Thinning forests resulting in fuelwood shortage

Thinning forests resulting in fuelwood shortage

Water-bombing intensifies in Kuala Baram, raging forest fire worsens haze

Water-bombing intensifies in Kuala Baram, raging forest fire worsens haze

By Stephen Then

NATION | Sunday, 19 Aug 2018 | 


MIRI: The Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department in Miri has intensified aerial water-bombing operations to contain a raging forest fire in Kuala Baram district.

The fire has also worsened the haze, recording an Air Pollutant Index (API) level at 113 on Sunday (Aug 19) morning. A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

Miri Fire chief Supt Law Poh Kiong said the Bomba air unit will be dropping more water to control the flames from spreading.

“Yesterday, we carried out 70 rounds of aerial water-bombings.

“This morning, we did more rounds,” he said.

Fire-fighters are also on the ground battling the flames on peat soils.

The wildfire in Kuala Baram is one of the dozens that are burning throughout the state.

Authorities are also worried about the haze and smog coming from West Kalimantan.

There are already more than 120 huge fires raging in the area.

Those fires measuring one sq km in size are called hotspots as they can be detected by satellites even 100km above earth.

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Shoot-on-sight order issued as Riau fights fires

Shoot-on-sight order issued as Riau fights fires

PUBLISHED AUG 18, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

Fewer hot spots now, but locals still favor the slash-and-burn method of clearing land

The number of hot spots in the Indonesian province of Riau went down to 27 yesterday from 121 a day earlier with the authorities stepping up measures to fight forest and peatland fires, including a shoot-on-sight order issued by the military against firestarters.

Mr. Jim Gafur, head of emergency response at the Riau disaster management agency (BPBD), told The Straits Times yesterday that fire-fighting teams had succeeded in dousing and containing the fires.

He said the worst-affected areas were north of Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, Bengkalis, Dumai, and Rokan Hilir.

“The scale of the fires has declined significantly today compared with the previous two days. We are doing massive operations,” Mr Jim told The Straits Times by telephone. “Fires had spread because the wind speed surged… We quickly responded to this change of weather.”

Winds, which have become stronger in Sumatra as a result of tropical storm Bebinca in the South China Sea, have moved north-east.

At this time of the year, they usually blow north until November or December before turning south-west, Mr. Jim said.

“Prevailing winds over the northern part of the ASEAN region are forecast to continue blowing from the south-west or west (towards north-east and east), and may strengthen briefly over the next few days under the influence of the (Bebinca) storm,” the Meteorological Service Singapore posted on its website yesterday afternoon.

It added that it was continuing to observe smoke haze from hot spots in Riau and Kalimantan.

Mr. Jim ruled out any possibility of haze moving south towards Palembang, which is co-hosting the 18th Asian Games. No hot spots have been detected in Palembang or South Sumatra so far.

“We are intensifying water bombings. We have been deploying five helicopters, two of which are bigger ones that are able to carry 5,000 liters on each trip. Ground firefighting efforts have also been intensified,” Mr. Jim said.

Commander of the Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force Sonny Aprianto issued a shoot-on-sight order across Riau on Thursday against those caught red-handed clearing land by burning, state news agency Antara reported.

“Ninety-nine percent of the land and forest fires in Riau province are related to the intentional acts of irresponsible people,” Antara news agency quoted Brigadier-General Sonny as saying.

He also said that the authorities have not had much success in convincing people not to clear land by burning, acknowledging instead that the slash-and-burn method has become more widespread.

Several arsonists have been nabbed, he said, with at least three cases in Dumai city now ready for trial.

Satellites identified 121 hot spots in the province on Thursday morning – a big jump from the 22 detected on Wednesday afternoon, said the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

The military on Thursday also began deploying troops to fire-prone areas in the province, reported news portal.

President Joko Widodo and other senior leaders have ordered intensified efforts to combat the land fires to ensure that the Asian Games, which opens today, will not be disrupted.

The city of Palembang, in South Sumatra province, is co-hosting the quadrennial games with the capital Jakarta till Sept 2.


554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires

554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires

By Stephen Then

NATION | Friday, 17 Aug 2018 | 

MIRI: Some 554 acres (224ha) of forests throughout Sarawak have been burnt in 178 different wildfires since Aug 2.

The latest statistics from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) showed that in the past 24 hours, firefighting teams statewide had been tackling 15 such wildfires.

The wildfires are in Miri, Kuching, Sri Aman, Sibu, Mukah, Song and Bintulu districts.

According to the Bomba Sarawak operation center, there was a huge wildfire raging in Sri Aman over an area of some 100 acres (one acre is about the size of one football field).

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Parts of Malaysia hit by unhealthy levels of haze

Parts of Malaysia hit by unhealthy levels of haze

PUBLISHED AUG 17, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

KUALA LUMPUR • The haze returned to parts of Malaysia yesterday, affecting the west coast states of Perlis, Kedah, and Penang on the peninsula, and Sarawak in East Malaysia.

The risk of it reaching Singapore is currently low, as the winds are blowing the haze away from it, but “should the direction of the winds change and blow the haze towards Singapore, we may occasionally experience slightly hazy conditions”, said a spokesman for the National Environment Agency.

Air quality was at unhealthy levels in Peninsular Malaysia, with the highest air pollutant index (API) reading recorded in Alor Setar, Kedah, at 157. Other badly affected areas were Sungei Petani in Kedah, Kangar in Perlis, and Seberang Jaya and Seberang Perai in Penang.

A reading of zero to 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 moderate and 101 to 200 unhealthy. Conditions in the capital Kuala Lumpur remained at moderate levels, with the API at between 65 and 67.

Meanwhile, the haze in Sarawak has been blamed on open burning in the state and the rising number of hot spots in neighboring Kalimantan, Indonesia. State Natural Resources and Environment Board controller Peter Sawal said 121 hot spots were detected across the Sarawak border with Indonesia on Tuesday, more than double from the day before. Seven hot spots were also detected in Sarawak.

As at 2 pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate API readings, with Mukah recording the highest reading at 84. The other affected areas were Sibu, Bintulu, Samalaju, Kuching, Kapit, Samarahan, Sarikei and Sri Aman.

Mr. Sawal said the hazy conditions could last until the end of the month if there are no changes in the prevailing dry weather and wind direction.

Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Yeo Bee Yin said she has asked the Department of Environment (DOE) to improve enforcement to put an end to open burning in the country.

“Only two or three weeks ago, I realized that the DOE doesn’t even have cars to conduct enforcement,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “I am shifting resources from the ministry to DOE to perform their jobs,” she added.

Ms. Yeo said she has also asked for help from local councils and other agencies to investigate cases of open burning – traditionally used by farmers to clear land.

The minister said the current penalty for open burning – a fine of up to RM500,000 (S$167,980), imprisonment for up to five years, or both – was “high enough”.

Asked if she would seek a meeting with the Indonesian authorities, Ms. Yeo said: “I am trying to pay them a visit.”

In a speech to Parliament, Indonesian President Joko Widodo noted that the total area of forest burnt has come down.

“The total area of forest and plantation that caught fire has significantly declined compared to the previous years. Such a firm stance would not yield maximum results without public participation.

“My gratitude and respect to the armed forces, police, local governments and residents that gave high dedication in preventing and fighting the threats of the forest fire,” he said.



Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

PUBLISHED AUG 16, 2018, 10:13 AM SGT

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The haze has returned to parts of Sarawak due to the rising number of hotspots in Kalimantan and open burning in the Malaysian state.

State Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller Peter Sawal said 121 hotspots were detected across the border with Indonesia on Tuesday (Aug 14), more than double from the day before.

Seven hotspots were also detected in Sarawak – two in Kuching, three in Mukah and one each in Sarikei and Sri Aman.

As at 2 pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate air pollutant index (API) readings, with the town of Mukah having the highest at 84.

This was followed by Sibu (75), Bintulu (71), Samalaju (61), Kuching (58), Kapit (56), Samarahan (53), Sarikei (53) and Sri Aman (51).

A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

“From the briefing by the Meteorological Department, we’re expecting this month to be dry with below normal rainfall.

“But things may change; we may experience intermittent rain, and that will dampen the weather. However, we also monitor the situation because of the high number of hotspots detected across the border and the winds blowing towards us,” he said.

Mr. Sawal said a few incidents of local burning by farmers had been detected in Sibu, Mukah, Sri Aman and Betong.

“Our men on the ground are now advising local farmers to be vigilant in controlling and monitoring their burning to prevent it from spreading,” he said.

He also said the NREB had stopped issuing permits for open burning to plantation companies since July and would take action against any illegal burning activities.

Offenders could be fined RM30,000 (S$10,000) or prosecuted in court.

However, Mr. Sawal said better awareness and enforcement has resulted in a reduced number of illegal burning cases.

“For the past few years, our records show that incidents of illegal burning had reduced. I think they are aware of the seriousness of illegal open burning.

“At the same time, our concerted efforts mean they cannot escape. We can detect (open burning) through satellite and pinpoint the location,” he said. “Then, we proceed to the ground to verify it.”

In Miri, firemen were battling several wildfires in the towns of Mukah, Bintulu, and Bintangor.

Wildfires over about 4ha of land have been burning since Tuesday evening in Kampung Assykirin in Bintulu.

In Mukah, peat fires in Daro are being tackled, while in Bintangor, wildfires have been contained at 24.3ha of the Felcra Bunut plantations.


Indonesia steps up forest, land fire prevention to ensure haze-free Asian Games

Indonesia steps up forest, land fire prevention to ensure haze-free Asian Games

PUBLISHED AUG 15, 2018, 11:25 AM SGT

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The government is determined to carry out all necessary measures to prevent forest and land fires from spreading on the island of Sumatra, as the Asian Games are set to kick off on Saturday (Aug 18) in Jakarta and Palembang, South Sumatra, at the peak of the dry season.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto held a meeting on Tuesday (Aug 14) with relevant officials, discussing anticipatory measures to address the potential increase in hot spots.

“Learning from our experience… and with solid coordination (among stakeholders) as well as proper procedures in both prevention and mitigation, all regions are prepared to mitigate potential forest fires,” General Wiranto said on Tuesday.

“We need to work hard to ensure that South Sumatra will be haze-free. Weather forecasts say that the peak of the dry season will happen during the Asian Games,” he added.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) detected 169 hot spots in Sumatra Island on Tuesday, with 47 hot spots in South Sumatra alone. Riau recorded an increase in hot spots to 90 from 65 on the previous day, while there were 11 hot spots in Jambi and 55 hot spots in Bangka Belitung province.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director-general of climate change Ruandha Agung Sugadirman said a coordinated team, including police and Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel, routinely carried out patrols in areas prone to forest fires.

Sixteen helicopters have been on standby across South Sumatra and can be deployed for water bombing at any time when forest fires are detected. Another 10 helicopters are also on standby in Riau, director-general Ruandha said.

The government has also used 51 tonnes of salt to intensify cloud-seeding operations to help stimulate rainfall since May, he said, adding that rain had fallen in the province from Monday evening to Tuesday morning.

“As long as the land and peatlands are wet, fires will not occur,” he added.


238 open burning cases recorded this month

238 open burning cases recorded this month

SIBU: Sarawak recorded 238 open burning cases from July 1 until yesterday.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohammad said 22 cases were reported daily over the past 10 days.

He added there was only spike in cases after July 15 due to the hot and dry weather. Before that,  the number was less significant.

“But, it is still below the daily threshold of 40 cases needed to activate the forest fire operation room.

“However, the current daily cases are still less compared to the highest reported cases in the last five years, which stood at 62 cases,” Nor Hisham said when contacted yesterday.

Open burning cases include bush, forest and peat soil fires.

Meanwhile, smoke was seen billowing from the bushes along Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce Road here.


Greece wildfires: At least 20 killed, dozens injured

Greece wildfires: At least 20 killed, dozens injured

Last update 10:42 | 24/07/2018

Forest fires raging across Greece have killed at least 20 people, the government says, as the authorities there seek international assistance.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the blazes and people have left their homes near the capital, Athens.

A search and rescue operation is underway for 10 tourists who fled one of the fires in a boat, officials say.

“We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters.

He cut short an official trip to Bosnia in order to help coordinate the response to the situation, which firefighters have described as “extremely difficult”.

Early on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos confirmed that the death toll had risen to 20.

Most of the victims had been trapped in the seaside resort of Mati, 40km (25 miles) north-east of Athens, and died either in their homes or their cars.

More than 104 are injured, 11 seriously, he added, with 16 children among the casualties.

Miltiadis Vyronas, from the country’s Ekav emergency service, said that 25 people had been taken to the hospital and four were seriously injured.

Dramatic video posted on social media showed damaged buildings, orange smoke-filled skies, and people fleeing the fires by car.

Residents in the worst-affected areas were forced into the sea to escape the flames.

“Thankfully the sea was there and we went into the sea because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water. It burned our backs and we dived into the water… I said my God, we must run to save ourselves,” Kostas Laganos in the coastal resort of Mati said.

Prime Minister Tsipras said that “all emergency forces have been mobilized” and declared a state of emergency in the Attica region around Athens.

The government has asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires.

Earlier on Monday, residents of a coastal region near Athens were told to abandon their homes as the uncontrolled fires spread. Hundreds of children were also evacuated from holiday camps.

The extreme weather comes as dozens of wildfires continue to rage in Sweden.

Countries including Italy, Germany, Poland, and France have all sent help in the form of additional planes, vehicles, and firefighters.

But with temperatures set to soar again, they are in a race against time to get the fires under control.


Indonesia works to prevent forest fires during Asian Games

Indonesia works to prevent forest fires during Asian Games


Jakarta (VNA) – Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) has taken measures to prevent forest fires and smoke as the country will host the 2018 Asian Games (ASIAD 18) next month, which is the regular time of forest and peatland fire in Indonesia each year.

Jakarta and Palembang in Sumatra are set to host about 11,000 athletes and 5,000 officials from 45 Asian countries for the games between August 18 and September 2.

Raffles B Panjaitan, Director of Forest and Land Fire at the MoEF, said that Indonesia has overcome smoke over the last two years. Forest fire hotspots in some high-risk provinces such as South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau were timely discovered and handled immediately.

A research group analyses data every day to give warnings and tackle forest and land fires by working closely with firefighting forces of the MoEF, police, army, private companies, and community.

Currently, the MoEF has deployed groups of firefighters to 11 high-risk provinces, along with nearly 2,000 personnel from other forces to prevent forest and land fires.

In addition, firefighting teams have been dispatched to nature reserve centers and national parks. In South Sumatra alone, five teams were set up and received training in fire prevention.

Regular forest and land fires have caused huge damage in Indonesia. In 2015, smoke from widespread fires affected the air environment of regional countries including Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.-VNA