KUALA LUMPUR : A smoky haze worsened in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas on Friday as some 2,000 firemen struggled to control forest fires covering more than 2,000 hectares, officials said.
Visibility was down to 2.5 kilometres at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport south of the capital, the Meteorological Service Department said.
This had not caused any disruption to flights so far, the airport’s general manager Azmi Murad told AFP.
The air quality in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas was “unhealthy”, a Department of Environment spokesman said.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi expressed concern over the fires, which erupted after a long period of hot, dry weather, and appealed to Malaysians to avoid open burning to clear land for replanting – a practice often blamed for starting forest fires.
About 2,000 firemen were fighting forest and peat fires in the central states of Pahang and Selangor, in Kelantan and Perak to the north, and in southern Johor, said Putrajaya Fire and Rescue Department spokesman Abdul Razak Muda.
Some 2,000 hectares of forest have been ablaze in Selangor, which surrounds the capital, since February 14 and it could take another two weeks to bring the fires under control, he said.
“Peat fires are especially difficult because it usually burns underground,” he added.
The Malaysia-based Global Environment Centre said the draining of peatlands for agriculture was the root cause of many of the fires.
“The draining of water, particularly during periods of drought, lowers the water tables, causing the peatlands to dry out and be more vulnerable to fire,” the group’s director, Faizal Parish, said in a statement.
The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has said it would launch cloud-seeding operations if the dry spell continued and the level of water in the main dams fell to critical levels. – AFP