Sat, 29 Oct 1994

Military troops fielded to fight forest fires

JAKARTA (JP): Some 300 servicemen were deployed yesterday to fight the spreading fires in the scenic Tabanan regency of Bali.

Head of the local forestry office Kristanto said the fires, which started Sunday afternoon, have razed 240 of the 388 hectares of the Bukit (Hill) Pohen protected forests in the Baturiti sub-district.

Armed with saws, axes and scythes, the Armed Forces members are having trouble extinguishing the blaze because of strong winds and difficult terrain.

"They have to work very hard," Kristanto, who is coordinating the deployment together with the local military command, told the Antara news agency in Denpasar yesterday.

He also said that some 2,000 local people who volunteered to help contain the spreading fires had been told to stay back. "They are not experienced in facing the difficult conditions," Kristanto said.

The fire, which is not far from the famous tourist site Lake Beratan, is the second to have razed the area since 1916.

Kristanto said it is possible the thousands of trees in the protected forest will survive and thrive once the rains begin.

"Our office will immediately carry out a reforestation program," he promised. "This area will become green again in about two or three years."

No official estimate has been issued on the losses incurred.

The news agency also reported that Baturiti police are questioning two local people, one of whom is suspected of throwing a cigarette butt in a dry spot near the forest.

Bali Governor Ida Bagus Oka said the authorities would wait until today to see whether the fires could be contained. "If not, we will ask for more help from ABRI and the local rescue agency," he said.

Other fire

Antara said that while the authorities and the servicemen were still continuing their efforts to bring the forest fires in Bukit Pohen under control, another fire took place in the Gunung Agung forest.

At least three sub-districts, the Kubu, Abang and Rendang, are reported to be on fire.

Kristanto, however, said only a small area is on fire. "We'll keep on monitoring the forested areas in Gunung Agung," he said.

Over the last several months Indonesia has literally had one disaster after another with forest fires.

The widespread forest fires in Kalimantan have shrouded many parts of the island in smoke and virtually paralyzed air transportation in major cities in the four Kalimantan centers.

Neighboring Malaysia has complained about smoke blown over from the forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. In Singapore, the smoke has posed health problems. (swe)