September 30, 2019 / 5:47 AM / 16 days ago

Indonesian agency says it expects rainy season to help end forest fires soon

People sit in a hut as land burns near Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan province, Indonesia, September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said it expects forest fires that have been raging through parts of Sumatra island and in Kalimantan on the Indonesian portion of Borneo island will end soon with the arrival of the rainy season.

Indonesia has spent months battling forest fires, often caused by slash-and-burn farming practices, as an El Nino weather pattern intensifies the annual dry season and fires create a choking haze across the region.

“Referring to a report compiled based on the latest satellite imagery and direct observations in the field, it can be concluded that the 2019 forest fires episode will soon be over,” BNPB spokesman Agus Wibowo said in a statement.

Indonesia’s weather agency said, based on satellite imagery, the number of hot spots had declined by 78% in the Sept. 26-28 period.

Indonesia has deployed more than 29,000 personnel to fight fires and dozens of aircraft to conduct water bombing and cloud-seeding efforts to trigger rain.

Rain has fallen in areas such as Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra, as well as in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island, the BNPB said.

The weather agency said it would maintain cloud-seeding procedures in both Sumatra and Kalimantan to optimise the potential for rain.

The BNPB said more than 320,000 hectares (790,000 acres) of forest had been burned from January to August this year, in what is seen as the worst such damage to forests since 2015.

Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Paul Tait

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