Peat fires spotted at 14 locations in Kuantan and Pekan

Wednesday, April 15, 1998

KUANTAN, Tues. - Peat fires have broken out at 14 locations here and in Pekan. They were spotted by members of the District Disaster Management Committee led by State Local Government Committee chairman Datuk Kan Tong Leong who conducted an hour-long aerial survey on board a Royal Malaysian Air Force Nuri helicopter.

District fire chief Mohd Rozali Ismail said 116 firemen would fight the fires from tomorrow.An aerial view showing the extent of the fire in a peat forest in Penor

APR 14 1998

Drought, fires in Sabah getting serious

KUALA LUMPUR -- Parts of Malaysia's Sabah state may be placed under emergency, with smoking forest fires raging out of control and water and food in short supply, a report said yesterday. "Sabah is facing water and food shortages and uncontrollable forest fires that are causing the smoky atmosphere," The Star newspaper quoted the state's chief minister, Mr Yong Teck Lee, as saying. "The situation is serious."

He said if the situation persisted for another month, "we may recommend to the federal government to declare a natural disaster emergency".

Villagers from isolated places may have to be evacuated if they could not be supplied with enough water and food, he added.

The Star said some 18,000 ha of forest reserves, 1,419 ha of rubber plantations, as well as paddy fields and orchards, had been destroyed in the hardest-hit Sipitang district.

Poor visibility caused by the choking smoke from fires had forced the cancellation or delay of flights as airports in Labuan, nearby Brunei and Miri in Sarawak state suspended operations.

At Sipitang, Beaufort and Labuan more than 50 schools have been closed since Wednesday, while schools in Miri remained shut for the third week.

Health Minister Chua Jui Meng was reported as saying that government hospitals and rural clinics were on alert for a recurrence of haze-related health problems experienced during last year's fires in Indonesia.

Most of South-east Asia was enveloped in smog for more than three months from August due to raging forest fires in Indonesia before year-end monsoon brought relief.

But a prolonged drought in Malaysia has led to an outbreak of fires that have ignited peat deposits, sending up thick smoke as they smoulder.

The Malaysian government has suspended leave for more than 8,000 firemen across the country. AFP.

APR 14 1998

Haze readings hit 80


POLLUTION levels reached 80 on the Pollutant Standard Index yesterday afternoon.

It is the highest hourly reading so far this year, as the haze dropped back in, literally, over the weekend.

The weatherman said that earlier in the month, easterly winds had kept the smoke haze above 7,000 ft or 2,133 m.

But in the past few days winds had dropped to 5,000 ft or 1,524 m and under, bringing the haze closer.

Hourly readings reached 65 on Sunday at 4 pm and climbed to 80 yesterday at 5 pm, although the 24-hour reading for both days was 57, which is in the moderate range.

Meteorological Service spokesman Wong Teo Suan said that the haze was coming in from North Borneo, where fires have been reported in Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah.

With low and variable winds over Singapore moving in a circulating pattern, the atmosphere's ability to clear the smoke haze has been reduced, explained Mr Wong.

Although thunderstorms over the next few days will clear the air for several hours, it is expected to stay slightly hazy for several days more.

Mr Wong added that he did not expect the PSI readings to go above 100, into the unhealthy range.

Weekend, 11th / 12th of March, 1998

Fighting chance against bush fire

By 788-794, Tasek Meradun
A fire fighter putting out a bush fire in Tutong April 7. REUTERS

LAST Saturday the ridge from Telanai to Bengkurong caught fire. I wish to share our experiences so that others may benefit. There are measures that we can take in advance to have a fighting chance when bush fires do occur near our homes.

Before the fire:

1. Create a fire break 20 - 30 feet wide, say 100 feet away from your house. This is your defence zone. If possible, select a flatter ground for this zone so that you will be less tired during the fire fight. Preferably your garden hose should reach and cover this.

2. For domestic purposes, this fire break need not be the bulldozer-cleared type. Simply clear all dried leaves, dead trees, cut tall grass, and saplings so that there is nothing to burn in this defence zone. Also clear all lower branches to a height of 10 - 15 feet so that any flames from the ground cannot reach and burn the leaves and travel in the canopy of the trees.

Cut branches of trees beyond the defence zone if they touch the trees within the zone. The idea is to cut the 'fuel-chain' provided by the dry grass, bush, leaves and tree canopies. Always maintain this zone. By the way, the collected mass can be composted.

3. We notice bigger living trees do not catch fire easily. Also the flames where the grass are sparse are generally not more than 3 feet high.

4. If there are thick bushes and tall grass between your house and the defence zone, you should clear several paths so you can reach the zone easily, especially at night.

5. If your hose cannot reach the defence zone, you can use the horticulture pressurised sprayer. This is not to douse the flames, but the embers that can flare up as flames again.

6. Prepare several sticks 4 feet long with which you will hit or stir the base of the flames. Brooms are also useful.

7. Both the defence zone and the access path should be prepared in advance. If you have to create the zone and the access path during the fire, you will be too tired to fight the actual fire.

During the fire:

1. If you already have your fire break and the access to it, you have a chance of managing the fire. It will also help the firemen.

2. Although the natural urge is to put out the flames, you should let the fire burn itself out, or wait until the fire encroaches your fire break. Your fire break or defence zone should have nothing much to burn because of your clearance, and it is therefore easy to control any small encroaching flames.

3. When the flames get into the fire break, hit or stir to disperse the base of the fire to prevent the burning mass from reaching higher temperatures. Be careful any flying embers do not fly behind your defencezone.

4. Douse the embers.

5. Even after the flames and embers are out, the soil is still very hot. If possible stir or kick up the soil to reduce the heat.

6. Do not 'chase' the flames when you are 'winning'. Let it burn itself out.

7. Do not light fires to fight the fires. Apart from risking a B$100,000 fine, wind direction can change.

8. In all this, it is very important to conserve your energy because you may need it if the flames flare up again later.

After the fire:

1. Check and maintain your fire break. If the fire was intense enough, leaves on trees may have dried and dropped. Clean your defence zone again.

2. If the area beyond your fire break is burned to the ground, then there is very little to burn in the near future. But if the trees especially the smaller ones are dried out, then the danger may be greater than the first time since it is now easier to catch fire. If the trees are dead, you may have to cut them.

If there are firemen present, always seek their advice. The above information is only gained from our limited experience and is far from 'fire-proof'. I welcome corrections. We thank our neighbours, the Gurkhas and the fire services for helping put out the fire.

You may also want to check out these Internet sites:

Thursday, 9th of April, 1998

Haze chokes Brunei

By Malai Hassan Othman

Thick noxious smog blanketed the whole of Brunei yesterday as Muslim ummah thronged mosques and 'suraus' to celebrate their 'Feast of Sacrifice.'

And the worsened haze hung miserably over the nation as schools are scheduled to reopen this morning after the brief "smog holiday."

Muslim followers braved the thick smog that reduced visibility on Brunei roads to less than 200 metres to perform their mass Hari Raya Aidil Adha prayer.

Several hospitals and clinics in the country reportedly received an extraordinary numbers of patients among them children complaining of haze-related ailments.

This worst-ever hazy condition forced the airport authorities to shut the airport for several hours leaving many passengers stranded.

All flights in and out of the Brunei International Airport were suspended in the morning. The flight to Miri was cancelled while flights to Singapore, Kota Kinabalu, Labuan and Kuala Lumpur were delayed.

The situation however improved later in the day as the haze condition subsided.

Bulletin's News Hotline was kept extraordinarily busy by concerned readers.

The thick smog apparently rekindled the controversial debate over the way some officials deal with the public health and wellbeing.

Despite efforts of relevant authorities to keep them informed on the haze situation by providing hourly and average reading of the Pollutant Standard Index or PSI, they continued to question its authenticity.

A resident from Muara who identified himself as Awang Rosli said the PSI reading yesterday could be well over 1000, but the reading announced at 8 am in Bandar Seri Begawan indicated that it was only 500.

"It was quite absurd to learn that the PSI reading was exactly stated at 500 level but not even a little bit more than that. We have expected the level to be between 500 to 700. It seems that the reading equipment could only read up to 500 but not more than that," added Awang Rosli, who was among some of the concerned residents who have been inundating the Bulletin's Hotline with calls.

Some of them urged the authorities to disclose details on the type of machines used in Brunei so as to put to rest once and for all any suspicions and allegations now going around that the public is still being given inaccurate information of the PSI reading.

"We have learned that there are some reading equipment that can read up to the 1000 level and there are some that can only give reading of up to the 500 level," another caller said.

One parent who identified herself as Da-yang Aidah meanwhile expressed concern over the move to reopen schools today.

She was hopeful that the reopening of schools would not mean that the indecisive situation would also return when schools' authorities and parents seem to be in a daze over the shutting or closing of schools.

The announcement to reconfirm the reopening of schools was made by Pehin Dato Awang Haji Abdul Aziz, the Minister of Education cum the Acting Minister of Health over the state radio and television few days ago.

According to the minister, schools will reopen starting today but it would be up to the discretion of school Principals to decide on suspending or on timing the start of classes by taking into consideration the prevailing situation of the day.

Dayang Aidah said like many other parents she also expected school authorities to be firm in their decision and to initiate more effective ways of suspending classes.

Authorities meanwhile reported that all systems are now in place to cope with any eventuality. The Medical and Health Services have disclosed that all medical equipment and medicine are in adequate supply to help patients with haze-related ailments.

Its officials have also embarked on a comprehensive media blitz to keep the public well-informed on the dos and don'ts during this hazy condition including the way to detect symptom of any haze-related ailment.

Thursday, 9th of April, 1998

Brunei forests ablaze

Forest fire rages on at a hill near Bandar Seri Begawan on April 7.

Drought in many parts of Borneo have created an ideal condition for bush and forest fires which continue to blanket the country in smog since December last year.

Last week Brunei announced tough penalties including $100,000 fine for those convicted of open-burning.

Environment Ministers of the Asean, last week agreed at a meeting in Brunei on a package of measures to combat this ecological disaster. Reuters

APR 5 1998

Stopping new fires is top priority


PREVENTING new fires in Sumatra, the Riau province and the rest of Kalimantan will be Asean's top priority.

It will be pursued at all costs, to ensure that the disaster in East Kalimantan does not become a regional catastrophe.

Meeting in the haze-shrouded sultanate yesterday, with Pollutant Standard Index readings in the hazardous range of over 400, Asean environment ministers finally put their regional haze action scheme into operation, after four months of planning and three rounds of ministerial meetings.

An existing bilateral arrangement that allows Malaysian firemen to be deployed in Indonesia will be incorporated into a new regional mechanism.

Now, expertise and equipment, both regional and international, will be mobilised and moved across national borders rapidly to put out new fires as soon as they are spotted.

Money for these efforts will come from a new central revolving fund, to which Asean countries and international donors can contribute.

The scheme will operate like the existing one among Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, to fight oil spills in the Singapore and Malacca straits.

In a joint press statement, the ministers said: "The priority ... will be to ensure at all costs that fires are prevented from becoming an economic and environmental threat in the Sumatra and Riau provinces, and that fires in East Kalimantan must be contained and not allowed to spread to Central and West Kalimantan."

This will be done by setting up two Sub-regional Fire-fighting Arrangements -- one for Sumatra and Riau, and the other for Kalimantan. Details of the arrangements will be worked out by the end of the month.

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) will play a key role, on behalf of Asean, in coordinating international help to combat and control the fires.

A UN team is now in East Kalimantan to assess what is needed, and in two weeks' time, technical experts and donor agencies will meet in Geneva, to see how they can meet the region's needs.

Unep executive director Klaus Topfer said that donors would come forward only if they were convinced that there was strict enforcement against illegal burning and that everything was being done to prevent new fires, especially since donors contributed at least US$15 million (S$24 million) in aid to tackle last year's fires.

Most of the questions at a press conference after yesterday's meeting were aimed at Dr Juwono Sudarsono, Indonesia's new environment minister.

He said: "We have done as much as is humanly possible for enforcement at the ground level."

Stricter restrictions on land clearing were being enforced by the police, military and civil defence forces, he added. He accepted that the East Kalimantan fires were not the top priority now.

"It is my job to get the government, private sector and the public to realise that the health and economic costs, which include crop failures, are just as costly."

Asked how he would do this when his Cabinet colleague, Trade Minister Bob Hassan, also had vested interests in the forestry industry, he said: "We will factor him in ... It takes an insider to get things done."

Central agency to fight haze

Saturday, April 4, 1998

By Esther Tan

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Fri. - Asean senior officials today proposed a permanent central agency to implement the action plan on haze to fight and prevent fires.

The proposal is likely to be accepted by the Asean Environment Ministers who are scheduled to meet tomorrow to solve problems expected in implementing the regional action plan.

The agency will have representatives from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia who will carry out monitoring and preventive efforts and mobilise manpower and equipment in case of fires.

Funding may come from a proposed Asean Fund.

The proposals were made at the Seventh Asean Senior Officials on the Environment Haze Technical Task Force meeting held at Brunei's Development Ministry today.

Thick smoke from forest fires in Sumatra blanketed six Asean nations for nearly four months from July last year.

Deputy Head for Environmental Impact of Indonesia's Environmental Impact Agency (Bapedal) Dr Surna T. Djajadiningrat who chaired the one-day meeting told reporters the proposals were made by Malaysia and Singapore.

"We realise there will be enforcement problems; therefore there is a need for a permanent agency or institution which can mobilise manpower and equipment the moment it anticipates or detects a problem."

Under the agency, Malaysia will be responsible for preventive measures and Indonesia and Singapore will look into climatic information and fire-fighting capability. The agency which is expected to be based in Badepal in Jakarta will receive its directive from Asean ministers.

"Many international agencies have offered to help in this matter. Instead of merely having consultants, we decided to have a more permanent scientific approach," said Surna.

The agency may even replace the existing Haze Technical Task Force.

Surna said the Philippines and Thailand, which were also facing forest fires, suggested setting up an Asean institution instead of a sub-regional agency.

However, Singapore officials proposed that Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia take the lead since the problem was worse there.

Asked if the proposal meant the existing task force was ineffective, Surna said: " We still need it. The task force is open, frank, transparent and it realises the problem."

On the Asian Development Bank's decision to provide US$1.2 million (RM4.4m) to assist efforts to prevent and fight forest fires, Surna said disbursement was slow.

The ADB agreed last month to provide the grant.

Surna said the United Nations Environment Programme had also shown interest in helping Asean.

However, the assistance must be relevant to the region's immediate needs.

"It should not be for matters such as climatic changes or the impact of the El Nino. These are important but they are not as urgent as efforts to operationalise the action plan.

"We now need technology, equipment and information," he added.

The task force reviewed the progress of the regional action plan drawn up in Singapore last December.

Among others, the officials made inventories of the resources, including manpower, funding and technology, needed to fight and prevent fires.

The officials also discussed the problem of lack of water in fighting fires.

The one-day meeting is to prepare for tomorrow's ministerial-level meeting.



Saturday, April 4, 1998

Fires put out

Successful ops in five major hot spots

By Nelson Benjamin

KUALA LUMPUR: The Fire and Rescue Department has put out five major forest fires in the peninsula which had caused the recurrence of the haze especially in the Klang Valley.

The last fire was put out yesterday.

The fires had covered an area of more than 3,520ha in Selangor, Pahang and Perak and had been raging for more than two weeks in some areas.

The biggest of the fires had been in Peramu and Penur in Pahang where a combined area of about 2,800ha were up in flames.

The other three areas were Bukit Kala and Gunung 7 in Perak and Batang Berjuntai in Selangor.

Fire and Rescue Department Assistant Director-General (Operations) Mohd Yusof Muhammad said operations had taken between a day and two weeks depending on the size of the areas affected, intensity of the fires and wind conditions.

"About 60% were smouldering and highly dangerous peat soil fires.

"In most cases the peat soil were one-metre deep, forcing us to use tractors to build fire breaks and flood the areas.

"Although all the fires have been put out, we are closely monitoring the places to prevent any recurrence," he said.

He said the department had been placed on a 24-hour alert while leave for most of its 8,300 firemen had been frozen following a rise in the number of calls on forest and bush fires.

At Bukit Kala and Gunong 7, firefighters battled the fires close to two weeks with the RMAF assisting with water bombing flights.

In both places, they were forced to used fire beaters and tractors to dig up the earth because they were far away from any water source.

In Batang Berjuntai, 45 firefighters used boats to cross a disused mining pool to tackle fires on the other side.

About 600 men from the department and other agencies worked around the clock to put out the fires.

The other agencies involved are the Forestry Department, Civil Defence Department, district offices, local councils, the Drainage and Irrigation Department, the Public Works Department, the armed forces and the police.

Yusof said initial investigations showed that the fires could have been caused by open burning at farms or by cigarette butts thrown indiscriminately.

Saturday, April 4, 1998

Central agency on environment may be set up

By Stephen Then

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are planning to set up a central agency to tackle common environmental issues related to the climate, hot-spots and the haze.

The proposal for the central agency was initiated yesterday at the Seventh Meeting of the Asean Senior Officials of Environment (ASOEN) Haze Technical Task Force held at the Brunei Ministry of Development complex here.

Dr Surna T. Djajadiningrat, who is the chairman of the ASOEN meeting here, said the three countries have proposed that this central agency be based in Jakarta.

"This proposal will be forwarded to the Asean environment ministers who will converge here today for the Third Asean Ministerial Meeting on Haze.

"We (Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) have our own haze task force with its own activities and programmes.

"But we realise that we need a central agency consisting of the three countries, at least, to be more effective," he told Malaysian reporters.

Dr Surna, who is the deputy head of Environmental Impact Assessment and Technical Assistance at the Environmental Impact Management Agency Indonesia, said Malaysia would still handle the preventive measures relating to the Regional Haze Action Plan, while Singapore would concentrate on information and monitoring activities and Indonesia on fire-fighting capabilities.

"By merging ourselves into this central agency, we can have co-operation and work more effectively on climate monitoring, detecting hot spots and other environmental issues," he added.

Asked why the other Asean countries were not included in the plan, Dr Surna said it was a model structure and if found effective, could be extended to other sub-regions within Asean.


ASEAN ministers seek to contain Indonesia fires

05:29 a.m. Apr 04, 1998 Eastern

Let fires burn in Indonesia's E.Kalimantan -ASEAN

02:48 a.m. Apr 04, 1998 Eastern