Dry spell leads to more vegetation fires, mosquitoes, health problems

Lim Wee Leng Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: The number of vegetation fires early this year was four times more than the same period last year.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said there were nearly 100 such fires between January and February this year, compared with 25 in the same period in 2013.

Although there is an increase from last year, the figures are still lower compared with the peak periods in 2005 and 2009, said SCDF.

In 2005, there were 532 fires between January and February and in 2009 there were 341 fires for the same period.

The SCDF added that most vegetation fires were minor in nature.

No injuries have been reported.

The more notable vegetation fires included one at Commonwealth Drive and another at Clementi.

The fire at Commonwealth Drive on 20 January covered an area measuring about 20m by 20m and took firefighters over one hour to put out.

The fire at Clementi Avenue 6 on 30 January covered an area measuring about 60m by 30m.

Firefighters brought the fire under control within half an hour and took another four hours to complete damping down the fire.

But the fires are just one of the effects of the dry spell.

Mosquitoes of a certain breed have become more common because of the dry spell.

Pest control experts say such mosquitoes are active at night and usually thrive between February and May.

Experts say that with the dry weather, mosquito-breeding spots are less likely to be flushed away, by rain.

Meanwhile, one doctor said he is seeing more patients who have respiratory conditions and eczema because of the dry spell.

- CNA/ir

More vegetation fires this year, but most were minor
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 26 Feb 14;

The 99 vegetation fires between January and Feb 19 were four times the number in the first two months of last year, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) yesterday.

Despite the spike, it said the number was still a fraction of those that occurred during the same months in 2005 (532 fires) and 2009 (341 fires), though it warned there may be more of such fires should the dry spell continue.

Most of this year’s fires were also minor, causing no injuries, said the SCDF.

In a haze advisory issued on Monday, the National Environment Agency said the increased outbreak of vegetation fires in recent weeks due to the dry weather could have caused the burning smell that residents in some areas have noticed.

The SCDF said patrols have been stepped up at hot spots to detect fire risks and mitigate fires. Fire-prevention advisory notes have also been issued to relevant agencies, such as the Singapore Land Authority and the National Parks Board. The SCDF is also working with other government agencies on the Wildfire Task Force Committee, which it chairs, to monitor the dry spell.

The SCDF reminded the public not to indiscriminately throw away lit cigarette butts onto dry land. Unwanted items such as furniture should not be discarded in grassy areas as they can become fuel for a fire. WOO SIAN BOON

Nurseries, farms badly hit by higher expenses during dry spell
Woo Sian Boon and Kenneth Tan Today Online 26 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — Nurseries have seen their water bills balloon after they had to water their plants more frequently. Ponds that vegetable farms in Lim Chu Kang and Bukit Batok use to irrigate their crops are drying up. School fields have also been damaged.

Across the island, individuals, organisations and businesses have been affected by the record dry spell. With the dry weather expected to continue until the middle of next month, water consumption levels have already gone up in the past week.

In response to TODAY’s queries, national water agency PUB said it has observed a slight increase of about 15 million gallons per day in water usage on average last week, an amount equivalent to about 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Before showers in some parts of the island on the weekend of Feb 8 and 9, less than 1mm of rain had fallen on any day between Jan 13 and Feb 8. The 27-day dry spell is a new record, beating the previous mark of 18 days set in 2008.

At five nurseries and floriculture businesses along Thomson Road, the plants are being watered twice a day — up from the usual once daily. This has led to water bills doubling or even tripling in some cases.

Candy Floriculture Director Sharon Goh said: “Customers whom we do plant maintenance work for have also been complaining that their water bills have increased as they need to water their plants more. We can’t do anything about it, unless it rains.”

Some of the nurseries, including Green Gween Landscape Design & Construction, will be erecting additional solar netting to provide more shade for the plants. Green Gween owner John Gwee said: “If it doesn’t rain for another one, two months, it’ll be pretty bad for the industry.”

Hawaii Landscape Executive Director Lilian Koh said since last month, her monthly water bills have increased from the usual S$300 to about S$600. Noting that Singapore experienced wet weather during the same period last year, she said: “This dry spell is quite unusual.”

Vegetable farms are also feeling the impact. Eden Garden Farm owner Chan Yow Tiong, 62, said the pond at his farm has shrunk by half. “If it doesn’t rain for the next three weeks, we are in trouble,” he said.

Some farmers have seen a drop in their harvest. GHH Vegetables is producing only 3kg of vegetables per day, compared with the usual yield of 30 to 40kg, said its Business Development Manager Abby Ong, 26. As an interim measure, Ms Ong said the farm is buying vegetables from other farms to meet orders.

Yili Vegetation and Trading Managing Director Alan Toh said his farm’s harvest has gone down by 20 per cent. He added that he expects his water bill to increase as he has started using potable water to water his vegetables.

Trees across the island are largely still holding up quite well, the National Parks Board said. It noted that during this dry spell, there have been days that were unusually cool and less moisture was lost from the trees. Nevertheless, it has taken some measures, such as watering newly-planted young saplings and significant trees, such as Heritage Trees, with non-potable water.

The dry spell has also affected activities at some schools. TODAY understands that SJI Junior, for instance, has been conducting its Physical Education lessons in the school’s indoor hall. Its field has been damaged by the dry weather.

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Education spokesperson said the ministry has reminded schools to exercise extra care when conducting outdoor physical activities. For example, schools will provide frequent water breaks, before, during and after the physical activities, the spokesperson said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN