Sunday, February 27, 2005

Fires under control, but air quality remains low

Excerpt : TheStar

BY FLORENCE A. SAMY and NG CHENG YEE

PETALING JAYA: The peat swamp and forest fires in the country are under control, with the fires in about 70% of the affected areas already doused, said Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting.

The air quality, however, continued to drop yesterday, with the Department of Environment’s (DOE) operations room recording unhealthy air levels at 11 locations in the Klang Valley and surrounding areas compared to eight on Friday.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had instructed the Health Ministry and the Meteorological Services Department to update the public on the air quality index.

Stressing that the current poor air quality was due to thick smoke and not haze, the Prime Minister said it was important to let the public know so that they could take precautions.

“They have been instructed to publish the index in the newspapers so that people can plan their outdoor activities,” the Prime Minister told reporters after opening the RM1.8bil manufacturing plant in Proton City in Tanjung Malim, Perak, yesterday.

Abdullah, who arrived late for the ceremony, said his helicopter had to return to Putrajaya midway to the plant due to poor visibility. He then left for Tanjung Malim by car.

“Until the air quality improves, schools should halt all outdoor extra-curricular activities and postpone sports meets,” he added.

Ong said fire-fighters used fire-breaks and total flooding techniques to control and put out the fires.

Fires in 6,747ha of the 9,177.2ha of land had been extinguished. Mi17 and the Agusta A109 helicopters were also used to monitor and send equipment to the fire-fighters.

“The main problem faced by the Fire and Rescue Department was access to the forest areas. Helicopters were used to transport firemen to the affected sites,” he told reporters after opening the Education Revitalisation Pillar of the Lifelong Learning Programme at Wisma MCA in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Ong said leave for 2,000 fire-fighters had been frozen as they need to be deployed to combat the fires, which are mostly peat swamp fires.

Fire department assistant director-general (operations) Mohd Husain Ahmad Takin said it would take one or two weeks to douse the fires and embers, and even sooner if there was rain.

“Smouldering fires and embers on logs and peat soil emit a lot of smoke and take time to be extinguished.

“The next phase will be time-consuming because we have to make sure that the smouldering fires are completely extinguished,” he added.

Mohd Husain said hotspots were currently detected in five states – Selangor, Johor, Pahang, Perak and Kelantan.

“We have sufficient manpower and equipment but there are problems getting to water sources and accessing some forested areas.

“Also, we are only able to work in the day as it’s dangerous to step on burning peat soil at night,” he said, adding that they were also using heavy vehicles with tyres fitted with chains for traction in the soft peat soil.

He said that in Selangor, more than 70% of the 7,805ha of the burning areas had been doused while 15ha of the 24ha in Lobok Bakul, Pagoh, Muar in Johor, were no longer on fire.

“The fire affecting 780ha in Kuala Rompin, Pahang was under control and efforts were ongoing to extinguish the smouldering flames.

“In Kelantan, 50% of the 400ha of land in Kuala Betis, Gua Musang, that had been up in flames since Thursday, had been doused while in Perak, fires had been extinguished in 82ha out of 108ha of land,” he added.

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