Firefighters battle peatland fires on Indonesia's Sumatra island

PALEMBANG, Indonesia (AP) — Firefighters in Indonesia were battling several peatland fires in several locations on Sumatra island on Wednesday, officials said.

The fires started Tuesday afternoon near residential areas and along a highway in three villages. The firefighters were hampered because water sources were far away and several reservoirs were dry.

Forest and peat fires are an annual problem in Indonesia that strains relations with neighboring countries. Smoke from the fires has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand with a noxious haze.

Suharyanto, head of the National Disaster Management Agency, said the current fires in South Sumatra province would not affect neighboring countries.

“I’m sure that in general everything is under control. Even though there is smoke now, I’m sure it’s not as big as what happened in previous years,” said Suharyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. “There has been land that has been burned, but a lot of it has also been extinguished.”

There are six provinces in Indonesia where forest and peatland fires are most common, according to the disaster agency. They include South Sumatra province, where a big peatland fire burned for several days in August.

Indonesia’s dry season fires were particularly disastrous in 2015, burning 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles) of land. The World Bank estimated the fires cost Indonesia $16 billion, and a Harvard and Columbia study estimated the haze hastened 100,000 deaths in the region.