Russian jets joining effort to douse Indonesian forest fires

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2015 6:41 AM
Russian jets joining effort to douse Indonesian forest fires

PALEMBANG, Indonesia (AP) — Two Russian jets that can drop 12.5 tons of water arrived on Sumatra island Wednesday to help douse Indonesia's massive forest fires that have spread smoky haze over parts of Southeast Asia.

The amphibious planes, leased by Indonesia's government and sent by Russia's Emergencies Ministry, can suck 13,250 liters (3,500 gallons) of water from a river or sea in seconds. Similar planes helped extinguish fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands in 2007.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the two Beriev Be-200 planes landed in Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province. The Russian jets will be deployed to fight the fires soon.

Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Japan are among the other countries that have sent aircraft, firefighters or chemicals and experts to help fight the forest and brush fires that have raged for months.

Indonesia has been unable to put out the rugged fires, especially in peat-rich provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan and on the Indonesian part of Borneo island where fires have been worse this year due to intentional burning and the absence of rain because of the El Nino effect.

The fires have spread a thick, smoky haze over Indonesia as well as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It has forced cancellations of flights and closing of schools, and caused numerous cases of acute respiratory infections. Media have reported at least 7 deaths.

Nugroho said satellite images showed more than 3,200 hotspots on Wednesday, more than two-thirds on Sumatra and Borneo but also appearing on other major islands of Java, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said some 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of forests and plantation land have been razed by fires in Sumatra and Borneo.

"The government has tried hard to extinguish the wildfires across the country, but it has gotten out of control," Nurbaya said. She added that the ministry has revoked licenses of three plantation companies and suspended 11 others.

Indonesia has deployed nearly 26,000 soldiers, police and fire personnel in six provinces to fight the fires, with 25 aircraft conducting water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations.

National Police chief of detective Lt. Gen. Anang Iskandar said two officials of Malaysian companies have been named suspects. Police in several provinces are handling 256 cases with 243 suspects, including 17 company officials, and 83 of the suspects have been arrested.