Malaysia — Wildfires are raging in more than 1,000ha of forests and peat land near the Sarawak-Brunei border, resulting in a heavy concentration of thick smoke and ash which is choking the people living in the Kuala Baram area.
According to the Miri Fire and Rescue Department and local politicians, some 3,000ha have been burnt.
Miri Division Fire Chief Christian Olas said the fires were most intense near the bridge linking Sarawak to Brunei.
More than 1,000ha in Kuala Baram district are still on fire.
We have doused many fires over the past few days but they keep spreading due to the strong wind. New fires keep on appearing.
Our firefighters are already on 24-hour duty. We only have 37 firefighters on the ground because we are short of manpower, said Olas.
Checks by The Star Saturday showed that the area was choked with thick smoke and burnt smell.
Visibility was still at dangerously-low levels, with some stretches of the Pan-Borneo Highway blanketed with smoke.
At some stretches, visibility was between 100m to 200m. The thick haze has also blotted out the sun.
State authorities have called for more measures to contain the fires.
Assistant state Infrastructure Development and Communication minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin said the fires in his Senadin constituency, which is located in the Kuala Baram district, had burned more than 3,000ha of land.
The fire department will build a watchtower to detect the fires swiftly and to enable better and more effective enforcement against open-burning activities, he said.
The Air Pollution Index (API) in four locations in Sarawak – Bintulu, Miri, Samarahan and Sibu – were in unhealthy levels, with Sibu having a high API reading.
Kapit, Limbang and Sarikei had moderate air quality readings. There were no readings for Kuching.
The other three locations with unhealthy air quality were Bukit Rambai (in Malacca) and Muar.