Malaysia– Seventy-seven schools in south-western Sabah are closed for two days after thick smoke enveloped the area amidst simmering peat fires from the Binsuluk Forest Reserve in the Klias peninsula.
Schools in Beaufort (53), Papar (10) and Kuala Penyu (14) were closed as the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached a very unhealthy reading of 279.
In some areas, the visibility was so bad that drivers could only see 20m ahead in the thick haze.
Sabah Education Department acting director Maimunah Suhaibul said the schools, involving over 20,000 students, would reopen tomorrow should conditions improve.
Although the Department of Environment (DOE) does not have a permanent station monitoring the air quality in Beaufort, the reading was taken off a portable machine.
Sabah DOE could not be reached and there were no updates on its website over the API and haze situation.
It is difficult to breathe. You can smell smoke the moment you walk out, said housewife Rohani Rowel, 30.
Adding that she was keeping her children indoors, she said the situation deteriorated two days ago despite hazy conditions the past week.
Clerk Mazniah Mazta said visibility was sometimes less than 20m and that it was quite difficult to drive.
The situation improved slightly but the haze came back. I think it is because of the winds, she said, adding that like many people in Kuala Penyu, they were staying indoors.
As at press time, state Health Department director Christina Rundi had yet to issue any advice or statement if there was an increase in the number of respiratory cases in Beaufort and other parts of Sabah.
Firemen have been battling dozens of jungle, bush and orchard fires on a daily basis as the dry spell induced by El Nino entered its third month in Sabah.
On Saturday, firemen said they had brought the Binsuluk forest peat fires under control after a series of aerial water bombings.
However, they warned that undergrowth fires could flare up from time to time.
Despite hazy conditions in Sabahs west coast, including Kota Kinabalu and parts of Keningau, API readings there were at healthy levels.