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A aerial view of a burning peat land in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, 13 September 2019. According to media reports, Indonesian authorities are preparing for more fires in Sumatra and Borneo that may impact neighbouring countries, Singapore and Malaysia. - EPA/ARIO TANOTO

MORE than 4,000 hotspots were detected in the central and western parts of Indonesia as authorities deployed thousands of personnel to fight the fires that are contributing to a haze blanketing parts of Southeast Asia.

Indonesia said it has sealed off dozens of plantations, including concessions owned by foreign companies. In what has become a ritual once the haze starts, the finger-pointing has begun between Indonesia and its regional neighbours.

Singapore and Malaysia have been plagued for decades by periodic haze caused by clouds of ash from fires in neighbouring Indonesia, with pollution levels at hazardous levels causing deaths and respiratory illnesses. Stinging smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations has prompted school closures and disrupted travel in the region, and even forced Indonesians to flee their homes.

Here’s the latest:

- Hotspots in Indonesia

Central Kalimantan is the worst-affected region, according to Indonesia’s disaster management agency. There were about 740 hotspots on the island of Sumatra including in Riau and Jambi, to the south of Singapore and Malaysia.

- Helicopters have been deployed to fight the fires.

- Indonesia steps up crackdown

Indonesia has sealed off plantation lands belonging to three Malaysian companies and a Singapore one, Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said. The Indonesian units of Malaysian firms are Sime Indo Agro, Rafi Kamajaya and Sukses Karya Sawit, while PT Hutan Ketapang Industri is linked to the Singapore company.

- Malaysia’s Ministry of Primary Industries expressed its displeasure against Indonesia for the sealing off of lands belonging to subsidiaries of the Malaysian oil palm plantation companies. Minister Teresa Kok defended the companies in a statement on Friday, adding that an investigation is underway.

- Face masks for Thai tourists

Local authorities in the Thai district of Hat Yai, under the Songkhla province, are handing out face masks to residents and tourists, according to the Bangkok Post on Friday. The environmental office in Songkhla province reported a haze reading of PM2.5 at 54 microgrammes per cubic meter of air, exceeding the safe threshold set at 50 in Thailand.

- Malaysia and Indonesia spar

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, offering help to put out the forest fires.

- Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said the country has offered technical firefighting assistance to Indonesia and is prepared to deploy them if requested. – BLOOMBERG

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