Malaysia: A dropped match – and 60 firemen battle for four weeks

The Star 29 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: A single match is dropped in a peat soil forest reserve. And 60 firemen have to spend four weeks battling to put out the blaze.

The Fire and Rescue Department operation in the South Kuala Langat forest reserve, where the biggest fire in Peninsular Malaysia is currently being put out, is unfortunately just one of 142 fires the department had to respond to yesterday, mostly as a result of open burning.

Most cases were sparked by farmers using the dry season to clear their land.

The hot weather and lack of rain easily turn small open burning cases into uncontrollable infernos.

Although firemen say it is all part of their job, these are all preventable fires caused by irresponsible people.

Responding to these also takes time and manpower away from the department, which would rather focus on fire and rescue operations that endanger human lives.

“Here, the only victims are us and the environment,” said the department’s deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid.

Open burning cases have spiked in the country since the heatwave began in February. This month alone, firemen responded to 6,831 open burning cases, with Selangor and Johor accounting for the highest number.

There were 7,887 cases reported in March and 2,785 cases in February.

Three hotspots were recorded in the country yesterday, all in the coastal areas of Pahang.

Yet firemen said more fires were occurring inland, in peat soil and farm lands, suggesting that these fires were caused by humans.

Terengganu had the most number of fires as a result of open burning, with 32 cases.

The biggest fire there was in Kerteh, Kemaman, where 22ha of peat soil land caught fire due to land clearing.

Other peat soil fires in Dungun and Bukit Layat Setiu were also caused by open burning.

Kelantan reported 27 bush and forest fires due to open burning, while Selangor reported 21.

A total of 363 firemen and 44 fire trucks were deployed to put out these fires yesterday.

These fires have been touted as the cause of the haze around Peninsular Malaysia’s central region.

Cooler days are here at last

JOASH EE DE SILVA The Star 29 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Many Malaysians can breathe a sigh of relief. The worst of the heatwave is over and they can expect cool and clear weather in the coming weeks.

Malaysian Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said that as of Wednesday, there were only three hotspots in the country – all along the coast of Pahang.

“There are some hotspots at and around Kuala Rompin and Pekan as the east coast has been a bit dry due to little or no rain,” she said.

“In the west coast, however, it has rained regularly.”

Che Gayah added that the situation has improved around the country because the rain has put out fires in recent days, and there has been a sharp drop in the number of hotspots in the peninsula from the 31 on April 20.

She pointed out that the haze over some places in the country was mostly from local sources such as forest fires, smoke from vehicles and factories.

Che Gayah said that in the coming few days, there was not likely to be any trans-boundary haze as the wind was still not blowing from Sumatra.

“As of now, parts of Sumatra have received significant rainfall.

“A few hotspots were detected but the smoke will not blow into our country.

On the heatwave, she said that only Kuala Krai recorded a heatwave, whereas in other areas, the inter-monsoon rains have lowered the temperatures.

According to the department, a “heatwave” is declared when the temperature of an area is over 35°C for five days in a row, or over 37°C for three days in a row.

She said Malaysia normally experienced high daily temperatures in March and early April. With the El Nino phenomenon, the temperature could increase by between 0.5°C and 3°C from the normal values.

“The heatwave will gradually weaken till it diminishes in May,” she said.

Men under fire in the heat
NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 29 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: You could call them the men facing the heat. Fireman battling peat fires, caused by open burning in many parts of the peninsula, are the ones suffering the most from these irresponsible acts.

Sg Pinang fire station chief Zaidi Aatan, whose men have just wrapped up a 10-day round-the-clock firefight at an illegal dump in Kapar, Klang, knows the suffering of his men.

For more than a week, officers were forced to work in conditions where toxic fumes were spewing from burning rubbish stretching the length and size of eight football fields.

Though none had reported breathing difficulties, Zaidi said he and his men had developed skin rashes.

“Even after I bathe, my wife would tell me that I still smell of rubbish. This is how it is in our job,” he sighed.

In South Kuala Langat forest reserve, Selangor Fire and Rescue Department Zone 5 chief Abu Bakar Abu Kadir said he had not returned home since the fires began on March 31.

“We work in shifts but we have to be here every day to douse peat soil fire. With the help of the rain, we may be able to put everything out by next week,” he said.

The fires, which has razed the forest reserve the size of 43 football fields, was started by farmers who wanted to clear land illegally for their plantations.

Officers here have managed to halve the size of the fire, but said there were still 10.5ha of land still burning.

Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid was upset at the people who continued to be irresponsible.

“I have been here for 30 years and we have always done awareness campaigns and told people not burn rubbish or their farms during the dry season. But they still do it.

“It’s really the attitude of the people. They want to clear their farms or get rid of rubbish in the easiest and cheapest way. So they do open burning.

“And when it goes out of control, it becomes our job to stop it,” he said. “If they really must conduct open burning, they should do it near a water source so they can put out the fire if it becomes too big.”

Soiman said with the prolonged dry weather, officers might find themselves stretched thin as they must also attend to fires in buildings, residential areas and other rescue cases.

He said priority had to be given to cases where human lives were in danger.

“However, ignoring uncontrolled open burning cases may lead to larger fires that pollute more,” he said

Yesterday, Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaid Tuanku Jaafar said he was considering introducing new laws that would allow authorities the power to confiscate land from owners who carried out open burning.

Soiman said it remained to be seen if such new laws would help.

Firemen at higher risk of ill health
NOEL FOO The Star 29 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Spending 10 to 11 hours a day at burning peat swamps and forest reserves to put out fires exposes the firemen to various health risks, say medical experts.

Although not many medical studies were conducted specifically on the profession, a doctor said there could be higher incidences of cancer among older firemen.

“Because of the burning of different materials, they can be exposed to different kinds of carcinogens,” Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia vice-president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said.

Dr Raj said that while firemen had breathing apparatus, there were some who put their health at risk by smoking cigarettes.

“With the heatwave going on right now, they are also at risk of heat stroke and burns from the fire,” he said.

Dr Raj added that these would put a strain on their bodies, besides their stress levels.

With fires breaking out across the country every day for the past month, largely because of the hot weather, the firefighters have had little choice but to face these dangers head-on.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Ashok Zachariah Philip admitted that he had not worked on cases involving firemen, but said their protective equipment helped mitigate immediate risks.

“As long as firemen use the breathing apparatus provided, they should not get smoke inhalation problems.

“Of course, they are vulnerable to heat exhaustion and danger from fire,” he added.

Malaysia warns of continuing drought as Malacca sounds water shortage alarm
Today Online 28 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has recorded its second death from heatstroke, as the government warned people to brace themselves for less rain and more haze “in the coming months”.

At the same time, Malacca became the latest state to be severely affected by the drought, with the state chief minister saying that the water supply would not last until September if the hot weather persists.

The latest heatstroke fatality was Wan Mohd Aliff Faisal Wan Ismedi, 23, a trainee undergoing a basic course for young volunteer servicemen at a polytechnic in Jitra, Kedah.

Malaysia, which is suffering from a punishing heatwave which has caused rivers and dams to dry up, recorded its first death from heatstroke last month when a police trainee constable died in Segamat, Johor.

Health ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said Wan Mohd Aliff died on Tuesday (April 26).

As of Wednesday, the country recorded 200 cases of heatstroke. Of the total, 126 were related to heat exhaustion, 52 people suffered heat cramps and 22 people got heatstroke.

The Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Ministry on Thursday warned citizens to brace themselves for hazy weather soon, just days after the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry forecast the hot weather would persist until September.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said winds were expected to blow the haze from Indonesia to Malaysia.

“The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia,” he said.
Mr Wan Junaidi said although the El Nino phenomenon was expected to last until June, the south-west monsoon would prolong the hot and dry spell.

He also expressed concern over depleting water reserves at dams nationwide. Seven dams — Timah Tasoh (Perlis), Beris, Padang Saga, Muda (Kedah), Bukit Merah (Perak), Bukit Kwong (Kelantan) and Labong (Johor) — recorded water levels below 50 per cent.

“The government has decided to carry out cloud seeding operations daily. When water levels at rivers and lakes are low, it could lead to pollution,” Mr Wan Junaidi said. “The Cabinet has ordered ministries to take precautionary measures.”

He said the Department of Environment had detected 1,460 cases of open burning, between Jan 1 and Monday.

There are six areas where forest and peat fires continue to burn. They include Beris and Lalang mukim in Bachok, Kelantan; Kuala Langat Forest Reserve, Gunung Arong, Mersing in Johor; Kampung Durian Guling, Marang in Terengganu; Kampung Batu 7, Dungun in Terengganu; and an oil palm plantation in Felda Bukit Kemadol, Kuala Langat in Selangor.

“I have directed the department to take action on offenders.”

He also proposed the government take over land on which fires were allowed to burn unchecked.

“Existing laws are unable to prevent open burning ... so we want firmer action. In Sarawak, we call it ‘re-enter the land’ where the land is handed over to the government.

Meanwhile, Malacca Chief Minister Idris Haron said that water supply in his state cannot last until September if the hot weather persists until then.

He urged the people of Malacca to take steps to use water prudently now to “extend the lifespan” of the water supply in the state.

“We may have to take alternative steps such as building tube wells but what is most important is that we all must conserve water from now. This requires the cooperation of all, other than that, we can only pray,” he told a press conference after chairing the Malacca State Executive Council meeting in Petaling Jaya on Wednesday.

Last week, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau was reported to have said Malaysia is expected to face water supply problems until September as a result of the current hot weather which is expected to last until then.

According to the Melaka Water Supervisory Board today, the water level at the Durian Tunggal Dam in Alor Gajah was at 40.6 per cent, the Jus Dam in Jasin (71 per cent) and the Asahan Dam in Jasin (83.6 per cent).

Mr Idris said as much as 200 million gallons of water a day was being pumped from the Jus Dam to the Durian Tunggal Dam to stabilise the water supply which was almost at a critical level.

The heatwave across the Causeway had also prompted Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli to speak about his “personal worry” a few days ago that the extreme weather patterns due to climate change would pose new challenges to Singapore’s water sustainability.

This comes as water level in Linggiu Reservoir in Johor rapidly falling to historic lows. As of April 22, the reservoir water level was at 35 per cent — down from 36.9 per cent about 1.5 weeks ago. AGENCIES