KUALA LUMPUR: Gloomy hazy days may just come back to haunt us, with fires spreading rapidly through some 20,000 hectares of forest in Riau, Sumatra.
Pekan Baru, the capital of Riau, along with several other districts in the province have been shrouded in thick smoke over the last two weeks, and drought in the province is worsening the situation.
Barely a year ago, forest fires in the same area resulted in haze here that breached the 300-point hazardous mark on the Air Pollution Index.
The Riau province has been shrouded in thick smoke over the last two weeks.
According to Malaysian Meteorological Department Principal Assistant Director Wong Teck Kiong, the haze would “almost definitely” be back if the fires in Riau continued to burn throughout the coming inter-monsoon period and into the South-West monsoon season.
“At the moment, smoke from Riau is blowing away from us, as we are still to reach the end of the North-East monsoon season. But as we approach the inter-monsoon period, the winds may occasionally blow towards us,” said Wong.
“If the fires are still not out as we approach April and early May, then there will be haze,” he added.
Satellite images on the department’s website yesterday showed 21 hotspots in Sumatra, 52 in Borneo and 42 in the peninsula.
Wong said conditions during the South-West monsoon were more conducive for haze, being a dry season for Malaysia, as opposed to the North-East monsoon season which brought thunderstorms that helped to disperse haze.
According to the department’s Central Broadcast Office director Kang Thean Shong, hotspots were areas of 1sq km exceeding 40°C that were picked up by satellite imagery. Kang said forest fires generally did not occur naturally in this region, and human factor was likely to be the main cause.
In Putrajaya, SIM LEOI LEOI reported that the Malaysian environment authorities met their Indonesian counterpart two weeks ago to discuss measures to check forest fires.
Department of Environment director-general Datuk Rosnani Ibarahim said the Indonesians had promised to increase surveillance on areas prone to fires.
“The authorities have pulled in local residents to form volunteer squads to put out any fire burning within their villages. Previously, the Indonesian authorities had no such squads,” she said yesterday.
Rosnani said so far, the Indonesian authorities seemed to be coping well with the situation in Riau and had not requested for any technical expertise or aid.
“I believe the situation is still very much under control as the present wind direction is still prevalently that of east and north east over the next two days. We are not expecting transboundary haze soon but are monitoring the air quality very closely,” she said.