Task force needs 10 days to douse Sumatra fires

Regional effort: A Malaysian CL415 Bombardier amphibious aircraft preparing to take off from Talang Betutu air force base in Palembang, Sumatra to help Indonesia combat forest fires. — AFP

JAKARTA: The multinational task force helping Indonesia to put out fires in South Sumatra has met with some success, but it will take about 10 days before the flames can be largely extinguished, said a minister.

“We will not be able to contain the fires unless we have three to four days of heavy rain,” said Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan at a briefing on the haze crisis on Monday.

He was alluding to the extended dry weather, exacerbated by a longer El Nino season this year, which has made it harder to completely douse the fires on peatlands starved of rain.

Besides the dry season, the smoke from forest fires has reduced visibility in the skies, limiting the number of sorties for water-bombing or cloud-seeding operations.

Indonesia this week opened up its skies to groups from Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, China and Australia for multilateral firefighting operations focused on South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies. These are among the worst hit fires this year.

The Indonesian authorities have also ramped up enforcement efforts – against not just individuals, but also corporate bigwigs linked to illegal forest fires causing the haze.

National police chief Badrodin Haiti said that of the 48 plantation companies being investigated for illegal forest fires, 12 have been declared suspects.

Meanwhile, the majority of the multilateral firefighting resources have been deployed in South Sumatra, where conditions had worsened in recent weeks, said Indonesia’s disaster management agency, BNPB. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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