Farmers and plantation owners who resort to open burning to clear their land for cultivation will face arrest and stiff penalties as the authorities clamp down on this practice during the dry season. Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hock Nam was furious on Tuesday because some farmers in Miri ignored a call he made to them last week and ignited a fire that had now gone out of control.
An area of over 20ha near the Asean Bridge in Kuala Baram had been engulfed and Dr Chan said the fire that was “deep in the jungle” was difficult to put out as it was a peat fire.
He said the scale of the fire, “burning deep underground”, had also overwhelmed the town’s Fire and Rescue Department.
“We will resort to arresting them if this will stop them,” an irate Dr Chan told reporters at the lobby of the state legislative assembly on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m upset. I said ‘Don’t burn’. Obviously, they didn’t listen.”
Farmers clearing state land to plant corn were blamed for starting the fire that had now caused a slight haze over Miri city.
Dr Chan said the smoke from the fire also affected people living nearby.
He was also upset because the Fire and Rescue Department was slow in reacting to the fire.
Anticipating that farmers would use open burning to clear their land for farming, Dr Chan had requested the department to station a small detachment of 15 men in the area.
“I hope the fire could be put out soon. There was rain over the area in the last few days and I hope it helped.”