Culprit in peat fires identified

Culprit in peat fires identified

4 August 2008

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Malaysia — Fires along a 3km stretch of peat swamp along the Elite Highway between Shah Alam and the KL International Airport were deliberately set to clear the land for agriculture, said the Department of Environment (DOE).

Selangor director Che Asmah Ibrahim said the enforcement team that had gone to the area after receiving the first complaint on July 9 had recorded three incidents of open burning, the last on Aug 1.

“We investigated based on new complaints and it is clear that the fires were started to clear land for planting. On all three occasions, the fire was started in three different locations.

“The development is a joint venture between Pertubuhan Peladang Negeri Selangor and Salak Park Sdn Bhd. We contacted the developer but he refused to come and talk to us.

Scorched earth: Firemen dousing one of the fires at the peat swamp along the Elite Highway on Sunday.

Can you see it?: The haze situation in Putrajaya at noon Sunday.

“We’ve asked him to come to our office tomorrow (today) so that we can record his statement,” said Che Asmah who inspected the site yesterday as 120 firemen took up position to douse the sporadic fires.

Open burning is an offence under Section 29A of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 and carries a maximum fine of RM500,000 or a five-year jail term, or both.

Che Asmah disclosed that DOE had previously rejected the Environment Impact Assessment report of the developer for a mixed development project on the ecologically sensitive area.

Subsequently, the developer changed the plan to agriculture, which does not require an EIA study for development areas below 500ha.

It is learnt that the total land size owned by the joint venture project is 658ha and it is sandwiched between the North Kuala Langat Forest Reserve and the Paya Indah Wetlands Sanctuary. The developer plans to grow honeydew and star fruits.

Asst Comm Abdul Razak Muda of the state Fire and Rescue Department said operations would focus on six main areas where the fire has spread, adding that visibility in the vicinity had been reduced to 0.5km.

Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish said there was a high risk of more fires as most of the vegetation was cleared and the water level had dropped below the recommended 40cm for peat swamp.

Google Earth images obtained by Faizal showed that the area was logged last year and the peat soil was already degraded. The latest development will only lead to peat fires that could spread to the North Kuala Langat Forest Reserve.

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