Despite recent downpours in several parts of Sumatra, the intensity of haze in many regions on the island has remained high, pushing down air quality to alarming levels.
In Riau, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency's (BMKG) Pekanbaru station reported that light rain had fallen over nine regions in the province, including Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Pelalawan, Dumai and the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, from Thursday evening to Friday morning.
The rain, however, did almost nothing to reduce the thick pollution that has blanketed the area over recent weeks.
'The intensity [of the smoke] has slightly decreased, but we are not yet completely free from haze,' BMKG Pekanbaru station head Sugarin said on Friday.
The rain also failed to significantly improve air quality and visibility in Riau, the country's largest oil-producing region.
In Rengat, visibility slightly increased from 50 meters on Thursday to 200 meters on Friday, while in Pelalawan it improved from 100 to 500 meters. Meanwhile in Pekanbaru, visibility was recorded at 1,000 meters on Friday, improving from 500 meters a day earlier.
Sugarin said the haze over Riau came from neighboring provinces.
Data from the Terra and Aqua satellites, according to Sugarin, showed that 693 hot spots indicating land and forest fires had been seen on Friday in Sumatra, a drastic increase from 156 detected a day earlier.
Of the hot spots, 613 were detected in South Sumatra, 37 in Lampung, 32 in Jambi, nine in Bangka-Belitung, one in Riau Islands and one in Riau.
'Only one was detected in Riau, in Siak regency to be precise,' said Sugarin, adding that not a single hot spot had been detected in Riau province during the previous seven days.
Over the past few weeks, many regions in Indonesia, including Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, have been struggling to anticipate the impacts of smoke produced by both man-made and natural land and forest fires. The ongoing disaster has been exacerbated by this year's long dry season triggered by the El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon.
Meanwhile in North Sumatra, leaders of seven Protestant churches, including Protestant Batak Christian Huria (HKBP), Batak Karo Protestant Church (GBKP), Protestant Banua Niha Keriso (BNKP) and Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS), on Friday called on the government to declare the haze crisis in some provinces a national disaster so it could be handled thoroughly and the root causes addressed.
The churches, which represent some six million congregation members, also urged local administrations and the central government to provide proper health assistance for people in the worst-hit regions.
'The haze at present needs to be handled nationally in measured stages so the forest fire cycle can be thoroughly dealt with until the root of the problem,' HKBP priest Willem TP Simarmata said.
Separately, fires raging within Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park in South Sulawesi since Thursday afternoon had reportedly extended to the site of five cultural heritage caves. The fire was also close to residential areas.
The five caves are Leang Kassi, Leang Kajuara, Leang Cadidia, Leang Lompoa and Leang Tinggia.
Further, the fires have threatened the habitat of protected animals including Karongkong birds, tarsiers, cuscus and eagles.
Park official Daniwari Widiyanto said the blaze was difficult to control because it was on high ground on a karst hill.
'We are currently concentrating on extinguishing the fires close to residential areas or streets,' Daniwari said.