RAGING ON

Indonesia’s fires have now razed more land than in the entire US state of New Jersey

The fires in Indonesia that are creating hellish amounts of toxic smoke are also doing their job: clearing land. This year they’ve removed about 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) of forests and peatland, according to the country’s National Space and Aviation Agency (link in Indonesian).

For context, that’s greater than the land area of the US state of New Jersey, or of the nations of Slovenia, Kuwait, or El Salvador. And it’s about 30 times bigger than Indonesia’s haze-plagued neighbor Singapore.

A general view shows land recently burned and newly-planted with palm trees and now under police investigation west of Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan
Burned land in Central Kalimantan with newly planted oil palms, nicknamed “green gold.” (Reuters/Darren Whiteside)

Set to inexpensively clear land for the palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries, the fires have generated smoke causing respiratory ailments in half a million people in Indonesia. At least 19 have died (most from breathing in smoke, some from fire-fighting accidents). The fires have also cast a toxic haze over a large part of Southeast Asia, including Singapore and parts of Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. By some calculations the smoke has catapulted Indonesia to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, just ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held next month in Paris.

The agency used satellite imagery and data collected from June 21 to Oct. 20 to make its calculations. It warned, however, that the final figure was likely to be higher. The fires are still raging, and there’s little hope of rain—delayed by El Niño—extinguishing the flames anytime soon. (Last week the Indonesian Red Cross extended its response period to the haze crisis until January.) And smoke is still shrouding the land, the agency added, which makes assessing the situation difficult for many areas.

Here’s the latest look at the fires that were burning on Monday afternoon (Nov. 2) in Indonesia, according to Global Forest Watch, which is monitoring the situation in real time:

INDONESIA Fires Nov. 2 2015

According to Indonesia’s space and aviation agency, about 6,180 square kilometers (2,390 square miles) of the land burned is peatland—highly toxic when drained and burned—and 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles) is not. The fires have primarily hit Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), and the Indonesian side of New Guinea, which is considered the next frontier for the nation’s palm oil industry.

An aerial view shows a palm oil plantation in Indonesia's Jambi province
A palm oil plantation on the island of Sumatra. (Reuters/Beawiharta)
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