Firemen battle bush fires

Firemen battle bush fires

18 February 2009

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Singapore — Firefighters have been virtually camped out in a vegetated area along Bukit Batok West Avenue 3, where pockets of fire have been breaking out over the last 11/2 days.

Soon after one blaze is brought under control, another springs up.

The fires have been breaking out atop a hill, which sits on land about the size of five football fields. It is a steep slope, rising on a 70-degree incline to a height of between 50m and 60m.

Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) have been taking 45 minutes to clamber up it using long retractable ladders. The incline aside, they have had to carry tools to cut through the undergrowth.

The first fire broke out at around 4.45pm on Monday in two areas there, each the size of half a basketball court.

Fifty officers brought the blaze under control in half an hour, but they ended up being on standby for the next 17 hours on the chance that embers, fanned by winds, would re-ignite.

The SCDF officers left the area at 9.35am, but barely five hours later, twice the number of firefighters were back battling flames in four fresh areas, each about the size of two basketball courts.

Between Jan 1 and Monday, a record 292 fires had erupted in bushland and forested areas. The spate of fires in Bukit Batok is believed to be one of the longest bush-fire operations in recent years.

Those living nearby have been finding ways to cope with the choking cloud of thick smoke. Many have kept their windows and doors shut to keep out the fine white ash.

Some have had breathing difficulties. Canteen helper Fauzlinda Tahir, 44, who lives on the ground floor of Block 123 in Bukit Batok Central, said: ‘My husband has even joked that it is snowing outside. His asthma started acting up on Monday evening too.’

A minor traffic jam built up along Bukit Batok West Avenue 3. Thick water hoses were lying on the streets, some as far as 30m from fire hydrants. Republic Polytechnic student Ganesh Murusamy, 20, said he had not seen bush fires this big in his 12 years living there. ‘From my flat on the fourth floor, I saw a tree on fire. The flames were huge.’

For some residents, it is business as usual. They have been jogging and walking their dogs amid the smoky haze. Sales engineer S. S. Chua, 52, was not unduly worried: ‘There is nothing for us to be scared about as there have been many firemen in the area trying to put out the fire.’

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