Malaysia: Firemen to take three to four days to battle Kuala Langat peat fire

C. PREMANANTHINI New Straits Times 26 Apr 16;

SHAH ALAM: Efforts to put out peat fires in Kuala Langat will take about three to four days.

Selangor Fire and Rescue Department assistant director (operations) Mohd Sani Harul said areas such as the Kuala Langat Selatan Forest Reserve, Tanjung Sepat and Banting, are among the identified target areas.

"There are still small fires spotted in these areas and it will take about three to four days to put out the blaze," he said.

Several days ago, parts of the Klang Valley was shrouded in haze due to the forest and peat fires in central Selangor and Pahang.

This was caused by the extreme hot and dry weather brought about by the El Nino phenomenon.

Dept struggling with blazes

KLANG: As if fighting fires in this unforgiving weather is not bad enough, firemen here are working round-the-clock to battle blazes set off by irresponsible individuals at an illegal dumping site as big as eight football fields.

The stench of burning trash and smoke coming from piles of rubbish reaching 9m-high is what Sg Pinang fire station chief Zaidi Aatan and his team are facing daily at Jalan Bukit Kapar, which is near a quarry area here.

The operations began last Saturday with help from other state authorities.

Zaidi’s team, with the help of officers from the Klang Municipal Council, the Klang District Land Office and firemen deployed from the Andalas, Port Klang, Sg Pinang and Kota Raja fire stations have been working to control the situation.

A total of 45 firemen and officers are stationed there during the day while at night, there are 25 of them dousing the smoke from the rubbish piling up here for over two years.

Zaidi said unscrupulous people have been burning several spots at the site to look for scrap metal, with the fires escalating due to the weather.

Zaidi said the operations are divided into two sectors, with each sector as big as four football fields.

“The fire has been going on for almost one week, which is why we are working round the clock to put it out.

“We took three days to put out the fire in sector one and we are aiming to clear sector two by this Friday,” Zaidi told The Star.

He said the smoke and toxic fumes from the fire are harmful to anyone nearby, especially his team.

The team also has to deal with a lack of water source, and have had to resort to using tankers.

“We have three tankers on standby.

“Each tanker can hold up to 20,000 litres of water so we go back and forth to get water from a housing estate, which is about 5km away,” said Zaidi.

Each day, the team needs at least 15 tankers.

Veteran fireman A. Selvarajoo, who has 35 years of service, said the stench was difficult to handle.

“I have experienced putting out many fire but this is difficult because of the smell and the smoke is rather toxic. The water supply is also difficult.”

“It is a tough job but we have to do it,” said the 59-year old.

Helmi Ismail, 26, fears getting buried inside the pile of rubbish.

“I am new to this operation so it is difficult but thanks to the support and advice from my seniors, I can do it,” said Helmi who only joined the Fire and Rescue Department a year ago.

Both are hoping people will be more responsible and not start open fires anywhere.

Firemen brave the heat
NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 27 Apr 16;

BANTING: Stepping into the blazing South Kuala Langat forest reserve is like stepping into a land made of sponge soaked in boiling water.

Open burning by farmers to illegally clear land for business has ignited peat soil here covering an area the size of 43 football fields.

Fire and Rescue Department personnel have been battling the blaze since March 31, and have finally managed to stop the spreading fires with the help of the daily thunderstorms of late.

The fires here have been pegged as one of the contributors to the poor air quality in the Klang Valley recently.

Every morning at 7am, about 45 firemen begin their operation to put out and cut off the fire from spreading even more.

The land clearers started burning right smack in the middle of the forest reserve, some 3.5km off the nearest dirt road.

Firemen, carrying heavy equipment, pumps and hoses have to walk the distance every day before they can even begin their work.

It is scorched earth and flattened land all around the path to the active fire zone.

Even walking becomes difficult as the ground beneath sizzles with embers and spews white smoke – indicating there are still fires smoldering in the peat soil.

Heat radiating from the ground turn the firemen’s journey into a fire-walking challenge. The loose soil makes it difficult for the mens to find their footing.

“It’s very difficult because the fire is breaking out in the middle compartments of the reserve. We had to use excavators to make paths for us to go in and reach the fires.

“The peat soil is also a problem because the fire is not seen on the surface, it’s underground and it can spread very fast. The only way we can put it out is if we totally flood the place,” said Selangor Fire and Rescue Department Zone 5 chief Abu Bakar Abu Kadir.

Officers work non-stop, he said, only taking time to have one meal of simple packed white rice with curry and a drink, before going on until 6pm.

The Forestry Department warned the officers not to work into the night as nocturnal animals may pose a threat to their safety.

However, Abu Bakar said the morale was high in the team, made up of officers from four fire stations, as they are rotated out every three days to keep them fresh.

“This is our job, to do this. Even though it’s hard, we have to keep going,” he said.

Officers have managed to contain the fires within 34 acres (13.75ha) of the reserve by digging water trenches around the blaze and flooding the lands with water.

On April 9, the fires were so bad the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency were called to waterbomb the forest to keep the fires under control.

Abu Bakar said that if the wet weather continues, his men would be able to completely extinguish the fires soon.

He asked the public to refrain from anymore open burning.

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