Forest fires in Malaysia have been reported especially in the pine plantations in the 1970s and in Acacia mangium plantations in the 1980s. However, due to the lack of systematic reporting procedures, only recent incidences were recorded. Fires also occur sporadically in natural forests, while the secondary forest areas are also prone to fires, particularly those adjoining cultivated sites. However, such fire occurrences have been smaller in size and readily brought under control.
Experiences have shown that the chances of fire occurring and the severity of a fire is greater in monocultures or in heavily disturbed forests. Most of the fires were caused by human activities during prolonged hot and dry weather. Very often, the fire stops when it reaches the undisturbed forest.
In the equatorial countries such as Malaysia, the general characteristics of the climate in this region are largely determined by two factors, namely its latitudinal position and its position in relation to sea and land surfaces. The most important feature of equatorial climates is the small seasonal variation in incoming solar radiation, both in its duration and intensity. There are two main seasonal tradewind systems that characterize this area, the north-east monsoon which occur from December to the end of March and south-west monsoon occurring from May to September. Between the two monsoon seasons there are the inter-monsoons. Seasonal variations caused by the monsoons are mainly apparent in wind direction and rainfall. There are two main dry periods in peninsular Malaysia, around January to March and in June to July. The first period corresponds to the season in which the north-east monsoon dominates while the second period is in the middle of the south-west monsoon season. Both periods also correspond to the period of occurrence of forest fire in the forest plantation during 1985-1995. As such, forest managers can identify high fire risk periods and allocate resources for fire control and suppression during the dry period.
Tab.1. Total burned area recorded in Peninsular Malaysia(1992-1997).
Area Burned (ha)
Forest Fires in 1997
In 1997, news on forest fires were hotly discussed in Malaysia due to the occurrence of haze in the region. However most of the source of haze was due to forest and agricultural fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, Indonesia. Nevertheless, this event has also opened up for a new unprecedented beginning for the cooperation between the Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts in combating forest fires. At the height of the forest fire episode, 1200 firemen from Malaysia were sent to Indonesia to help to suppress forest fires. The Government of Malaysia has also sought expertise from countries such as Canada, France and Japan to train firemen in forest fire suppression and in upgrading forest fire fighting equipment.
In 1997, four incidences of forest fire, with a total burnt area of 425.27 ha, were reported in Peninsular Malaysia (data for Sabah and Sarawak were unavailable at this time). Of the total area, 21.5 ha were forest plantation, while 404.77 ha were natural forests. Compared to the hectares of area affected by fire since 1992, the year 1997 was the highest (Tab.1). The haze event in 1997 has resulted in the increased awareness of the society as positive steps are being undertaken by relevant authorities in Malaysia and in the region to prevent a re-occurrence of the haze of that magnitude.
From: Ahmad Ainuddin Nuruddin Address: Faculty of Forestry Universiti Putra Malaysia 43400 UPM, Serdang Selangor MALAYSIA