Dry season sparks fires engulfing Central, West Java landfills

Changing wind directions and the vast pile of flammable waste have caused the fire to spread quickly, hindering the extinguishing efforts, according to the authorities.

Radhiyya Indra

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post


A firefighter checks a fire that continues to burn a mountain of trash at Putri Cempo landfill in Surakarta, Central Java, on Sept. 19, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

September 21, 2023

JAKARTA – Several cities in Central and West Java have been struggling to put out fires engulfing their landfills, with fires triggered by the hot temperature of this year’s prolonged, El Niño-induced dry season.

The Putri Cempo landfill in Surakarta, Central Java was the latest, with the fire first breaking out on Saturday. It has so far burned 2 hectares (ha) of the mountains of trash.

Authorities suspect that the fire was triggered by the high temperatures experienced during the prolonged dry weather. The Central Java weather station previously issued a drought warning for several cities and regencies in the province, including Surakarta.

“Our analysis for now shows that the high temperature sparked the methane gas formed by the mountain of trash,” said Surakarta Environment Agency head Kristiana Hariyanti, as quoted by kompas.com.

Methane, a flammable gas, is often found in landfill sites as the natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic waste, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Firefighters are still struggling to put out the fire in the 17-ha landfill. Changing wind directions and the vast pile of flammable waste have caused the fire to spread quickly, hindering the extinguishing efforts, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

Read also: Indonesia grapples with fires as El Nino peaks

A total of 45 firefighter units from various local disaster mitigation and fire agencies around Surakarta had been deployed as of Monday to Putri Cempo.

“We also have received a request from the Surakarta municipality administration for a waterbombing operation to put out the fire in the landfill,” BNPB emergency management deputy Fajar Setyawan said on Monday in a statement.

The fire in Putri Cempo has caused a haze over several residential areas around the landfill. Around 200 residents in Mojosongo subdistrict have complained about health issues felt by vulnerable groups, including respiratory problems affecting children and elderly people, according to the Surakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Health workers from Mojosongo administration have provided treatment for the affected residents. Local authorities have also distributed face masks and advised residents living around 50 meters from the landfill to evacuate, although most decided to stay home.

Reduced waste capacity

The Putri Cempo fire is among the latest incidents hitting landfills across Java.

Fire also broke out at the Jatibarang landfill in Semarang, Central Java on Monday. Authorities are still investigating what caused the fire, but strong winds caused it to spread to another area of the landfill, Antara reported.

Firefighters had put out the fire as of Tuesday. However, they were still spraying water on sections of the landfill to prevent the waste from being reignited due to the high concentration of methane in the trash.

Acting Central Java Governor Nana Sudjana had requested BNPB’s help to deploy a waterbombing helicopter in Jatibarang to prevent further fires from breaking out. “The helicopter will waterbomb Jatibarang after it’s done its job in Surakarta,” Semarang Mayor Hevearita Gunaryanti Rahayu said on Tuesday, as quoted by Antara.

Two landfill sites in neighboring West Java had also caught fire.

A fire burned around 3 ha of Kopi Luhur landfill in Cirebon on Sept. 9. While firefighters quickly put out the fire, the haze created by the smoke forced 1,500 households residing around the landfill to evacuate for several days.

Authorities previously also struggled to put out a fire engulfing Sarimukti landfill in West Bandung regency, which has burned at least 20 hectares of the landfill since Aug. 19. Acting West Java Governor Bey Machmudin said on Tuesday that firefighters were still struggling to put out the “20 percent of fire left” in the landfill.

The acting governor also said the landfill would only be able to store 50 percent of its original waste capacity once all the fire was extinguished to prevent a similar incident from occurring, as reported by tribunnews.com. The 25-ha landfill used to be a waste hub for Bandung and its surrounding cities, storing about 80 percent of the 1,500 tonnes of waste generated daily by the city.

Blaming El Niño

Indonesia is expecting to see more fires during this year’s dry season, which is expected to be longer and drier due to the El Niño weather system, where the Pacific Ocean is warm for an extended period that tends to bring hotter air over the Indonesian archipelago.

The El Niño system is expected to peak this month, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Read also: The specter of forest fires and haze

Some regions are struggling with the rise of forest and land fires that are causing a haze to blanket large parts of the provinces, such as Palembang in South Sumatra.

The country has seen more than 90,000 ha of land burned between January and July, according to data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry. (kuk)

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