JAKARTA: Several regencies in the Indonesian province of Riau have raised their alert status for land and forest fires as a number of hotspots have been detected since the beginning of the year.
Riau's deputy governor Edy Natar Nasution said in a statement on Thursday (Feb 25) that the alert status has been raised for the regencies of Bengkalis, Siak, Pelalawan, Rokan Hilir and Merati Island as well as the city of Dumai. These areas are on the eastern coast of the province, bordering the Malacca Strait.
“The Riau government has raised the alert status to optimise prevention (of land and forest fires),” Mr Nasution said, adding that the higher alert status would allow various government agencies and institutions to work together in preventing and mitigating the fires.
“I hope that there will be a joint effort to prevent (forest fires). I hope that residents also do their part by not clearing land through slash and burn (practices). Because once the peatlands are on fire, it will be difficult and very costly to put (the fires) out,” he added.
The alert status is effective until Oct 21.
The announcement came after Indonesian President Joko Widodo told local authorities on Monday to prepare for potential forest fires later this year as hot spots have been detected on the island of Sumatra.
Jokowi, as the president is widely known, also 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.
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The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Monday that although the rainy season is still in full swing in many parts of the country, some areas on Sumatra island, including Riau have been experiencing drought this month with rain intensity sharply declining.
The BMKG also warned that the province might see land and forest fires until mid March when rain intensity is expected to pick up. Riau province, the agency predicted, will again transition from the rainy season to dry season some time in May.
The Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) said that since the beginning of the year, 248 hectares of land and forest in the province have been on fire.