Land-clearing blazes continued to dot the landscape of Indonesia in July, 2013. Fires for clearing land have been outlawed for all but the smallest landowners, yet the traditional use of fire for agricultural management continues in this region.
Although fire is an effective tool for clearing land for planting, opening new land for agriculture, and renewing pasture, this type of “slash and burn” agriculture has significant downsides, especially when generating widespread smoke, which is hazardous to human health, animal health, and has implications for climate.
It has been reported that unprecedented levels of air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia in June led to an increase in respiratory illness, school closing and grounded aircraft. In some areas a 100% increase in asthma cases was reported, and the government of Malaysia distributed masks.
Fires burning on drained peatlands are especially smoky, and can easily get out of control. Once burning, these fires can remain smoldering underground in the peat for an extremely long time, then may blaze into an active burn far from the source, making firefighting and control extremely difficult.
The fire season in Indonesia is considered to be between June to September each year, which corresponds to the dry season. This year’s blazes have been heavily centered in Riau where the palm oil and pulpwood industries are located.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard the Aqua satellite captured this true-colored image on July 21, 2013. Indonesia lies in the southwest section, speckled with red dots. These “hotspots” indicate areas where thermal sensors on the MODIS instrument detected temperatures higher than background. Heavy plumes of smoke rise from the hotspots, and the combination indicates actively burning fires. Smoke pours across the Malacca Strait and covers Malaysia, to the northeast.