KUALA SELANGOR: When a white, light veil of smoke drifted through the town of Batang Berjuntai, near here, on the 10th day of Chinese New Year, festive cheers turned into abject sighs.
The townsfolk instinctively knew what would be coming next.
True enough, the white veil turned glum grey and exuded the choking smell of ash as the days passed, confirming their worst fear that the massive Raja Muda Musa forest reserve was burning again.
Every time the town turns hazy, we look in the direction of the forest. It has burnt before ? several times, said Kampung Batang Berjuntai village chief See Kem Thong, adding that they suffered from two major fires in 2000 and 2002.
The current wave of flames sweeping through the forest is making it worse than before.
See, 56, said that in 2000 the forest burnt for two months and Batang Berjuntai folk suffered equally long from smoke and ash.
The effects of the fire this time is even more unbearable. The smoke is thicker, the acrid smell stronger and even the amount of ash blown into our houses and on our cars is more, he said.
When Batang Berjuntai folk were informed that the fire would take two weeks to a month to be put out completely, See said many understood the difficulties faced by the firemen.
We do not blame them. The forest is difficult to penetrate, (and) the smoke is so thick and suffocating; it must not be easy for the firemen.
Then again, we really hope they will do their best because the environment is really unhealthy, he said.
He added that the Raja Muda Musa forest reserve was well-liked by local anglers who could fish for ikan haruan in the rivers there.
Maybe some careless people had thrown lit cigarettes there, or (illegals) ventured into the forest and did some cooking, he said.
Batang Berjuntai MCA chairman Tan Keat Keong said residents were complaining of sore throat, dry cough and fever since the fire started.
It is difficult to live in a smoky environment. The nights are worse; (it’s) very uncomfortable to sleep because of the burnt smell, the heat and the smoke, he said.
He added that the situation was made even worse with the stench from the landfill, located less than 5km away from town.
It’s not only hot, but smelly as well. How can we live this way, day in day out? he asked.
Tan said the landfill should be closed down because the townsfolk had suffered enough.
Firemen trying to put out the fire in Bukit Kemunting near Kampung Sungai Long in Lubok Merbau, Kedah, Friday. – STARpic by G.C. Tan