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JAKARTA: The number of areas where wildfires could start due to dry weather has doubled in the past week, Indonesian officials said on Monday, raising concerns about widespread bushfires even before the country reaches its peak dry season.

The number of “hotspots” recorded from July 17 to July 23 surged to 12,701 from 6,082 a week earlier, according to data from the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

BNPB spokesman Abdul Muhari said most of the hotspot increase was observed in Kalimantan, Java and Papua, the Indonesian territories of Borneo.

“Not all hotspots will turn into firespots, but we are seeing a significant increase, so we should remain vigilant,” he said during a virtual briefing.

He stressed that Indonesia has yet to reach the peak dry season expected in August to early September.

Indonesia’s Meteorological Agency said the country is expected to have its worst dry season since 2019 this year, partly due to a return of El NiƱo.

Abdul warned people not to let the fire go unchecked and to call if water levels drop significantly in peatland areas. He also said authorities are conducting air patrols in six priority states.

The Southeast Asian country experienced devastating forest fires in 2015 and 2019 that covered parts of the country and the Southeast Asian region with fog.

According to the World Bank, the 2019 fires cost eight provinces in Indonesia about US$5.2 billion in economic losses. Indonesia predicts increased wildfire risk in dry weather conditions

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