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A firefighter extinguishes a fire in a forest in Rambutan village, Ogan Ilir, Sumatra Island, on September 11, 2019. ABDUL QODIR / AFP

Thousands of Indonesian firefighters struggle to cope with multiple fire starts. This triggered a diplomatic crisis with neighboring Malaysia, as already in 2015. But this time, the dry season was so long and intense that forest fires are out of control. Smoke and ashes are spreading.

On the island of Sumatra, the provincial capital Pekanbaru is wrapped in a thick cloud of toxic smoke, plunging the city into darkness even at noon. The inhabitants are trying to protect themselves by wearing simple cloth masks. Most schools are closed.

Large areas of forest are in flames as well in Sumatra in Indonesia as in Borneo this island shared with Malaysia and Brunei . Some 9000 firefighters try to extinguish fires night and day, but they lack water and their fight often remains vain.

Illegal release

Fire starts doubled in just 24 hours. Often, they are unlawfully triggered to clear previously cleared forests and then turn them into farmland.

Collateral victim of these fires, Malaysia officially protested and offered help to Indonesia to fight fires. But so far, Jakarta is trying to minimize its responsibility in this environmental disaster.