Area burned in 2019 forest fires in Indonesia exceeds 2018 - official

JAKARTA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The amount of land in Indonesia consumed by fires through September this year has exceeded the amount burned during all of 2018, according to data given by a government official on Monday.

Raffles Panjaitan, forest fire management acting director at the Forestry and Environment Ministry, told reporters that by the end of September 2019 a total of 857,756 hectares (2.12 million acres) had been burned.

That is more than the 529,267 hectares that burned in 2018, according to Indonesian government data. The fires have consumed the most land since 2015, when government data showed 2.6 million hectares burned.

The area burned surged from 328,724 hectares that was consumed between January and August, Panjaitan said, and added that the size of the burned area is expected to continue expanding this month, although not "as drastic" as last month's.

"Fire fighting is continued to be carried out, even today the teams are on the ground working to prevent escalation," Panjaitan said.

The country has spent months to battle forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that have caused thick haze which drifted over neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Rain has started falling in some areas on Sumatra which offered some respite, but Panjaitan does not expect the rainy season to fully arrive until around mid-November.

Forest and peat fires typically take place in Sumatra and Borneo, often linked to slash-and-burn practices to clear areas for palm cultivation.

However, Panjaitan warned that there are rising cases of fire in Java island, including in conservation areas.

On Sunday, the country's disaster mitigation agency said four hikers were evacuated from Mount Ranti in East Java due to forest fire.

"In Java, the fires are usually unintentional because people who went to hike throw away cigarette butts carelessly," Panjaitan said. (Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)