Indonesia is a tropical country that has the third largest forest area in the world. The existence of this forest is certainly a blessing. Forests are the natural ecosystems that have high biodiversity. Forests in Indonesia are very important, not only for Indonesian people, but also for all living things on earth. Forests in Indonesia are often dubbed as the lungs of the world. This is reasonable given the number of existing trees in these forests can recycle the air and generate a healthier environment for human beings. Unfortunately, recent forest fires in Indonesia have become more frequent. The causes vary, which are divided into two main groups: natural and human intervention. According to statistical data, 90% of forest fires in Indonesia are caused by human beings and the rest is the will of nature.

Forest fires are the condition in which the forest as the natural ecology experiences some changes on the shape as a result of large-scale combustion. Basically, this can give both negative and positive impacts. If we look in detail, the negative impacts of forest fires are much more dominant than the positive impacts. It is important for us to prevent the possibility of forest fires which can harm all living things, especially humans. One of the most fundamental prevention efforts is to understand the causes of forest fires in Indonesia. In the Dictionary of Forestry issued by the Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia, forest fires are caused by nature and humans. Natural context include prolonged drought and lightning strikes while the human factors, among others, are negligent forest burning for clearing, campfires that are forgotten to be turned off, cigarette butts that are thrown carelessly, and many other factors.

Fire could be a one of the earliest disasters that occur in the forest. Indirectly, forest fire is the gate of the great calamities such as ecological damage, floods, landslides and others.

As the real example of this case, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has just released data related to the fires in forests in Sumatra (the most fire-prone area in Indonesia). This data shows the locations of fires on the island of Sumatra, and according to the WRI, there are special patterns that occur in these fires. In general, only a little fire occurs in protected areas and some selective-logging locations. Most of the forest fires are sourced from the HTI (Industrial Plantation Forest) and oil palm plantations.

Associated with the rise of the fires in several regions in Indonesia, in this session we will present an exclusive interview with Agus Yudi Siswanto, Forest Manager of PT. Harfam Jaya Makmur in conducting intensive anticipation and treatment against fire. As we know, the fires are actually one of the natural phenomena that can be prevented and reduced by humans. A sustainable strategy is needed because it is closely linked to the patterns and habits of individuals and communities in a specific region or area.

The following is the excerpts of the interview:

  • What is the precaution or prevention of fires in the field? What concrete efforts are taken by the team as the prevention?

The forest fire management in HARFAM is more directed at preventive actions, as early as possible, by following these 5 steps:

a. Identification of Potential Fire

Identification of fire-prone areas is made based on the results of data processing. From these data, we can know which areas are prone to fire that will be followed up later.

b. Construction of Firebreaks and Weeding

HARFAM land fire management is done by creating firebreaks. Firebreak is a clean track (without plants altogether) which are used to inhibit the propagation of fire and also used as a starting place for firefighting operations. Firebreak is the boundary of Harfam land with the land belonging to the community (which has more fire potentials). Firebreaks are made on the surrounding land as a plant builder. For a standard size, firebreaks are made with the size of 1.5 – 2 meters from the boundary by weeding the grass/shrubs along the boundary line. The firebreaks are made at the end of the rainy season or in April to June. Firebreaks are fairly effective in the inhibition of propagation of fire.

c. Persuasive Socialization

Socialization consists of counseling, coaching and training to the community which is intended to inform the farmers and local communities about the dangers and impact of fires, as well as the role of human activities that often trigger and cause forest fires.

Socialization is done persuasively to the public so they will stop burning the land. This step is combined with educational programs regarding the damages caused by forest fires.

Here are some losses due to forest fires:

– Many nutrients are lost (what is left is only carbon)

– The ground becomes hard and dry

– Microorganism and earthworm as species supporting the soil fertility will die and this result in reduced fertility of the land

– An explosion of pests and diseases due to damage to the forest ecosystem

d. Establishment or Preparation of Special Facilities

  • Means of Communication

To facilitate the monitoring of the indication of forest fires, HARFAM provides means of communication among the crews in the form of HT (Handy Talky)

  • Monitoring Towers

Harfam builds some monitoring towers that function to monitor the hotspots and supervise the land in a wider range. The towers are integrated in every village. There is at least one monitoring tower in every forest.

  • Water Reservoirs

Water reservoirs have been built in some spots in HARFAM land. The water reservoirs have double functions: 1) for land watering and 2) for anticipating if there is indication of fire. Water reservoir is built per area or per partner, depending on the topography of the land. The size of the reservoir varies from the smallest with the capacity of 5,000 liters to the biggest with the capacity of 120,000 liters. In its application, there will be 10 water reservoirs of the smallest size in each hectare.

  • Spray Hose

Besides the water reservoirs, we are also equipped with water spray apparatus. This tool is effective in the cooling process. The fire can be extinguished by lowering the temperature until below the ignition temperature by using water or soaked soil put in the burning material.

  • Light Fire Extinguisher

For a light fire indication, HARFAM also provides light fire extinguisher like what we can find in large buildings. This tool is intended for the treatment of mild-scale fires and can also be used to extinguish fires in locations that are difficult to reach.

  • Special Fire Beaters and Soil Hoarding Technique

This particular fire beater is used to hit the flames, with technical and specialized expertise of a team given special training to operate it. The team has also been given special training to operate soil hoarding in the fire suppression technique to eliminate the oxygen content so that the fire can be quickly extinguished.

  • Conventional Buckets

These tools are used to collect water that will be used by local people to put out the fire in locations that are difficult or cannot be reached by the spray hose. The water is obtained from the buckets of the local people as well as from the water reservoirs at the field site.

e. Technical Simulation of Fire Anticipation Preparation

Technical simulations and field coordination are important in anticipation of fire management.

All crews are required to always be alert to all possibilities that occur. For this reason, if there are indications of fires in a particular location, the crew is obliged to immediately report to the crew on the other land. By doing this, the fire management can be done more quickly and effectively. All towers are integrated and standby at all times.

Each crew at all point locations alternately conducts periodic monitoring to anticipate undesirable things. Simulation of indicated hotspots will be reported immediately to emergency power/foreman at the local site.

All crews collaborate with the local community to be responsive and alert, by placing a team of minimum 60 people and also at least 100 people from local residents at each location. On the other hand, if the fires occur outside the HARFAM land, HARFAM is also obliged to help local communities to handle the fires.

In practice, this treatment is based on the spirit of social fundamental between HARFAM and the surrounding communities. Coordination between communities, HARFAM, and the local authorities is also needed in maintaining the continuity of the existing environment as shared assets.

  • When will the construction of firebreaks and weeding be implemented?

The construction of firebreaks and weeding will be implemented during the dry season, which normally begins in late March or early April until late May each year. As described previously, the initial fire prevention done through several steps, namely land clearing that is done at the beginning of the dry season, along with the weeding of the plants. The total weeding will be done when entering the beginning of the dry season. This is to minimize the occurrence of fire, where the fire breaks are made between Harfam land and the land of the community.

  • Who will be involved in the construction of firebreaks and weeding?

Related to the effective anticipation, intensive monitoring will be conducted evenly in all parts of the forest belonging to Harfam. In this anticipation program, all personnel of Harfam (land supervisor and foreman) have to collaborate with the forest communities who mostly work in Harfam as the daily labors. In conventional manner, it will take 30 days of the work for the construction of firebreak per hectare of land. If done using a mechanical device (mowers), it will only take 10-15 days of the work.

  • What obstacles may be encountered in the fire prevention?

One of the obstacles is the unpredictable weather. The rain that falls at the beginning of the dry season while the weeding is still on the process will result in the more rapid growth of weeds (grass/shrubs). This can be anticipated by repeated weeding. However, this will lead to cost overruns.

  • Was there ever any fires occurring in HARFAM land? How is HARFAM land condition based on your analysis?

 

According to the data we have obtained this far, there has never been fires in HARFAM land. However, around mid-2013, there was fire incident outside HARFAM area whose location is very far from HARFAM land.

Some lands, like Trotosari, Mas Kuning, and Pecalongan are not prone to fires because its rainfall is more than that in other areas. One of the efforts that we do, especially for areas that are relatively dry or experiencing long droughts, is having more intensive and periodical monitoring.

  • What are the effective ways to prevent fires?

This can be done by planting cover crop of legumes species (Leguminosaceae) such as Leucaena plants (Lamtoro) and some types of Ligna and mokuna. The nodules of the cover crop can catch nitrogen which serves as a ground cover to suppress weed growth and produce mycorrhizae that can help the absorption of nutrients and maintain soil fertility.

  • If there is an indication of fires, what concrete steps will be implemented by HARFAM crews inside and outside the HARFAM area? And how is the distribution of tasks and responsibilities among crews?

 

If there is an indication of fires, the crews will implement effective and efficient outage technique. It starts by connecting a hose to the water reservoirs. Then, one of the fire hoses is directed to the fire point. After that, all spray hoses are focused for the wetting process to intercept or pursue the fires and prevent them from spreading to the other side. With this wetting pattern, fire burning rate can be detained so it will be easier for the crews to extinguish residual flames that are still burning in the main fire point. At the same time, other smaller fire points are handled by other teams.

The fire fighting needs 4 water reservoirs with the capacity of 5,000 liters for each reservoir. The water needed amounts to 15,000 to 20,000 liters per hectare. The water shortage is not likely to happen because everyday the water reservoirs are simultaneously fully recharged after being used by the crews. Thus, at the time of extinguishing the fire, 3-4 water reservoirs, with the total volume of 15,000 to 20,000 liters, is enough to extinguish the fire on a one-hectare-area scale.

There are at least 60 crews standby when there is any fire indication. They are fully supported by at least 100 people from the local community. Emotionally, all the local people have had the sense of belonging and shared responsibility for maintaining the forest.

The local people, with the number of around 100 people, use buckets to extinguish the fire at certain points that are difficult to reach. This is helped with the use of light fire extinguishers. Moreover, the crews are also equipped with special fire beater supported with the soil hoarding technique mastered by the field crews which aims to eliminate the oxygen content of the burning material.

From the excerpts of the interview above, we can conclude that HARFAM operational management has professionally applied the pattern of cooperation both with the crews and the local people. With the support of stimulation done by the entire field crew and the local people, HARFAM land fire management will be handled more quickly, effectively and efficiently since there have been early preventive actions which are well planned. With a variety of strategies and the proper preparation, ranging from cleaning and wetting the land, constructing some facilities, and building the mental awareness on the surrounding community, all the problems in the field can be prevented and treated quickly, effectively and efficiently. Harfam is committed to professionally maintain the forests with a maximum effort as the forests are the assets of the future of Indonesia.

Let’s maintain the forests of Indonesia by not intentionally burning the forest. Let’s create a sustainable forest for a better generation.