This is what a massive forest fire looks like

Posted by Richardg — 25 June 2013 at 10:31am - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace
Huge forest fires in Indonesia are blanketing Singapore and Malaysia with record-breaking pollution

The Sumatran rainforests, home to the last Sumatran tigers, orangutans and rhinos, are on fire. Our team have been on the ground documenting the disaster. These devastating images show what they found.

It is not yet clear exactly why the fires started, although the Indonesian government believes at least some of the fires were started deliberately. The Indonesian president has also offered an apology for the pollution which has swept across the Malacca Straits to Singapore and Malaysia, causing record-breaking smog levels.

Palm oil and paper companies have tried to shift the blame onto local communities, but they bear much of the responsibility. Their destructive practices created the conditions that make these fires so easy to start and hard to stop.

Peatland is normally waterlogged and therefore very hard to ignite. But companies like APRIL and Duta Palma have been draining Sumatra's peatlands to make way for plantations. When dry, peat is a perfect fuel and very hard to extinguish.

Indonesia's peatlands store billions of tonnes of carbon, so the fires are a disaster for the climate. In 1997 and 1998, similar fires swept across Sumatra and Borneo, releasing 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

It can be no coincidence that many of these fires are within the concessions of some of the biggest palm oil and paper companies where they have a licence to convert the forest into plantations.

All told, the fires are a disaster. Valuable habitat for endangered and maybe even undiscovered species is being lost, huge volumes of carbon built up over centuries is being pumped into the atmosphere, and severe pollution is affecting millions of people.

History is repeating itself, and despite what Karl Marx said, it's still tragic.

Follow Greenpeace UK