Downpour puts out raging fires

 Downpour puts out raging fires

16 August 2009

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Malaysia — Fires that raged through forests and peat lands were finally extinguished by an unexpected thunderstorm that lasted 30 minutes.

The storm brought a heavy downpour at 1am yesterday that doused the fiery menace that had been raging out of control for almost one month in the Kuala Baram district, some 35km north of Miri city.

It also destroyed more than 3,000 hectares of land near the Sarawak-Brunei border.

More than 200 firefighters battled the fires for more than two weeks round-the-clock, but they were hampered by the dry weather and the lack of water, as well as the large areas involved.

Their hardwork bore fruit after they got the much-needed rain yesterday. A check by The Star at the border found that all the fires had been effectively doused.

There were no more fires on the surface, nor were there any more smoke coming out from the peat soil, which meant that the underground fires had been contained.

A drive along the 35km-route from the border to the city found there was no more open-burning by illegal planters at the squatter resettlement schemes.

The fire teams that had been camping day and night at the fire zones had also packed and left.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam yesterday confirmed that in other areas in Sarawak, almost all the forest and peat fires have been doused.

“The situation throughout Sarawak has improved a lot, even in Miri and Sibu (the two worst-hit divisions),” he said.

He advised the public to continue taking precautions against fires, conserve water and save as much of rainwater as possible.

“I am worried that after next week, we may suffer another prolonged dry spell,” he said.

Dr Chan said agencies must be prepared to face another round of fires and drought and put on standby the necessary manpower and equipment.

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