Wildfires have appeared in numerous regions of Riau, which has been hit by hot weather in the past week, forcing the local authorities to issue warnings of a possible wildfire disaster in the province.
In the regency of Meranti Islands, at least 35 hectares (ha) of fields have been ravaged by fires since Friday.
Rangsang Police chief First Insp. Budi Pramana said the fires had started in the villages of Tanjung Medang and Citra Damai. “About 30 ha of fields have been burned down [in Tanjung Medang],” Budi said Sunday.
He said the fires had burned bushes and oil palm plantations belonging to locals, while there was no estimate yet on the financial losses and police were still investigating the cause of the fires. “But the weather is indeed really hot, which is making the fields extremely dry and vulnerable to fire incidents,” he said.
He said some 90 members of a joint team formed by the police, the Meranti Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), the local unit of the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), firefighters of PT Sumatra Riang Lestari and local residents had been deployed to extinguish the fires.
Separately, the Rokan Hilir Police have deployed 30 personnel to extinguish fires in the district of Rimba Melintang. Rokan Hilir Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Sigit Adiwuryanto said it was difficult to put out the fires, because the affected location was difficult to access by four-wheeled vehicles.
Although a helicopter belonging to PT Ruas Utama Jaya had also been deployed to help, the fire has yet to be extinguished.
“The firefighters were struggling to find water sources. Strong wind and thick haze further challenged the firefighting efforts,” Sigit said, adding that fire had also hit Ujung Tanjung.
Hot weather has also caused fields and bushes in the districts of Mandau and Bathin Solapan, Bengkalis regency, to catch fire.
The commander of the Mandau firefighter team, Jefrianto, said the fires had occurred in different areas almost simultaneously.
The first fire was seen in the subdistrict of Pematang Pudu, the second in Talang Mandi and the last in Bathin Sobanga subdistrict. “Each fire burned about a hectare of land,” he said.
Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru spokesperson Slamet Riyadi called on all stakeholders to remain on alert, because there was a high risk of hot spots returning in the next few days.
“The air temperature is relatively high, reaching 35 degrees Celsius,” he said.
In response to the situation, Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman called on residents and companies operating in the province to be more vigilant amid possible forest and land fires.