Jakarta warns of more fires in coming weeks

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Weather satellites have picked up 538 hot spots in the last 24 hours - believed to be the highest number across Indonesia this year - as emergency services go on high alert ahead of the peak of the annual dry season, which usually falls in September.

The bulk of the fires were detected in West Kalimantan province (193 hot spots) and Papua (143), while the areas closest to Singapore, such as South Sumatra (eight), Riau (three) and Jambi (one), were largely spared, figures released by the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) showed yesterday.

Despite the high number of hot spots, Indonesia has managed to limit the amount of land burned this year and prevent a repeat of the 2015 crisis, when the burning of forests and peatland in Kalimantan and Sumatra produced transboundary haze that blanketed the region and led to record air pollution levels for months.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that compared with 2015, when more than 2.6 million ha of land across the country were hit by fires, only about 20,000ha have been burnt this year. This is also much lower than the 438,000ha razed last year.

"In general, there is progress in how forest and land fires are being dealt with," said Dr Sutopo.

"It is impossible to eliminate hot spots from all parts of Indonesia during the year, (but) there is a decline in the amount of land burned."

But he warned that as the dry season will last until October, there is still potential for an increase in forest and land fires.

"Although some areas experienced above-average rainfall during this dry season, with floods occurring in Sulawesi, Kalimantan and parts of Sumatra, forest and land fires still occurred," he added.

Six provinces - Jambi, Riau and South Sumatra on Sumatra Island, and Central, West and South Kalimantan - remain in a state of emergency so firefighting resources from the government can be deployed there.

These include aircraft from the BNPB for water-bombing or cloud-seeding operations.

Dr Sutopo said there are now five task groups to assist provinces and smaller districts affected by, or are at risk of, fires. They include groups that oversee firefighting on land and from the air, enforce anti-burning laws, administer health-related services for affected residents and a "socialisation task force" that educates people against using fire to clear land.