Malaysia — People staying near the Bukit Lima Forest Park here are unlikely to forget July 26 in a hurry when a forest fire came close to their homes.
The park, which is popular among joggers, has been closed temporarily as the fire had damaged the first 300m of the 6km trail.
Sarawak Local Government and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh said the fire caused the towns air pollutant index (API) to rise last Saturday.
The API rose from 178 at 10am on Sunday to 270 by 10pm on Monday. It started to go down from 176 at 10am to 145 at 5pm yesterday.
An API reading of 0 to 50 is considered healthy, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy) and 301 and above (hazardous).
A resident near the park, who wished to be identified only as Lau, 68, said her family was having dinner at about 6pm on Saturday when the overpowering smell of smoke came from the back of their house.
We rushed out and were petrified to see a huge fire burning through the bushes. My son called the Fire and Rescue Department but they did not show up and this caused much anxiety, she said.
She said her son then got the help of a neighbour, a retired fireman, who drove to town to get the firefighters to act.
Lau said by the time the firemen came, it was already dark and the firemen looked exhausted.
I can understand why as I was told that they had been attending to a number of bush fires.
So, we helped them douse the blaze. Thats how we managed to prevent the fire from spreading to our homes, she said.
Her family stayed at her parents house for two nights. They returned to their home yesterday morning only to find their rooms filled with ash.
Laus neighbour, a woman in her late 50s surnamed Ling, said she had lived there for 20 years and this was the first time there was such a huge fire in the area.
I was afraid that our house would be burnt down. We practically rained water on the bushes at the backyard, she said.
The states central zone Fire and Rescue Department chief Supt Abdul Mutalib Rashid said his men had tried their best to put out the flames since Saturday but it was made more difficult as the fire had seeped 3m into the peat soil.
A check yesterday showed that the fire had died down but there were still pockets of smoke in certain areas.