KUALA SELANGOR: Fire is sweeping through a massive forest reserve near here and thick smoke is threatening to reach the KL International Airport, Putrajaya and many parts of Selangor and southern Perak.
Firemen have been battling the bush fire at the Raja Muda Musa forest reserve over the past week and some 80sq km of the 44,488sq km virgin forest has been damaged.
Firefighters were rushed into the area on Feb 15, when pockets of bushes surrounding the forest caught fire.
Although they managed to put out the initial fire, the hot weather and strong winds caused the blaze to start again and it spread to a bigger area.
Aggravating the situation, the virgin jungle, according to the firemen, is near impossible to penetrate as it is without any tracks and the foliage density has made it difficult for helicopters carrying fire-fighting equipment to land.
Selangor Fire and Rescue Department assistant operations director Nor Hisham Mohd said the situation has reached a critical stage.
The department has classified it as Level 1 fire, allowing it to deploy help from other districts in an effort to bring the fire under control.
When the situation reaches Level 2, it would warrant inter-state help and Level 3, would mean federal intervention through the National Disaster Committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The situation is very close to becoming Level 2, said Nor Hisham.
Some 160 fire fighters from 20 fire stations and voluntary groups have been battling the fire daily from 8am to 6pm.
It was learnt that the situation will be classified as Level 2 today and 50 more firemen will be arriving from Negri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca.
A river found among the bushes has been turned into a barrier to prevent the fire from spreading while two other rivers have been dammed up to cause floods and raise the water level.
The department had dropped water bombs into the burning bushes but this effort was disrupted when the MI 17 helicopter used for the operation was diverted to hotspots in other places.
Previous forest fires were usually the result of farmers slashing and burning the land for replanting of crops, or careless smokers throwing still lighted cigarettes into bushes.
Selangor executive councillor Datuk Chng Toh Eng, who visited the fire-fighting operations site yesterday, warned that parties found conducting open burning that they would be punished.
He added that the state environment department was closely monitoring 50 vulnerable sites including forests and waste disposal dumps.
Kuala Selangor district councillor Phua Boon Choon complained that the town, located some 20km away from the Raja Muda Musa forest, had been engulfed in acrid smoke and dust for the past one week.
In Rompin, Pahang, peat fires in dried up swamplands have caused thick white smoke to cover several areas over the past week.
Firefighters have been working daily to douse the fires, which have emitted smoke that can be seen as far as 2km away.