Indonesia begins efforts to tackle forest fires

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Jakarta, March 11 (IANS) Authorities in western Indonesia on Friday began efforts to fight forest fires, as the dry season begins to set in.

On Tuesday, the Sumatran province declared a state of emergency over fires spreading rapidly because of strong winds. In just two months, more than 200 hectares of forests there have been razed, Channel News Asia reported.

More than 700 personnel from the military, police and forestry ministry have been deployed to put out the fires in Riau.

For the first time, coordinated joint patrols are also being deployed, not only to detect fires but also to educate the population on fire prevention.

On Monday, the Riau provincial government declared its highest level of disaster readiness since fires were detected in at least three districts two months ago.

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The environment and forestry ministry said 10 people have so far been questioned for allegedly starting the fires.

Riau was one of the provinces severely affected by forest fires last year, made worse by the prolonged dry season caused by the El Nino weather pattern.

It was considered to be one of the worst environmental disasters in recent years, costing the Indonesian government an estimated $16 billion.

The haze from the fires choked its neighbours Singapore and Malaysia – and several parts of Thailand — causing schools, offices and airports to shut down for several days.

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