Singapore — While a lot of the news recently focused on Australia’s worst-ever bush fires, Singapore has been quietly setting a record of its own.
Last month, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) recorded 182 bush fires – the highest figure for the month of January in the past decade.
The average number for January over the last 10 years has been 26 cases, said SCDF public affairs director Lieutenant-Colonel N Subhas.
February could well set another record as firemen have already put out 106 bush fires as of Friday.
This brings the total so far this year to 288, or two-thirds the 426 cases over the whole of last year.
LTC Subhas attributed the spike in numbers to the prolonged dry weather.
‘The large numbers of vegetation fires reported so far this year due to the dry spell is unprecedented,’ he said.
‘The tinder dry nature of the vegetation makes it easily susceptible to fires.’
According to the National Environment Agency website, the North-east monsoon brought dry and occasionally windy conditions in January, and rainfall was substantially below average.
Northern areas around Seletar recorded less than 10mm in January. This is between 96 and 98 per cent below average.
Even the wetter areas in the eastern part of the island around Changi recorded between 32mm and 40mm of rain.
There appeared to be a breather on Wednesday and Thursday as the number of bush fires plunged to only three and one respectively.
Fires near urban areas
But on Friday, it went back up to 14.
‘The three cases reported on Wednesday was the lowest figure in 29 days,’ said LTC Subhas.
He added that in January, the largest bush fires occurred at Punggol Marina and Ponggol Seventeenth Avenue on 20 Jan and 26 Jan respectively.
Both fires covered an area of about three football fields each.
The record number of bush fires took marketing communications executive Edmund Sng by surprise even though he recently came across one.
Mr Sng, 27, said he was driving along Upper Serangoon Road on Monday when he saw a bush fire at a forested area next to Serangoon Secondary School.
The afternoon fire was raging and destroyed vegetation the size of about three-quarters of a football field, he said.
Said Mr Sng: ‘The fire was spreading quite fast. I was afraid it would spread to the school next door, although the students had already evacuated by then.’
Mr Sng said the trees in the affected area were burnt to the ground, and the area now looks bare and charred.
‘I know it’s been quite dry lately. But I wonder if there is anything that can be done to prevent such fires,’ he added.
LTC Subhas said the SCDF has fought bush fires with the help of the Tracked Fire-Fighting Vehicle since 2005.
‘This is an all-terrain firefighting vehicle designed to negotiate through rough undulating terrains with dense shrubs and undergrowth, and is especially useful during large-scale deep-seated forested fires,’ said LTC Subhas.
It is equipped with a 1,700l water tank, a portable pump, and a high-pressured water mist gun.
The SCDF has also been working with related agencies to come up with measures to contain bush fires.
For instance, dry hydrant systems have been installed at ‘hot spots’ such as Tampines Avenue 12 and Fort Road to provide easier and swifter access to water supply.
Other preventive measures include patrols by SCDF ground units, and grass trimming and ground wetting by various agencies.