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Fires Leave Indonesians Homeless

March 28, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Wildfires raging in the jungles of drought-stricken eastern Borneo island have burned dozens of homes, leaving about 330 people homeless, Indonesia’s official Antara news agency said Saturday.

No serious injuries were reported.

However, firefighters have warned farmers and residents in forest areas near the city of Samarinda, about 750 miles northeast of the capital city of Jakarta, to take precautions and not start fires to clear land.

The fires have burned forest and farmland, spreading a thick haze. At least 42 homes have been destroyed in recent weeks, Antara reported.

The government estimates that about 315,000 acres have been blackened. The fires have endangered rare animals in the region’s Kutai National Park, including orangutans, crocodiles, bears, buffaloes and birds.

Last year, fires across the Indonesian archipelago produced smoke that threatened the health of millions over much of Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, a fire that has razed some of the few remaining virgin forests in the Philippines is spreading, forcing mountain villagers to flee, officials said Saturday.

The fire was ravaging about 12,350 acres of forest near the southern tip of Palawan island where only about 3,700 acres were affected a few days earlier, said Palawan provincial Gov. Salvador Socrates.

Palawan is about 250 miles long and located southwest of Manila. It is home to some of the most endangered species of animals such as the mouse deer, the bear cat and the tarsier, the world’s smallest primate.

Social worker Norma Medina said about 270 mountain tribesmen have abandoned their villages to escape the fire.

In both Indonesia and the Philippines, many of the fires are believed to have been set by poor slash-and-burn farmers who had anticipated the coming of the rainy season and were preparing upland areas for farming but lost control of the flames.

The dry underbrush and forest litter caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have worsened the blazes.

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