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Schoolchildren make their way to school as haze from forest fires blankets Palembang. - AFP

JAKARTA: The Indonesian province of South Sumatra is experiencing a catastrophic level of haze, as forest fires – which died down in the past few weeks – roared back to life in the region.

The provincial capital of Palembang has been severely hit by haze from the hotspots, as its air pollutant index (API) reading reached an all-time high of an alarming 921, Bernama reported.


Motorists drive on the road as smoke covers the city due to the forest fire in Palembang, South Sumatra province, Indonesia in this photo taken by Antara Foto. - Antara Foto/Mushaful Imam/ via Reuters

With visibility greatly reduced, and the air quality at an extremely dangerous level, the city of 1.5 million has ordered all schools shut.

Meanwhile, flights at Palembang’s Sultan Mahmud Badarudin II Airport were delayed or cancelled on Monday due to poor visibility.


An aircraft of Garuda Indonesia takes off as smoke covers Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport due to the forest fire in Palembang, South Sumatra province, Indonesia. - Antara Foto/Mushaful Imam/via Reuters

According to the head of Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s Centre of Data, Information and Public Relations, Agus Wibowo, a total of 691 hotspots have been detected in South Sumatra, as well as the provinces of Riau and Jambi, and parts of Kalimantan province in Borneo.

Agus said the agency has deployed more than 8,000 personnel to douse the fires; while seven helicopters are conducting water bombing and cloud seeding operations.


A boat passes the Ampera Bridge as thick haze from forest fires fills the air in Palembang, Indonesia. - EPA

Last month, northwesterly winds sent smoke haze from Sumatra and Kalimantan towards Malaysia and Singapore, which were enveloped in “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” haze for weeks.

It was reported that over 300,000 hectares of forests and plantations in Indonesia have been destroyed by forest fires since January this year.

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