Peat fires are an annual occurrence during the dry season. These fires tend to arise in bordering farmland and sedge grasslands, and if left unchecked can spread into the forest.
Between June and September, CIMTROP’s Community Patrol Team is on high alert to search for and extinguish fires along the full length of the upper Sebangau River and its tributaries, and are frequently called into action. We are now using drones to improve fire detection capability, as finding and extinguishing fires in the shortest possible time after they start is critical.
Every five years or so El Nino drought conditions cause major forest fires at which time it is all hands on deck from the full patrol and research teams to fight the fires and save the forest. During 1997, and again in 2015, the drought became so extreme that huge fires raged into natural forest and destroyed large areas, despite our best efforts and fantastic donor support to get teams in the field.
We are committed to both reducing the fire risk and improving capacity to fight fires, because to be effective we need to switch resources away from emergency response and towards prevention. We are damming logging-canals and reforesting burnt areas, activities that will retain water for longer in the peatland, are introducing education and awareness activities in villages to encourage careful use of fire in the dry season, and engaging with stakeholders and policy-makers to develop long-term solutions.
Read our fire-fighting blogs:
Borneo is burning, but why?
Why are peat-swamp forests so vulnerable to fire?
Impacts of peat fires: threat to forests and wildlife
What is El Niño and why is it linked to Indonesia’s fires?
At the same time we recognise that fires are likely to be inevitable during severe droughts, so we need to improve the rapid-response ability to fight them on the ground. We identified 16 volunteer community fire-fighting teams in the Palangka Raya region that were on the frontline throughout the 2015 fires, and we supported them with equipment and donated supplies at this difficult and dangerous time. We are exploring ways to create a local network of volunteer fire-fighting teams, to make sure each is well-equipped and prepared in advance of fires, to provide seed-funding for new teams, to improve training, share experiences and act as a conduit for education and awareness within communities, and to create a permanent fire-fighting fund accessible for all fire-fighting groups across the province when it is most needed.