MIRI – Sarawak has been placed on the alert for the possibility of transboundary haze following the detection of 130 major fires raging in Kalimantan Borneo, across the border from Sarawak, The Star reported.
The State Disaster Relief Committee is being extra vigilant because shifting cultivators in rural Sarawak have also started open-burning of farmlands and hill slopes to prepare for the planting season.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam, who is also the committee chairman, Thursday said the fires in Kalimantan are large enough to be detected from satellites.
“There are about 130 hotspots already in Kalimantan. Inside Sarawak, we have detected some 71 cases of domestic burning in the central regions of the state.
“These local fires are not big. They are scattered fires caused by open burning carried out by interior farmers and shifting cultivators,” he said when interviewed Thursday.
Dr Chan was asked to comment on the persistently hazy-looking skyline over various parts of the state over the past week or so.
He said the hazy skyline was caused by transboundary smog being blown into the state from the more than 500 major fires that are raging in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
Dr Chan, when asked if there is a need to impose a ban on domestic open-burning as a precaution, said there is no immediate need for such a ban as yet.
“For those in the state who need to burn their agriculture wastes, we have asked them to carry out only staggered burning.
“We don’t want them to conduct open-burning all at once. There is no danger of a localised haze if we can control our fires,” he stressed.
The Department of Environment in Miri, when contacted, confirmed that the Air Pollutant Index for Miri was still within healthy levels despite the dull-looking skies.
Department chief for Miri Norina Frederick said the latest department reports of air quality readings showed that there is actually no haze in the Miri region.
“The abnormal looking skyline is not caused by any localised source of haze. There are some small open burning cases detected in several rural areas but these are minor fires. They are not big enough to cause any haze.
“The visibility is not very clear, especially in the morning. However, at the ground level, there are no major air pollution threats,” she said.
A check with the Miri Fire Department also revealed no major fires as of 3pm on Thursday.