Land clearing by burning ‘may be cause of fires’

Haze problem: 93 ‘hot spots’ —————————-

THE latest outbreak of forest fires in East Kalimantan could have been caused by plantation and timber firms practising land clearing by burning, a senior environment official said yesterday.

“There is a possibility that some companies are responsible for these fires,” Mr Yon Artiono Arbai of the Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedal) told The Straits Times.

“We are in the process of collecting evidence on the ground to pinpoint the exact location of the fires and who could have started them.”

He disclosed that satellite pictures from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that the fires were in areas owned by plantation and logging companies. The agency had already despatched a three-man team to East Kalimantan to look into the matter.

The latest outbreak in the province came just months after massive forest fires wreaked havoc last year in provinces in Kalimantan and Sumatra and cast a pall of haze over the region.

The fires destroyed more than 165,000 hectares of forest, although the environmental watchdog, Walhi, believed the figurewas higher.

The Indonesian government said then that large plantation and timber firms accounted for nearly 80 per cent of the forest fires in the country and announced a ban on land clearing by burning.

It released a list of companies suspected of violating the ban but it has yet to be ascertained what action was taken against them.

Mr Yon, who heads Bapedal’s environmental damage control unit, said that besides land clearing by burning, the agency was exploring the possibility that fires broke out because of the dry weather conditions in East Kalimantan.

He said they could also be natural fires from coal and peat fields which were difficult to extinguish.

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