Despite emergency, forest fires continue in Southeast Asia
September 26, 1997
Web posted at: 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 GMT)
PEKANBARU, Indonesia (CNN) -- Far away in the cities, children are told to stay indoors because of the haze. But on the outskirts of this provincial capital, workmen are setting yet more fires to clear rain forest.
A L S O :
Map of the affected area
The fires have sent a deadly haze over large tracts of Southeast Asia, and decimated between 1.2 million and 1.5 million acres in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Indonesia declared a state of national emergency on Thursday, after two deaths were blamed on the haze.
About 10,000 firefighters from the two nations were combating the fires. Both the German and French governments have offered material assistance, and Canadian firefighting experts brought state-of-the-art firefighting equipment to their Malaysian counterparts.
The smog has blanketed parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia, and its haze has extended as far north as the Philippines and Thailand.
But even as firefighters rush to the region, some local farmers were still setting fires to clear land for cultivating. Experts say the slash-and-burn farming technique is to blame for the large-scale fires.
"We see fires all the time," said Simamora, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
It's all business for Simamora. She is harvesting trees off land that has already been burned. "The people want to plant palm oil, so we asked them for logs," she said.
Simamora and her brothers will use the lumber to build a scaffolding. "It's better than letting them burn," she said.
Haze at fault in air crash?
Investigators were looking into the possibility that poor visibility may have caused an air crash in Indonesia on Friday in which at least 200 people were killed.
And a Hong Kong airline suspended flights to one of the airports in the region on Friday, citing the hazy conditions, and the government urged people that planned to visit the area to take precautions against the haze.
Britain and the United States have already cautioned against travel to the area.
Drought contributes to fires
Indonesia is suffering its worst drought in more than a half century. Scientists say the drought was caused by the El Nino weather pattern, which spawned unusual weather patterns around the Pacific. So as fires are started by people clearing land, the drought conditions cause them to soon burn out of control.
Adding to the thick clouds of haze is smoke from the smoldering rain forest floor, scientists say. A thick, six-meter-deep layer of peat -- formed from decomposed plants and trees -- carpets the rain forest. "If the peat is on fire, it is very difficult to extinguish because it is fire inside the ground," said Indonesian Agriculture Minister Syarifuddin Baharsyah.
CNN Reporter Maria Ressa contributed to this report.