Prolonged dry season leads to more wildfires in national parks

Authorities record that some 2,000 hectares out of the park's total 25,000 ha of land have been scorched by wildfires since April.

Nina A. Loasana

Nina A. Loasana

The Jakarta Post


Firefighters look at a fire burning forest and savanna on Mount Bromo from an observation post in Malang, East Java, on Sept. 12, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

September 27, 2023

JAKARTA – Wildfires have engulfed several more national parks as a prolonged dry season triggered by the climate phenomenon El Nino continues to sweep the southern part of the country.

Firefighters are still scrambling to put out the large fire that has been burning through savanna fields in Baluran National Park in Situbondo, East Java, since Saturday.

The fire, which according to authorities was caused by carelessly disposed cigarette butts, has forced officials to close the national park until the end of this week.

Instances of wildfires had been reported in Baluran earlier. Authorities record that some 2,000 hectares out of the park’s total 25,000 ha of land have been scorched by wildfires since April.

Baluran National Park is home to some 440 types of plants and more than a dozen endemic animals, including crested serpent eagles, long tail macaques and green peafowls.

On Monday afternoon, a fire also broke out in the savanna of the Mount Gede Pangrango National Park (TNGGP) in Cianjur, West Java. Some 100 firefighters managed to put out the fire in four hours.

Authorities estimated that around 3 ha of the national park were burned by the blaze.

They said that the fire was likely caused by arson because a CCTV camera inside the park caught a man walking away from the scene of the blaze not long after the fire started.

Read also: Indonesia grapples with fires as El Nino peaks

Wildfires also burned at least 25 ha of land in Way Kambas National Park in East Lampung on Friday to Saturday.

The park is widely famous for its Sumatran elephant and is home to 406 bird species and 50 different species of mammals, many of them are critically endangered, such as Sumatran tigers and Sumatran rhinos.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but there is a strong possibility that the fire was caused by human activities.

Last week, 2 ha of land in the Merbabu National Park in Boyolali, Central Java, were also burned in a wildfire. The fire started last Thursday and appears to have been the result of human activities.

Some 60 firefighters were deployed to extinguish the fire and they managed to put out the blaze by Friday.

Read also: Flares from photoshoot trigger second Bromo wildfire in a week

Earlier this month, a pre-wedding photoshoot that went wrong set off a large wildfire in the savanna of popular tourist destination Mount Bromo in East Java. The wedding organizer has been named a suspect in the case.

Rising wildfires

The country had seen 631 land and forest fires as per Monday morning, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), around four times the 160 fires that were recorded in 2022.

Separate data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry show that nearly 270,000 ha of land and forest have been burned so far this year. Among the provinces with the worst wildfires are West Kalimantan, East Nusa Tenggara, South Kalimantan and East Java.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has said the country is expected this year to see its most severe dry season since 2019, partially due to the return of El Nino weather patterns, which tend to bring drier air to Indonesia and lead to a higher risk of wildfires.

Read also: Dry season sparks fires engulfing Central, West Java landfills

BNPB spokesperson Abdul Muhari warned on Monday that the number of wildfires in the country was predicted to rise even higher next year as El Nino is expected to intensify.

“What we need to understand is that this year’s more than 600 land forest fires were triggered by light to moderate El Nino. The climate pattern is expected to get stronger next year so we need to brace for more wildfires,” he said.

Strong El Nino patterns in 2019 and 2015 led to devastating forest fires that blanketed the country and parts of the Southeast Asia region with haze.

Data from the BNPB calculated that 940,000 ha of land were affected by land and forest fires in 2019 and some 2.5 million ha of land and forest were burned in 2015.

The 2019 fires caused about US$5.2 billion of economic losses in eight provinces, according to World Bank estimates.

The BNPB’s Abdul however said that the dry climate alone was not enough to cause wildfires and that 90 percent of incidents were actually caused by human activities.

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