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The Indonesian fires in pictures
By Melissa Breyer,
Treehugger, 30 October 2015.

Here's a glimpse of what life is like during Southeast Asia's worst fires in more than a decade.

Life amid the Indonesian fires

Every year, Indonesia catches on fire. Intentionally set as a cheap way to clear land for palm oil plantations, pulp and paper mill operations, and other agriculture, the fires create smoke and haze that are debilitating for many. But this year the fires grew wildly out of control courtesy of prolonged drought and the effects of El NiƱo. Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry announced that more than 4.2 million acres of forest and open land had been destroyed by the fires so far. It's devastating. The economic impact is staggering, lives have been lost, hundreds of thousands of people have become sick from the smoke, and wildlife is in great peril. This is a disaster of epic proportions.

Researchers from the scientific non-profit, Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), travelled to Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan to try and get an assessment of the situation. The following images were taken during their research (most of these are from mid-October) and show not only the bleak reality, but that life must go one even when the world is on fire.

1. Apocalypse now


Parts of Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan have been devastated by the fires. The forests here are home to the world’s largest orangutan population.

2. Unbearable


Sebangau National Park plays home to between 7,000 and 10,000 orangutans, which are tragically suffering from the effects of the fire and haze. Conservation groups are working desperately to move these endangered animals to safer areas, and orangutans who have been injured are being moved to rehabilitation centres. Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants and other wildlife are all on the run as well. Heartbreak comes in the form of flames.

3. Otherworldly


The usually lush and picturesque landscape looks like "Mars gone wrong" from a B-movie.

4. School days haze


As far back as September, there had been 10,133 cases of respiratory infection, 311 of pneumonia, 415 of asthma, 689 of eye pain and 1,085 of skin pain, according to Health Ministry data, due to the smoke and haze of the fires.

5. Bleak play


Despite the smoke and haze, children are allowed to play outdoors; masks required. Yet as the fires worsen, there is increasing talk of evacuating children in warships.

6. Even statues are masked


Activists in Palangka Raya put masks on city statues as a symbol of protest against peatland fires.

7. Never-ending battle


Army officers and fire-fighters work to put out smouldering fires in peatland areas. The problem with these fires is that there are large networks of peat - a soil-like mixture of partly decayed plant material - under the surface. The peat offers excellent fuel that is hard to extinguish, resulting in a smouldering underground mess that releases more smoke and pollutants than most fires.

8. Messy mist


The sky turns yellow from the smoke of burning peat.

9. Smoke signs


Every facet of daily life is disrupted, even driving becomes a challenge as visibility becomes increasingly limited.

10. Travel warning


The family commute on motorcycle becomes even more daunting with limited visibility and smoke inhalation to contend with.

11. Life goes on...


Even though harvests are being disrupted by smoke, farmers have little choice but to continue working and hope that there will be some fruits to show for their labour.

Related: We Breathe What We Buy: How palm oil is driving air pollution in Asia

Top image: Fire-fighters fight the fire at night outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR.

[Source: Treehugger. Edited.]