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Repeat of Russia's catastrophic wildfires likely: Greenpeace

Indonesia battles forest fire on Sumatra island
Jakarta (AFP) May 13, 2011 - Indonesia has sent 120 firefighters to battle blazes from peatland areas that are causing unhealthy levels of pollution in neighbouring Malaysia, an official said Friday.

Authorities in Kuala Lumpur said on Thursday air quality had reached 104 in Port Klang, on a scale which rates 101-200 as unhealthy. Elsewhere in central Selangor state, 29 areas had "moderate" readings.

"The smoke comes from fires in peatland areas in Riau province," forestry ministry fire control official Deni Haryanto told AFP.

The fires are used to clear land for palm oil plantations, he said.

"Our satellite monitoring shows that the fires in Rokan Hilir of Bengkalis district have been on and off since they started on Monday," Haryanto said.

Fires on peatland can burn for days and release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Even when extinguished on the surface they can continue burning underground and reappear days later.

Indonesia's government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

Indonesia is widely considered the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases blamed for global worming, largely due to deforestation from forest fires and logging.

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) May 13, 2011
Russia could again choke in catastrophic wildfires this summer because the authorities are reacting too slowly to the growing threat, environmental campaigners Greenpeace warned Friday.

"The fires in the forests and peat bogs have started earlier and are more dangerous than last year," said Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia's forest programme, at a news conference.

Every summer, fires spread across vast areas of Russian forests and peat bogs. Last year a heatwave led to particularly fierce fires and Muscovites choked on the fumes in August, leading to a spike in death rates.

This month, forest fires are already raging in Siberia, the Urals, and far eastern Russia, while peat bogs are smouldering in central Russia, Yaroshenko said.

"In a week's time, the situation risks escalating in a catastrophic manner... and we will have a repeat of last year's situation," he said.

The noxious smoke could veil Moscow a month earlier than last year, in July, he warned.

Peat bogs were drained in Soviet times to extract fuel for experimental power stations. Once alight, the fires are particularly hard to put out because they continue to burn underground.

Peat fires are easier to extinguish at an early stage, but the emergency situations ministry "prefers to hide rather than react to warnings," said Grigory Kuksin, head of Greenpeace Russia's firefighting programme.

"If the appropriate measures are not taken, we will face the same smoke as last year," he said.

Last year a record heatwave and drought caused wildfires in central Russia to spread out of control, killing dozens, burning down thousands of houses and threatening military and nuclear installations.

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Haze from Indonesia fires blankets parts of Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) May 12, 2011
Haze caused by fires burning in Indonesia blanketed parts of Malaysia on Thursday, sending air pollution at its largest port up to unhealthy levels. Skies over Kuala Lumpur were gloomy, and the Air Pollutant Index reached 104 in Port Klang, within the band of 101-200 considered unhealthy. Elsewhere in central Selangor state, which surrounds the capital, 29 other areas had "moderate" read ... read more

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