Jakarta – Local authorities have declared a state of emergency following a raging fire that has been burning at Sarimukti landfill in West Bandung regency, West Java, since last week.
The fire first broke out at the landfill on Aug. 19. It has so far burned about 15 hectares of mountains of trash. West Bandung Regent Hengky Kurniawan alleged the fire was triggered by dry season's high temperatures, but West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said a cigarette thrown by a trash picker onto the landfill was the cause of the fire.
Hengky declared the emergency status on Wednesday after firefighters from regencies and municipalities around West Bandung were unsuccessful in extinguishing the fire completely. "I had called the governor about the emergency status," he said as quoted by Antara.
Ridwan said he requested Hengky to declare the emergency status so authorities from the central government could help in putting out the fire. "Our existing equipment can't reach the whole burned area," the governor said.
The regent called for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to launch a waterbombing operation using aircraft to control the blaze. The aircraft would deliver water or chemicals to fight the fires.
According to a statement released on Friday, the disaster agency had prepared one helicopter for the aerial firefighting operation, which set off at around 3 p.m. on Friday. The helicopter could carry 20 tons of water per trip.
"Until [Friday] afternoon, the helicopter has poured 200 tons of water on the blaze at the landfill," BNPB spokesperson Abdul Muhari said in a statement. "We expect to continue the waterbombing for three days until we can't find any sparks that can lead to fire."
The local authorities previously dispatched at least three fire engines to the burning landfill. The fire and rescue agency of neighboring Cianjur regency sent a team and a fire engine to help extinguish the fire.
"We can only dispatch one fire engine because we need the other to stay alert for fire reports across the regency," said Hendra Wira Riharja, an official from Cianjur Fire and Rescue Agency. The regency recorded 24 fire incidents since early August, 15 of which were land fires.
Eye, ear, throat issues
Smoke has affected residents living around the landfill. Authorities quickly halted activities in and around the site and evacuated the residents following the emergency status.
Most of the people who live around the landfill are waste-pickers who make a living on the site.
Some residents complained of respiratory issues, such as coughing and breathing difficulties followed by pain in their chest, news channel Kompas TV reported. Authorities also told students to study from home as fumes blanketed schools around the landfill.
"We will add more ambulances to stand by around the landfill, so they can transport sick residents to a nearby hospital if their symptoms get worse," Hengky said.
West Bandung had also set up a health post and public kitchen for residents and firefighters assigned in the landfill.
At least 41 residents had come to the health posts as of Thursday, said the health post coordinator Nuraeni. They were all diagnosed with acute respiratory infections, although still mild cases.
"We have suggested they wear masks, although they have also started complaining of feeling pain in their eyes because of being exposed to the fumes," Nuraeni said as quoted by tribunnews.com.
Due to the fire, West Bandung closed off the landfill site, forcing nearly 200 garbage trucks carrying trash from Bandung municipality to turn around.
The 25-ha landfill is a waste hub for the surrounding cities and areas, including Bandung, one of the country's most populous cities. The Bandung Environmental Agency estimated that 80 percent of the 1,500 tons of waste generated daily by the city are transported to the Sarimukti site.
The trucks threw the garbage into temporary trash disposal sites (TPS) across the city.
The Bandung Environmental Agency advised residents to reduce the amount of waste they throw in the TPS, while also reminded them not to burn the garbage due to its hazard to the environment.
Governor Ridwan said authorities were working to prevent any disruptions on the garbage collection service. (kuk)