Malaysia — As Malaysian firefighters struggled Sunday to douse forest blazes that have sent smoke blowing over major towns on Borneo island, the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation, Ministry of Development, said satellite imagery information received from Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) shows more than 900 hotspots in Sarawak and West Kalimantan.
Air quality in the four districts in Brunei was at moderate level yesterday.
The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) readings recorded from all the air quality monitoring stations (PM1O) in the four districts ranged from PS1 58 to 70.
However, the air quality has plunged to its worst level this year in parts of eastern Sarawak state on Borneo island, where more than 2,471 acres (1,000 hectares) of wildfires – roughly the size of 1,500 football fields – are raging in several forests, especially near Sarawak’s border with Brunei, AP reported.
The Air Pollutant Index (API) recorded unhealthy levels of between 122 and 197 in four areas on Sunday morning, three in Sarawak and one in southern Johor state, the Environment Department said on its website.
Malaysia’s Department of Environment readings showed air quality was “unhealthy” in three key areas of Sarawak early Sunday. The district of Sibu recorded a reading that was almost “very unhealthy”.
The fires are believed to be caused by plantation operators who set brush fires to clear land during the dry season. State authorities have said they are considering tighter restrictions to ban setting fires on peat soil areas, which are harder to extinguish.
Firefighters were working around the clock in Miri, Christian Olas, the district’s fire chief, told The Star newspaper.
“We have doused many fires over the past few days but they keep spreading due to the strong wind,” he was quoted as saying. “New fires keep on appearing.”
Meanwhile, travel along the Pan-Borneo Highway has become dangerous as visibility has been reduced to less than 100m on some stretches as a result of haze. A thick haze covering some stretches of the highway along a 50km route between Sarawak and Brunei was reported, according to The Star.
Traffic police have alerted motorists to be careful by posting notices near the Sarawak-Brunei Immigration and Customs checkpoints. A Miri Lopeng Fire Station officer said visibility near the Niah district, some 120km south of Miri city, was also bad.
Visibility was worse at night and early morning, he said, adding that most of the fires were far from the highway and there was limited access to the hotspots.
Meanwhile, Borneo Bulletin’s Aziz Idris reports: An aerial surveillance of the haze and forest fire situation was attended by the Minister of Home Affairs Pehin Orang Kaya Johan Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Adanan bin Begawan Pehin S iraj a Khatib Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Mohd Yussof and the Minister of Development Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Abdullah bin Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar along with officials from the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC), the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, the Environment, Parks and Recreation Department (JASTRE) and the Fire and Rescue Department.
According to a statement from NDMC, the overall situation of open burning was found minimal in the country during an aerial survey carried out on Saturday by a high level team led by two ministers. The entourage surveyed forest fire affected areas and monitored the haze situation all over the country before landing in Belait.
They began their visit at the “Loji Pembentungan Air” to view the overall Pollutant Standard Index (PSI), followed by the viewing of the “Forward Operation Base” and briefing led by Superintendent Abd Azis Mohd.
The entourage also visited the areas that were covered by the forest fires in Kuala Balai, industrial areas in Anduki, Lumut and Badas. Through air surveillance, it was found that open burning activities in the country remained minimal and the forest fires had been extinguished.
The Minister of Home Affairs also visited the Sungai Liang Fire Station, where the minister took a look at the preparedness of the fire and rescue department’s equipment and machinery in facing possibility of a fire outbreak during this dry season.
In addition, relevant agencies will continue to monitor the haze situation that arises from forest fires in neighbouring countries. The public is urged to obey the open burning order by not carrying out open burning activities. Under the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRE) Section 277 A, the offence will be punishable with a fine not exceeding $100,000.