PEKANBARU, Riau: A team has been dispatched to put out peatland fires in Siak and Pelalawan which resulted in a thick cloak of smog engulfing the provincial capital of Pekanbaru on Thursday (Jul 25) and disrupting residents’ daily activities.
Satellites spotted four hot spots which indicated early signs of land and forest fires in Riau, an Indonesian province located on the central eastern coast of Sumatra, state news agency Antara reported.
The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said two of the hot spots were seen in the Pelalawan regency while the other two were in Siak.
“Today we conduct damping down operations in Siak and Langgam, Pelalawan. God willing (the fire will be) cleared,” said Mr Edwar Sanger, representative of the task force in-charge of putting out forest and land fires in Riau.
Ms Riana Handayani, 36, a Pekanbaru resident, found the acrid smell suffocating.
“When I opened the door in the morning, the smell was choking. It smelled like the smoke of a fire,” she told Antara, adding that she barred her children from leaving the house.
Another local Mr Widiarso, 38, said the haze was so thick and the road from his home to work was invisible.
The Siak Bridge 4 at the end of the Sudirman Road was completely out of sight, he added.
Mr Bagus Himawan said exercise sessions near the An-Nur Grand Mosque was halted due to the bad air quality.
“(The community exercise group) usually has several exercise sessions until 8am but just now, the instructor, using a loudspeaker, said that’s it for the day because the smoke smell stings,” he said, according to Antara.
READ: Indonesian Supreme Court declares Jokowi among those liable for 2015 forest fires resulting in regional haze: Reports
Statistics from the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management showed that Riau has the largest area of forest fires in the nation.
Fires there covered an area of 27,683ha, according to recent data. That was more than half of the national total of 42,740ha.
Riau also recorded the highest number of hot spots – 2,960 – this year. Its provincial government has declared an emergency for a period between Feb 19 and Oct 31.