Following sustained rainfall drenching fires across Borneo, we have now brought this year’s Emergency Forest Fire Fund to a close. Thank you to our supporters from Indonesia and around the world for donating to this urgent campaign.
With the emergency funding, Borneo Nature Foundation was able to support four firefighting teams (Community Firefighting Teams in Kereng and Sabaru villages, CIMTROP Patrol & Firefighting Team and Sebangau National Park Firefighting Team) to safely and quickly extinguish fires threatening the Sebangau Forest during the recent prolonged dry season.
The brave firefighters tackled fires for four months! More than 125 people in the northern Sebangau area, supported by BNF, left their villages every day to battle on the frontline and protect Sebangau Forest, its wildlife and people. Their work was exhausting, dangerous and relentless. Some camped out for weeks in temporary shelters on the edge of the forest; showing their dedication to keeping Sebangau safe.
BNF launched the Emergency Forest Fire Fund in August to support these heroic people and we were overwhelmed by the assistance provided by our supporters at such a critical time. Thanks to generous donations, we were able to supply the teams with firefighting equipment, safety equipment, regular meals, transportation, daily salaries and drone technology.
Throughout the fire season, the teams carried out intensive activities, with logistical, financial and technical support from BNF, to minimise the risks of fire hotspots. Rapid response activities included daily river and forest patrols to check for fires, digging 25 deep bore wells to ensure immediate access to underground water supplies in the event of a fire and re-wetting fire-prone areas on the edge of the forest to reduce the risk of fire ignitions.
Worryingly, many fires did burn dangerously close to the edge of the Sebangau Forest. A total of 154 fire-related interventions occurred during 2019, with 24 major fires identified and tackled by the firefighting teams in the northern Sebangau area.
All the major fires occurred in the sedge (grassy areas) and due to the incredible efforts of the firefighting teams all were tackled and suppressed before it reached the forested areas, representing zero forest loss in the Natural Laboratory of Peat-swamp Forest in Sebangau (see map below); an area managed by CIMTROP at the University of Palangaka Raya. This outcome is a testament to the effectiveness of community-led conservation efforts to prevent forest fires in Borneo, especially as we faced another fire crisis in Indonesia during 2019 (read more about it here).
A serious consequence of land and forest fires is the toxic smoke that spreads across Borneo during the fire season. The situation was extremely dangerous this year as the active fire hotspots increased and the air quality reached hazardous levels, increasing the risk of respiratory health problems and even premature death. BNF distributed a total of 1,615 N95 masks to avoid toxic pollution exposure of vulnerable groups (children, community members and firefighters), and gave guidance on the appropriate use of the face masks.
Although the wet season has begun and Borneo’s fires have been extinguished this year, the firefighting does not end here. Sadly, we know more fires will burn across Borneo in the years to come. We are already preparing firefighting teams for next year and carrying out assessments of the interventions carried out in 2019 to ensure effective preparedness in future years. BNF is also implementing a variety of recovery activities to rehabilitate fire damaged areas and restore areas of the forest, which have burnt in previous areas.
Following a difficult time for the BNF team, firefighters and people of Borneo, it is clear to us that we can not do this work without support from our partners, collaborators and friends. We hope you will continue to support our fire prevention, response and recovery activities as we work to protect Borneo’s incredible rainforests and endangered wildlife.
A special thank you to the following organisations for supporting BNF’s firefighting activities in the Sebangau Forest during 2019:
Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
Nashville American Association of Zoo Keepers
Orangutan Appeal UK
Orangutan Land Trust
Orangutan Species Survival Plan
The Orangutan Project
United States Fish and Wildlife Service Great Apes Conservation Fund