Thursday, 13 August 2009

Haze worsens in Sarawak

Wednesday August 12, 2009, The Star, Malaysia


MIRI: Fires in some districts and oil palm plantations has created a thick blanket of smoke and haze over Sarawak’s northern region.

Firemen have been working around the clock to bring the blaze under control as well battle peat fires near the Sarawak-Brunei border.

The haze and smoke have resulted in flight disruptions and cancellation of public functions.

Fires were also reported at oil palm plantations in the Bakong sub-district, between Miri and the Baram hinterland.

Quick action by firemen prevented a wild fire on Canada Hill from burning down the RM16mil Oil Museum yesterday.

Poor visibility in the city resulted in the cancellation of flights from Miri Airport to the interiors yesterday morning.

At the Sarawak-Brunei border, 35km north of Miri, more than 200 firemen are battling to contain peat fires that have so far destroyed more than 3,000ha of forest land.

Assistant state minister for Infrastructure Development and Communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin said the peat fire might take a longer time to put out.

“The fire is burning deep into the peat soil. Spraying water on the surface will not douse it,” he said.

In the Lawas district near the Sabah border, a few public functions had to be cancelled.

In Kuching, cloud-seeding operations have started.

In Petaling Jaya, the Department of Environment said air quality in Sarawak had generally improved, with only two areas having unhealthy air quality.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) reading for Miri rose from 140 on Monday to a staggering 185 while Sibu recorded a reading of 104 as of 5pm yesterday.

Four areas in Sarawak, Kuching, Sarikei, Sri Aman and Samarahan, which were previously identified as unhealthy on Monday, have entered the moderate category, with readings of between 61 and 84.

Overall, 26 areas recorded moderate readings of between 51 and 84, while the air quality in 20 areas, including Petaling Jaya were declared as healthy.

Following the improved air quality, the visibility level in Bintulu increased to 8km. This is in contrast to Kuching which recorded a poor invisibility level of 2km.

A total of 106 and 74 hotspots were detected in Sumatra and Borneo respectively via satellite images.