Indonesia sends in choppers to fight fires

A man looks at a fire as it burns through a peatland forest in Rumbai Pesisir, Riau province, Indonesia. Photo / AP
A man looks at a fire as it burns through a peatland forest in Rumbai Pesisir, Riau province, Indonesia. Photo / AP

Indonesia has dispatched helicopters to create artificial rain in a desperate bid to fight raging fires that have choked Singapore, as smog cloaking the city-state hit record-breaking levels that pose a threat to people's lives.

At a late-night emergency meeting, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered disaster officials to "immediately mobilise all the country's resources" to extinguish the fires on Sumatra island that have created vast palls of smoke.

Indonesia's national disaster agency said that two helicopters with cloud-seeding equipment were sent early Friday from Jakarta and Borneo island to Riau province, where hundreds of hectares of carbon-rich peatland are ablaze.

"Hopefully, we will be able to create artificial rain today," said agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

He also said water-bombing helicopters could be dispatched, although gave no timeframe.

Firefighters on the ground have struggled to put out the blazes, which are burning under the surface of the peat.

As Indonesia stepped up its firefighting efforts, Singapore's smog index hit the critical 400 level, making it potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly people, according to a government monitoring site.

The haze crisis has caused tensions to escalate dramatically between tiny Singapore and its vast neighbour, with the city-state repeatedly demanding that Jakarta step up its efforts to put out the fires.

However, Indonesian officials have become irate at the demands, and on Thursday the minister co-ordinating Jakarta's response to the crisis accused Singapore of acting "like a child".

- AAP

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