Asia's second-largest pulp and paper maker, APRIL reported 55 fires near its plantations in the first five weeks of the year. With dry weather forecast throughout heavily forested Sumatra, the number is expected to increase rapidly.
"All it takes is five days of no rain for the land to dry out and the temptation rises in the community to set fires," said M.P. Periasamy, APRIL's head of Technical Services in Riau Province, Sumatra. "And the forecast is for dry weather through mid-March."
Illicit burning is an annual phenomenon in Sumatra. It's the cheapest, most efficient way for farmers to clear land. During the typical Indonesian dry season - June through October - hundreds of illegal blazes are ignited. That produces dense haze which blankets Sumatra before spreading to nearby Malaysia and Singapore.
With little rain since late January in Sumatra the burning has started early this year. APRIL reports more than 320 hectares of forest consumed near its plantations. That figure is magnified by fires burning throughout the island. In addition to the air quality threat, the fires threaten renewable acacia plantations which supply wood for APRIL's mill in Riau.
APRIL said 15 hectares of its plantations have been damaged by fires that spread from neighboring forests. The company said it's strictly enforcing a decades-old no-burn
policy to minimize further loss. It added that it has fully implemented fire detection and prevention measures earlier than in previous years. They include:
Daily aerial and ground surveillance;
Satellite tracking; and
Intensified firefighter training for APRIL staff and neighboring villagers.
APRIL said it has already deployed more than 300 firefighters to combat blazes in 2014. The company added that its crews are currently fighting 11 fires that threaten its plantations. It reports all fire incidents to local police.
The current fire danger is considered extreme in nearly 70% of APRIL's plantation estates, the company said. That's the most severe threat level in its four-tier rating system. APRIL has placed firefighting management staff on 24-hour standby with equipment, including airborne water bombers, at the ready.
APRIL said it's reviewing satellite images of Sumatra every afternoon to detect fire threats. It's dispatching crews to each location identified from space as a hotspot. Those are forest areas where temperatures are elevated. Only a small number of hotspots are actual fires.
About APRIL: Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) is a leading producer of fibre, pulp and paper with manufacturing operations in Kerinci, Riau Province, Indonesia. APRIL has been a pioneer in implementing sustainability practices in the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia.