South East Asia — As Bushfires continue to engulf several areas in the Belait district, signs of haze making its way to the Sultanate looms on the horizon according to reports on forest fires in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.
The number of forest fires raging in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island has increased, Reuters news agency quoted officials as saying Friday, with winds blowing smoke over parts of Malaysia and impeding visibility.
In Malaysia, police and airline personnel have been scouring for fires at swamp forests and garbage dumps on Thursday, and alerting the authorities on offenders who might be contributing to air pollution during this mid-year dry season.
The haze, according to officials, is generally caused by farmers in Indonesia who set off bushfires to clear land for planting, causing smoke to drift across neighbouring countries.
However, the situation has deteriorated in the last decade, Reuters quoted Indonesian officials as saying, with timber and plantation firms often being blamed for deliberately starting fires to clear land.
Meanwhile, in Brunei heavy smoke engulfed a large area of forest in the Belait district, with Fire and Rescue officials attributing the incident to prolonged dry spells.
Smoke continued to shroud Lumut and Seria bypass yesterday morning as a result of the wind direction, Operation “B” Fire and Rescue Officer, Mohd Taha Bakar, told the Bulletin.
“We were able to get the blaze under control, but we couldn’t contain the area completely as it is mainly peat swamp forest which normally takes several weeks to clear out,” he said.
The fire and smoke that have been raging for the past three weeks have reached the forests of the Badas industrial area, which includes a water treatment plant situated there.
“We are continuing our efforts to put out the blaze with our operations that are conducted daily from morning till night,” Mohd Taha said.
He told reporters that the fire fighters are boosting their efforts by conducting 24-hour patrols at areas they have been identified as being prone to fires.
According an AP report yesterday, Malaysian officials have seen a dip in air quality and visibility in certain parts of the country, with more than half of the 50 monitoring stations reporting a fall in air quality from “good” to “moderate”.
The worst haze hit in 1997, when drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon led to major Indonesian fires. The smoke spread to Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and parts of Southern Thailand, costing more than $9 billion in damage to tourism, transport and farming industries.
In separate reports, satellite imagery showed more than 1,100 “hot spots” – indicating large fires – recently on Sumatra island and in the Kalimantan state, and a further 125 “hot spots” in Malaysia that could aggravate pollution.
“There is a potential for the number of fire spots to rise and haze conditions to worsen if there is no rain,” Reuters quoted Indonesia’s Head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics agency in Pekanbant, Blucer Dolok Saribu, as saying.
Environmentalists and weather experts also fear that the current high temperatures had increased the risk of fires spreading to peat land areas, which spans across the island of Borneo, threatening countries such as Brunei and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.