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Indonesian President warns of potential fires as hot spots detected

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that local authorities should get prepared for potential forest fires later this year as hot spots had been detected on the island of Sumatra.

The country has suffered some of the biggest tropical forest fires outside the Amazon and Congo in recent years, putting at risk endangered animals like orang utan and tigers and sending choking haze across the region.

"Ninety-nine per cent of forest fires are perpetrated by humans, whether intentional or out of negligence," Mr Joko said in a virtual meeting with officials.

Farmers often used fire as a cheap land clearing method, he said, calling on local governments to get forest fire containment infrastructure ready.

He said Sumatra is facing a rising risk of forest fires this month and warned that the Kalimantan region on Borneo island, as well as Sulawesi island, could also start seeing forest fires in May to July, with the peak expected in the August to September period. Mr Joko said the fires could cause considerable financial losses and "not to mention the damage to our ecology and ecosystem".

Fireswere the most damaging in years in 2015, with the World Bank estimating they caused US$16.1 billion (S$21.3 billion) of damage. - REUTERS

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