currently, the only area which has experienced rain is the northern part of the province.
Residents have complained that the hot weather has dried wells and destroyed corps.
Abbas Ali, a farmer near Lake Limboto in Gorontalo city, said that the hot temperatures caused pest populations to increase, which led to the destruction of plants.
Abbas said he had suffered losses of around Rp 10 million (US$714) as pests destroyed his tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber and chilli plants.
'The fruit has become small and rotten. I destroyed all the plants,' he said.
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