Haze returns as more fires burn

After a week’s break … Haze returns as more fires burn A CHANGE in wind direction and a flare-up of fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Java have brought the haze back, said meteorological experts in Indonesia and Singapore yesterday.

After about a week’s break, during which pollution levels fell to those of pre-haze days, the Pollutant Standards Index went back into the unhealthy range yesterday, with a 24-hour reading of 108.

Satellite pictures from the Environmental Impact and Management Agency (Bapedal) in Indonesia revealed that there were 35 locations where intense fires were continuing in Kalimantan, 23 places in Sumatra and two in Java.

“We have noticed a marked increase in the number of hot spots over the last few days,” said Mr Nabiel Makarim, Bapedal’s deputy director. He attributed the increase to stronger wind conditions, high temperatures and low humidity.

“These are factors that invite more fires and we can expect more if such conditions persist,” he said.

He said fires on Sumatra had spread to Riau, Jambi, Bengkulu, South Sumatra and Lampung over the weekend. And in Kalimantan, fires had spread to central parts of the province.

He refuted suggestions that the fires were on the increase because plantation and forestry firms were clearing land by burning.

“That is a very remote possibility, given that all the companies have been warned that they will face sanctions if they continue clearing land by fire.

Just last week, it was reported that there was a 30 per cent drop in the number of hot spots in Sumatra and a reduction of between 40 and 50 per cent in Kalimantan, compared to two weeks ago.

Mr Nabiel said the decrease was because of rain in the affected areas and wind conditions “that were not too strong”.

Some officials, however, believe that counting hot spots on satellite images does not give an accurate picture of the number of fires on the ground, because clouds and thick haze make satellite monitoring difficult.

Mr Edy Nugroho of the National Coordinating Team for Controlling Land and Forest Fires (Posko) said that it was “impossible to get accurate information on hot spots now because of poor weather conditions”.

On the situation here, Meteorological Service director Woon Shih Lai, said that winds from the east and south-east had carried the smoke over from Kalimantan in the last few days.

Last week’s clear weather, which saw several days of bright sunshine as well, was due to a temporary shift in wind direction; the wind blew from the north-east.

Explaining the relationship between the winds and the haze over Singapore, Mr Woon said that when they come from a more easterly direction, smoke from Kalimantan descends over Singapore; those from a southerly direction bring haze from Sumatra.

Permanent relief, however, can be expected only between the first and third week of November, when the north-east monsoon sets in, and increasing showers help put out the fires.

Posted in Indonesia